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Lawmakers consider a bill that would outlaw the American Library Association from Georgia

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Lawmakers consider a bill that would outlaw the American Library Association from Georgia

Georgia State Capitol. Photo by Dean Hesse.

By Juma Sei | WABE

The library has always been a safe space for Nia Batra.

“In elementary school, I went to my library every week with a tower of books to return,” reflected the 15-year-old. “I’d come out with an even higher tower to tear through.”

“In middle school, I used my library’s resources in every research paper I got an A on,” she continued.

In high school, Batra has maintained her custom of library study halls. But one recent school night was different.

Instead of hunkering down in a corner of her local library, Batra spent her evening at the state Capitol; lawmakers were hearing a bill that takes aim at the American Library Association (ALA). The ALA is a national nonprofit that supports librarians and accredits the schools that train them.

State Sen. Larry Walker — a Republican from middle Georgia — is the chief sponsor of Senate Bill 390. The bill would sever all ties between the ALA and Georgia’s library system. Walker said he brought it to the Gold Dome because his local library recently expanded its offerings by adding books that center on diverse life experiences — LGBTQ+ ones especially.

“In my district, that is not the values the majority of my constituents want to promote or encourage,” he said.

Walker’s county library applied for a grant from the ALA to diversify its catalog. That is why he wants to cut ties between the ALA and libraries here in Georgia.

“We’re not gonna be able to shield our children from everything and forever, but I just don’t think taxpayer dollars need to be going to put what I think is the out of the norm lifestyle and promoting that out of the norm lifestyle in the children’s department of a public library,” he continued.

According to the library, the ALA grant money was used to expand their reading program for adults, not children.

The library also used the ALA funds to include stories about all kinds of diversity, including stories that reflected rural, military, Jewish, Amish and Native American life.

Regardless, for a student like Nia Batra, Walker’s proposal raises flags because of how libraries helped expand her worldview by having books from different life perspectives.

“It didn’t traumatize me. It didn’t traumatize my peers,” she said. “I think they’re way more open-minded and intelligent because of it. Had they not had that access, they would just be more afraid.”

“As a queer student, I want resources that represent me,” she continued. “[Walker] mentioned reading the Hardy Boys growing up and I read the Hardy Boys too. They have like racist and gender stereotyping themes and I abstained from that, but I still want those books on the shelves because I think information should be open and accessible.”

Walker says other states have already cut ties with the ALA. Montana was the first to do so after ALA president Emily Drabinski referred to herself as a “Marxist lesbian” in a since-deleted tweet.

“We acknowledge and understand concerns with the American Library Association,” said Georgia’s State Librarian Julie Walker at the hearing. “Many library professionals in Georgia don’t agree with their recent statements or positions.”

However, the Georgia Public Library Service (GPLS) is already not a member of the ALA. Unlike other states that have recently ended their ALA membership, S.B. 390 would additionally remove the requirement for library professionals to graduate from an ALA-accredited university program.

According to Walker, no other state has dropped that accreditation – they have just ended their ALA membership, putting them where the GPLS is now.

David Slykhuis is the Dean of Valdosta State University’s (VSU) College of Education. VSU is home to Georgia’s only graduate library studies program.

“Accreditation is often the deciding factor for many of our students,” he said at the hearing. “The loss of the ability to remain accredited would devastate a program that is bringing in over $3.5 million in tuition revenue to Valdosta State annually.”

“The majority of the time, for professional library positions, it is labeled as a stipulation of the job: ‘must have a degree from an accredited university,’” he continued. “As far as I know, [the ALA] is the only accrediting body.”

For Sen. Walker, this question of ALA accreditation is something to consider as he continues to develop S.B. 390.

“Maybe we can put some language in there to allow Valdosta State to pay their accreditation fee to ALA through private funds,” he said. “I’m pretty convinced that there’ll be another accreditation organization that’s gonna step up that is more mainstream and not has this radical ideology.”

The senator’s bill has just been heard in a Senate committee, which has yet to vote. His proposal is one of a few library bills sponsored by conservative lawmakers this session.

Gwinnett Republican Senator Clint Dixon is sponsoring S.B. 394. The bill would create a new “restricted” category for school materials with “sexually explicit content” deemed harmful to minors. Schools would then have to routinely post information about those materials online. Younger students would not have access, and older students would need parental permission.

Republican state Sen. Greg Dolezal is sponsoring S.B. 365. The bill would require schools to send an email whenever a child borrows school library material if a parent chooses. Dolezal is also sponsoring S.B. 154, which would allow school librarians to be criminally prosecuted for distributing materials deemed harmful to minors.

Decaturish media partner WABE provided this story.