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Georgia senators debate state pullout from accrediting American Library Association

Participants in a Feb. 1 rally at the Georgia Capitol supported a suite of bills they said would remove obscenity from libraries. (Credit: Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder)

Ross Williams, Georgia Recorder
February 8, 2024

Some conservative state senators want Georgia to become the latest state to pull out of the American Library Association, a nonprofit organization that supports libraries and accredits the schools that train them.

On Wednesday, the Senate Government Oversight Committee heard testimony from Georgia’s top librarian who said the Georgia Public Library Service is already not affiliated with with the ALA and a dean at the state’s only university offering a graduate library studies program who said cutting ties with the only accrediting body for degree programs in library and information science could cost millions in tuition.

Under Senate Bill 390, state and local entities would be banned from spending any money on the association, and directors of public library systems would no longer be required to hold a master’s degree from a school with a library program accredited by the ALA.

Montana became the first state to cut ties with the organization after the incoming president referred to herself as a Marxist lesbian in a since-deleted tweet. Several other red states have also withdrawn, with Alabama the latest to join late last month.

Sen. Larry Walker, a Perry Republican, said the genesis for his bill came when his local library accepted an ALA grant for books featuring LGBTQ and diversity as topics, some of which was for the children’s section.

“This of course caused some outrage by some members of the local library board when they fully understood the grant after it had already been done, and I was contacted by some citizens and I went and met with the Houston County Library Board at their regular meeting and expressed my concern and felt like that that was not a reflection of the morals and values of our community and was not appropriate especially in the children’s section,” he said.

“I thought I would be met with kind of an apology or ‘oh, we didn’t mean to do this’ or ‘we won’t do this again’ or ‘yes, we’ll segregate this material,’ or ‘we should have thought through this,’ but instead it’s really kind of met with sort of defiance and ‘we need more diversity in our library materials’ and that kind of thing,” he added.

 Sen. Larry Walker introduces his bill to withdraw from the American Library Association. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

Committee Chair Sen. Marty Harbin, a Tyrone Republican, asked whether the material would violate local obscenity laws.

“I didn’t see any of the material,” Walker said. “But to me, at some point, a young person does need to be educated on LGBTQ and sexuality and all of that. But I think it’s up to the parents what the appropriate age is to have that conversation. And I don’t want my wife as a grandmother to have a 5-year-old or 6-year-old looking at this kind of material that could be considered pornographic by some people.”

Georgia’s State Librarian, Julie Walker, who is also vice chancellor for libraries and archives in the University System of Georgia, said many library professionals in Georgia don’t agree with the ALA’s positions and libraries’ decisions about collections are made at the local level.

She also said the Georgia Public Library Service, unlike its equivalents in other states that ended their membership of the ALA, is already not a member of the ALA.

As the only body that accredits degree programs in library and information science, the ALA is responsible for Valdosta State’s accreditation, but that’s the case even in states that have revoked their affiliation, she said.

“Those states have disaffiliated from ALA, which basically means that the agency similar to my agency has dropped their membership, but they don’t have any legislation currently dealing with ALA, and their accreditation, their library schools are still accredited by ALA, no one has dropped that accreditation.”

David Slykhuis, dean of the James L. and Dorothy H. Dewar College of Education at Valdosta State University, home of Georgia’s only graduate library studies program, said many of the program’s 400 students chose Valdosta because of its accreditation. Most libraries will only hire people with degrees from accredited programs, he said.

“Losing accreditation would eliminate Valdosta State as a viable (Master of Library and Information Science) degree program for most students,” he said. “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. Until another accrediting body can be found or formed, I respectfully ask the bill sponsor and committee for consideration to be able to use privately donated funds to continue our accreditation, at least through our currently approved cycle of 2028.”

Slykhuis said accreditation with ALA costs Valdosta State $1,100 each year.

“I believe Sen. Walker has brought a bill that is needed, but needs maybe a little bit of work,” Harbin said.

Speaking to the Recorder after the hearing, Walker said he hopes the bill’s final version will prevent taxpayer dollars from going to the ALA while protecting Valdosta State’s bottom line, and he’s confident he can get that done by Feb. 29, the last day for bills to easily move from one chamber to the other.

“It could be as much as just putting a delayed effective date on the accreditation part,” he said. “You know, right now, the bill as written would go into effect July 1, 2025. I purposely put it out there a little ways already so that people that were currently in the system would have time to react, but we may want to push that out a little bit further.”

“The other thing is maybe we can put some language in there to allow Valdosta State to pay their accreditation fee to ALA with private funds through their foundation, because I think they testified it was only $1,100 a year,” he added.

He also said he’s hopeful another accrediting body will materialize soon.

Separately, Gwinnett Republican Sen. Clint Dixon has sponsored SB 394, which aims to bar school libraries from distributing materials deemed “harmful to minors,” require parental consent for children to check out some items and mandate school systems to only buy books from vendors who use a rating system.

Another proposed Senate bill, SB 154 would remove an exemption for school libraries in the state law against distributing harmful materials to minors, a move librarians say could land them behind bars for doing their jobs.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Georgia Recorder under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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