Home » Florida Joins Conservative States Severing Ties With National Library Group

Florida Joins Conservative States Severing Ties With National Library Group

Some states are severing ties with the American Library Association, in part, over the nonprofit’s president.

Florida is among the latest conservative-leaning states to sever connections with the nation’s oldest library organization after the nonprofit became embroiled in the ongoing culture war over what books should be available to students.

The agency in charge of Florida’s public libraries issued a new rule in October forbidding any grant activities tied to the American Library Association, a 150-year-old organization that aids thousands of libraries across the country with training and funding.

The move by the DeSantis administration puts Florida in line with a cadre of Republican states and lawmakers leveling scrutiny on ALA, labeling the group as “toxic” and a “conduit” for exposing children to pornography — claims refuted by the organization and its supporters.

Conservatives in a growing number of states, including Alabama, Wyoming, Missouri, Texas and now Florida, have severed affiliations with the ALA, in part over the group choosing a new president, Emily Drabinski, who in 2022 tweeted that she’s a “Marxist.”

“I just cannot believe that a Marxist lesbian who believes that collective power is possible to build and can be wielded for a better world is the president-elect of @ALALibrary,” Drabinski posted on social media after she became president of the group. “I am so excited for what we will do together. Solidarity! And my mom is SO PROUD. I love you mom.”

She later deleted the tweet and was shocked at the backlash over it.

Conservatives also raised concerns about a library bill of rights from the association that opposes efforts to restrict access to books based on age, a nonstarter in states that are attempting to limit what content is available to students in schools, particularly surrounding sexuality, gender and race.

Alabama Public Library Service officials, as one example, earlier this month called for Drabinski’s impeachment and urged libraries to disregard the association’s policies in a memo that also recommended the state withdraw its ALA membership. The Texas State Library & Archives Commission took similar actions in August.

“Texas should be leading the fight against dangerous Marxist ideology — not subsidizing it,” Texas GOP state Rep. Brian Harrison wrote on social media at the time.

On a federal level, Republican Sens. Marco Rubio, Kevin Cramer and Mike Braun have criticized the ALA, calling for funding to be cut off for the organization because of allegations that the conservative Christian publisher Brave Books was denied library space for events, claims that were disputed by the local library and association.

Florida’s move against the ALA, meanwhile, comes with less fanfare and public attention.

The Florida Department of State, which oversees the state’s Division of Library and Information Services, quietly announced in October that it will “not allow grant project activities associated” with the American Library Association and its affiliates this year, including state chapters.

The agency, led by a DeSantis appointee Secretary of State Cord Byrd, a former Republican state representative, did not comment on the rule. The ALA did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“The decision is in response to the scrutiny related to the use of public funds to support these organizations,” state officials said, according to a memo from the Florida Library Association, the state’s ALA chapter.

How the rule will affect local libraries is currently unclear. Libraries pay for ALA memberships that grant access to benefits such as discounts on professional development and education products.

“FLA believes that this limitation will hurt Florida libraries’ ability to serve our residents,” Jenny Abdelnour, executive director of the Florida Library Association, wrote in an email sent to members surrounding the rule. Abdelnour declined to comment further on the policy change.

Ron DeSantis and Florida Republicans have reshaped K-12 education in the state by passing policies that ban critical race theory in public schools and prohibit teachers from leading classroom discussions on gender identity or sexual orientation for young students.

The governor has also been heavily criticized for signing a bill into law that requires school libraries to pull books from shelves if the text has drawn a complaint over its content. The books remain out of circulation while educators decide if it’s suitable for students.

While the state takes its action against the ALA, library systems in at least three counties have already cancelled memberships with the organization.

Most recently, commissioners in Collier County unanimously voted to immediately leave the association, joining Citrus and Hernando counties in making the move.

The same debate playing out across the country unfolded there, as one speaker encouraged Collier commissioners to drop the county’s membership, claiming the ALA promotes gay and sexually explicit books to children. Yet another, a librarian at a local Catholic school, who is an ALA member, said she was “appalled” by those comments, contending the organization was helpful and professional.

Collier pays about $1,600 a year to be an ALA member, fees that net discounted rates for library staffers to attend conferences and seminars and reduced costs on some library materials, according to local WGCU, which reported on the county commission meeting.