A row of multicolored books are lined up on a plain shelf. All have their spines facing the camera. On the right, the book
Georgia's public libraries offer collections of diverse novels for all demographics. Pictured above is a display of young adult novels at the Mountain View Public Library in Cobb County, Georgia. (Emma Buker/Fresh Take Georgia)

Twenty-two Republican state senators from Georgia proposed a bill that would prohibit the use of Georgia’s tax dollars to purchase materials or fund operations and services provided by the American Library Association (ALA).

Sen. Larry Walker, R-Perry, is chief sponsor of Senate Bill 390. He introduced it on Jan. 24 with the support of nearly two dozen other lawmakers. 

If it becomes law, no government entity in Georgia, including counties and school districts, could use taxpayer or privately donated funds to access materials, services, or operations provided by the ALA or its affiliates.

Georgia’s Senate passed the bill on Feb. 29 by a vote of 33 to 20. Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, called the ALA a “Marxist and socialist” group. Democrats opposed the bill, stating the organization offers valuable services to libraries and defends free speech.  

S.B. 390 now moves to the Georgia House of Representatives for consideration.

The ALA first came to Walker’s attention when the Houston County Library System received a $20,000 grant from the organization. Walker said the grant required librarians to spend money on books that promoted diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) or LGBTQ topics. 

J. Sara Paulk, Director of the Houston County Library System, said Walker is misinformed about the situation regarding the grant. 

“I just looked at [the grant] as possibly an opportunity to better balance the collection in terms of community representation,” Paulk said.

Paulk said none of the grant money went toward purchasing content for children, contrary to Walker’s statement. 

“That’s unfortunate misinformation he received from somewhere or an assumption he made,” Paulk said. “I can say that is 100% not correct. There were no children’s books.” 

Walker said he is sponsoring this bill because of this ALA grant money. Paulk said the library systems’ staff was surprised by Walker’s actions since Houston County was awarded the grant two years ago. The books are already purchased, she said, and S.B. 390 will not impact the existing library content, nor will it cut library funding.  

Paulk said she personally chose exactly how the grant funds were spent. Most of the money went toward expanding the library’s ebook and audiobook collection, which Paulk said grew in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I wanted to get funds to add to the fiction for adults and young adults,” Paulk said. “There are no children’s books in this at all. But for the adult readers, I want to add ebooks and e-audios with an emphasis on LGBTQ and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color).”

The full collection features representations of different lifestyles, opinions and belief systems, Paulk said. She bought titles by Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American authors to diversify the library’s collection. 

The titles purchased with the grant money were compiled into a collection called ‘Listen UP!’ Paulk said the books were popular in the community. She said a survey readers completed indicated those who read the ‘Listen UP!’ titles responded favorably to the content.  

“Somebody said, ‘I learned how small our world truly is,’” Paulk said. “Someone said it was amazing how characters persevered through abuse and trauma, some other hardships. And finally, someone said it’s okay to keep asking. It’s okay if I don’t have all the answers. I think it was helpful for those who participated.”

Sen. Walker said the ‘Listen UP!’ collection did not reflect the morals and values of his community. He said the ALA should stay apolitical and not weigh in on controversial topics, especially those concerning children. 

“I don’t usually lead the charge on social issues, but this has just kind of flown in my face and upset me,” Walker said. “I feel like this is being forced on our citizens, forced on our children and kind of shoved down our throats. I didn’t hear [it] myself, but I’ve read the current president of the American Library Association describes herself as a ‘Marxist lesbian’ and there’s been a lot of statements issued from that organization that are disturbing to me.” 

The opposition to the ALA began when the organization’s president, Emily Drabinski, posted a tweet celebrating her election as ALA president in 2022. The now-deleted tweet expressed her excitement that the group would be led by someone like her, “a Marxist lesbian who believes that collective power is possible to build and can be wielded for a better world.”

Raymond Garcia, ALA Communications Specialist, said in a press release: “The beliefs of any one member of the association do not define the association. In fact, ALA does not espouse any political belief other than a commitment to the freedoms identified in our nation’s founding documents that are essential for our democracy.”

In the release, Garcia said the legislation is based on a false narrative and there is no reason to restrict the ALA and its resources in Georgia. 

The American Library Association accredits Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) programs across the country. Nearly every professional position in public libraries requires applicants to have a master’s degree from a program accredited by the ALA. 

David Slykhuis, Dean of the College of Education and Human Services at Valdosta State University, told the Georgia Senate that cutting ties with the ALA would endanger access to grants and would harm the university’s students and its library science program. The university is home to Georgia’s only MLIS degree program, and losing accreditation would eliminate the program as a viable option for students, he said. 

Sen. Walker said the Senate made major changes to the legislation before it got passed. The newest amendment guarantees that Valdosta State University can still certify students and librarians through the ALA until a new accrediting organization is formed. The amended bill grants certification duties to the Georgia Council of Public Libraries. 

Several other Republican-sponsored bills moving through the Georgia Senate concern school and public libraries. 

Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Gwinnett, is sponsoring S.B. 394, also known as the Restricting Explicit and Adult-designated Educational Resources (READER) Act. The bill would add a “restricted” category for school materials consisting of content deemed harmful to minors. Older students would need parental permission to access the “sexually explicit content.” 

Sen. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming, sponsored S.B. 154. If passed, school librarians could be charged with misdemeanors for the distribution of materials harmful to minors. Previously, they were exempt from that law. Dolezal is also sponsoring S.B. 365, which would require schools to notify parents every time their child borrows school library materials. 

Houston County Library System Director J. Sara Paulk said S.B. 390 will not help educators or students. 

“I’m afraid [S.B. 390] is going to hurt librarians,” she said.

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