ATLANTA – Two years ago, the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed legislation letting parents petition school principals to ban from school libraries books they consider obscene.
This year, the state Senate is considering two additional bills aimed at making it easier to ban books from school libraries.
But a third bill before the Senate would take the push against material considered harmful to minors on a different front. Senate Bill 390 would prohibit city, county, and regional libraries from using either tax dollars or private funds on any materials offered by the American Library Association (ALA).
“They have expanded beyond school libraries,” said Lisa Morgan, president of the Georgia Association of Educators. “Now, they’re going after public libraries as well.”
The ALA has become controversial in right-wing circles in recent years for promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the selection of library materials and for opposing book banning and other forms of censorship. Its president, Emily Drabinski, became a lightning rod in 2022 when she characterized herself as a “Marxist lesbian.”
“The ALA has proven it is not an organization of political neutrality,” Taylor Hawkins, director of advocacy for FrontLine Policy Action, a Christian advocacy group, told members of the Senate Government Affairs Committee Feb. 7. “This is an organization that cannot be trusted.”
Sen. Larry Walker III, R-Perry, Senate Bill 390’s chief sponsor, told committee members the ALA came to his attention when the Houston County Library sought a $20,000 grant from the organization, only to be told any materials the money was used to purchase had to promote DEI or deal with LGBTQ+ issues.
“That was not a reflection of the morals and values of our community and was inappropriate, especially in the children’s section,” Walker said. “They (the ALA) should be apolitical. They should not weigh into these controversial arenas.”
Walker’s characterization of the ALA grant drew pushback from a grassroots group called STOP Moms for Liberty, which bills itself as a defender of public education.
The group contended in a news release that the materials the grant purchased were E-books and E-audios not on the library’s physical shelves and were for adults and young adults. The ALA did not direct the selection of the materials, STOP Moms for Liberty also asserted.
Julie Walker, vice chancellor for libraries and archives with the University System of Georgia, which oversees the state’s public libraries. said local library boards determine what materials to place on their shelves.
“Selection of materials is not influenced by the ALA,” she told the Senate panel.
Sen. Walker told the committee an “unintended consequence” of his bill needs to be worked out as it makes its way through the General Assembly. Since the bill would essentially dissolve the state’s relationship with the ALA, it would leave working librarians and students of library sciences without a way to gain certification.
David Slykhuis, dean of the College of Education & Human Services at Valdosta State University, home to Georgia’s only master’s degree program in library sciences, said graduating students need ALA certification to get jobs.
“Losing accreditation would eliminate Valdosta State as a viable program for most students,” he said.
Walker said the states of Texas, Missouri, Montana, Alabama, Wyoming, and South Carolina have left the ALA. He suggested Georgia library officials work with their counterparts from other states to identify an alternate organization that could be used to accredit library sciences degree programs and certify graduating students.
“Other options will spring up more in line with Georgia values,” Hawkins said.
The committee did not vote on Walker’s bill at the Feb. 7 hearing, but it stands a good chance of passage. It enjoys the backing of influential Republican cosponsors, including Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega.