A bill that would sever ties with the American Library Association (ALA) and remove the requirement for public library directors to have a master’s degree from an ALA-accredited program has sparked a heated debate among Georgia senators.
Why some senators want to withdraw from the ALA
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Larry Walker, a Perry Republican, was introduced after he learned that his local library had accepted a grant from the ALA for books featuring LGBTQ and diversity topics, some of which were for the children’s section. Walker said he was outraged by the grant and felt that it did not reflect the morals and values of his community. He also accused the ALA of being influenced by Marxist ideology and promoting obscenity in libraries.
Walker said he expected an apology from the library board, but instead he was met with defiance and a claim that they needed more diversity in their library materials. He said he decided to propose the bill to prevent any further funding or affiliation with the ALA, and to give more local control over library hiring and operations.
How the bill would affect libraries and librarians
The bill, if passed, would ban state and local entities from spending any money on the ALA or its services, materials, or operations. It would also eliminate the current requirement that directors of public library systems hold a master’s degree from a library program accredited by the ALA. Instead, they would only need a bachelor’s degree in any field and at least three years of library experience.
The bill would affect the Georgia Public Library Service (GPLS), which oversees the state’s 63 public library systems and provides them with funding, training, and resources. The GPLS is not directly affiliated with the ALA, but it does use some of its standards and guidelines to ensure quality and consistency in library services. The bill would also affect the Valdosta State University (VSU), which offers the only graduate library studies program in the state and is accredited by the ALA. The VSU program prepares students for careers in various types of libraries, including public, academic, school, and special libraries.
What the opponents of the bill say
The bill has faced strong opposition from library advocates, who say it would undermine the professionalism and credibility of librarians and libraries in Georgia. They argue that the ALA accreditation is a nationally recognized and respected credential that ensures librarians have the necessary skills and knowledge to serve their communities effectively. They also contend that the ALA does not impose any ideology or agenda on libraries, but rather supports their core values of intellectual freedom, diversity, and access to information for all.
The opponents of the bill include Julie Walker, the state librarian and director of the GPLS, who is not related to Sen. Larry Walker. She testified before the Senate Government Oversight Committee on Wednesday and said that the bill would have negative consequences for the state’s libraries and library users. She said that the bill would reduce the pool of qualified candidates for library director positions, and that it would jeopardize the federal funding that the GPLS receives, which amounts to about $6 million per year.
Another opponent of the bill is Dr. Linda Most, the dean of the VSU library program, who also testified before the committee. She said that the bill would harm the reputation and enrollment of the program, which currently has about 300 students. She said that the ALA accreditation is essential for the program to attract and retain students, faculty, and employers. She also said that the program teaches students to be critical thinkers and ethical professionals, not to follow any political or ideological doctrine.
What happens next
The bill is still in the committee stage and has not been voted on by the full Senate. The committee chair, Sen. Marty Harbin, a Tyrone Republican, said he wanted to hear more testimony and input from both sides before making a decision. He said he was concerned about the potential impact of the bill on libraries and librarians, but he also shared some of the criticisms of the ALA and its views on diversity and inclusion.
The bill has drawn attention from the national media and the ALA itself, which issued a statement on Monday opposing the proposed legislation. The ALA said that the bill was based on false narratives and that it would restrict the freedom of trade, speech, and association for libraries and librarians in Georgia. The ALA also said that it does not promote any ideology, but rather champions the First Amendment and the democratic values of libraries.
The bill is one of several bills that have been introduced in the Georgia legislature this year that target libraries and education on issues of race, gender, and sexuality. Some of these bills aim to ban the teaching of critical race theory, to prohibit the display of obscene or harmful materials in libraries, and to require parental consent for minors to access certain books or programs in libraries.