If you’ve kept up with the news at all, you have doubtless run across a note about the South Carolina State Library (which serves the libraries statewide) severing ties with the American Library Association (ALA). (Full disclosure: I was appointed to the SC Library Board in 2020, but I do not speak for the board, nor have I ever. These views are mine alone.)
For those who have better things to do, making them unfamiliar with the controversy, the move was in response to increased political activism by the ALA. For example, ALA’s new president, one Emily Drabinski, ushered in her stint with the revelation that she was a proud Marxist lesbian. She’s also made clear her desire to reshape American libraries in that image. Just in September, she spoke at a socialist conference, calling on libraries to be socialist organizing centers. While the comments should have set off alarm bells everywhere, the tocsin was hardly noted.
Although COVID interrupted our board meetings early on, when I had a chance to sit down with the SC State Library director, I voiced my concern about the left-leaning ALA. I followed up that conversation with several articles in this journal about the ALA’s left leanings and even the graphic novel Gender Queer. Again, I wrote these not as an official voice of the board, but the board did not receive some of them very kindly and let me know in no uncertain terms.
With groups everywhere dropping the ALA as it richly deserves, it was only a matter of time before the SC State Library had to follow suit. This is only good news, and Director Leesa Aiken’s letter to the ALA is not a weaselly worded missive. It is a forceful one, telling the ALA it is tone-deaf to what’s happening at local libraries.
Is this a light at the end of a long dark tunnel? Perhaps. It’s too early to say. Unfortunately, there is still a very strong but misguided (some might say blind) loyalty to the ALA even in the face of its misprisions. Other library organizations in both Carolinas have yet to drop their association. For example, neither of Carolinas’ state library associations have dropped the ALA. And then there is that idiotic drag queen story hour that still manages to insinuate itself in many public libraries. But it is even more than that.
What readers have to understand is that this leftward list — now a belly-up ship — did not occur overnight. I wrote a piece about the leftward slant in the ALA and its annual meetings nearly 30 years ago. It has not gotten any better, so here we are with a Marxist president of the nation’s libraries. Re-righting this ship will take time and effort and above all external pressure.
While not all librarians have fallen lockstep with this change in the ALA, too many have. Like the American Bar Association or the American Medical Association, it’s hard to ignore an association that purports to represent about 20,000 librarians nationwide. Dues aren’t cheap, and the ALA remains afloat because so many continue to pay their dues — or their employers do. The ALA has vast resources and supplies libraries with access to those resources. It provides workshops, conventions, and reportage on what is going on and where. It is also a formidable lobbying organization.
Drabinski, who remains clueless about what the brouhaha is all about, is largely responsible for the change, especially the proliferation of explicit LGBTQ+ material that is now a part of almost every public library in the country. Not all libraries purchase chief offenders like Gender Queer: A Memoir, which depicts both oral and anal intercourse between two young boys. (Just so you know, if I stood on a street corner handing out copies of Gender Queer to young children, I would likely be arrested, so prurient and vile is this and other graphic novels.) But many do, including the smallish York County Public Library about two miles from where I live.
All of this comes about because ALA and others preach “diversity” with every other breath. This is code for bringing to the fore materials that would never have been purchased even 10 years ago. Add to this the pervasiveness of gender-transitioning books, and you have the cesspool that has become your local public library. Try to find even two books on gender transitioning that argue against it, and you are out of luck. For example, my local public library, after about six months of “deliberations” chose to decline to purchase a few contra-gender-transitioning titles presented by a concerned parent.
Contrast this approach with the one in place when I entered the library profession 40 years ago. Libraries were neutral on controversial issues. Books arguing both sides of a controversial matter could be found. Of course, in that “dark age,” issues of sexuality were never much talked about, especially not in books targeted to children — not because they were not important, but because sexuality was not a matter of public discourse. It is a brave new world, isn’t it?
The South Carolina State Library’s decision to drop ALA is very good news. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that there is much more work to be done. The light at the end of the tunnel may only be a candle after all. What we need to see is a conflagration! It’s also time now for library organizations everywhere to call on Drabinski, if she really cares about libraries, to step down.