Alabama Public Library Service: It’s ‘essential’ parents determine suitability of books

In response to letter from Gov. Kay Ivey, APLS cites need to account for diversity in delivering library services

By: - September 20, 2023 6:59 am
Shelves of books in a library

The young adult section of the Ozark – Dale County Library Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023 in Ozark, Ala. (Alabama Reflector Photo by Stew Milne)

The head of the Alabama Public Library Service wrote in a letter to Gov. Kay Ivey last week that it was “essential” that parents determine the suitability of library materials for their children.

“Children constitute a diverse demographic with varying talents, abilities and needs, influenced by factors such as age, cultural background, sociological context and economic circumstances,” Nancy Pack, the director of the APLS, wrote in a Sept. 12 response to a Sept. 1 letter from Ivey amid mounting attacks on library content in the state. “Consequently, it is crucial to account for this diversity when planning library services.”

Ivey’s letter asked a series of questions surrounding policies for children and access to materials, as well as the agency’s relationship with the American Library Association (ALA), in particular any money paid to the organization, which has come under attack from activists attacking books in public libraries.


Pack wrote in the letter that the agency does not have a direct role in ensuring that children do not have access to inappropriate materials or screening inappropriate content from children but noted many library cards “feature statements that make it clear that parents are responsible for materials checked out by their children,” and some require parents and guardians to be present when children check out material.

“Additionally, numerous libraries in Alabama have established statements regarding the acceptable presence of children in the library, typically encouraging parents or caregivers to accompany the children,” the letter said. “These policies primarily prioritize the safety and well-being of children while using library facilities.”

In response to a question from Ivey, Pack said the service had not received any complaints about material in libraries until this August. Pack also said the service had spent a little over $38,000 on ALA activities between 2019 and 2023, mostly for professional training and conferences.

Libraries throughout the nation have come under scrutiny for the materials they are providing to the public. Recently, Prattville city officials narrowly voted against a service contract that would have wrestled away the library’s autonomy and perhaps its funding. The incident stems from a group, Clean Up Prattville, that organized protest materials in the children’s section they deemed sexually explicit.

Another group has formed, Read Freely Prattville, to oppose Clean Up Prattville’s efforts.

Ivey asked about model library policies to help ensure that children don’t have access to books that are inappropriate. Pack referred to an article on policies implemented by a public library in Springdale, Arkansas requiring direct parental supervision for children who are 12 years old or younger, and limited supervision for children up to 15 years old. Pack wrote that article emphasized “that library staff cannot feasibly monitor children’s behavior or their choices of reading material.”

“Instead, the policies underscore that parents bear the responsibility for their children’s use of library resources and the selection of materials,” Pack wrote. “This approach reflects a common strategy in libraries to balance child safety and access to the resources while encouraging parental involvement and responsibility.”

Ivey said on Tuesday that her office was “pouring over that response.”

“We just got it recently, and we will certainly make some recommendations,” she said. “But right now, our goal is for children to certainly have the opportunity to visit libraries and read. At the same, we want families to feel safe while they are in the library and read books that are appropriate for them.”


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Ralph Chapoco
Ralph Chapoco

Ralph Chapoco covers state politics as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. His main responsibility is the criminal justice system in Alabama.