The Montana State Library cut ties Tuesday with the American Library Association over the ALA president self-identifying as a Marxist.
Montana is the first state to break from the 147-year-old organization.
“Our oath of office and resulting duty to the Constitution forbids association with an organization led by a Marxist,” reads a draft letter from the seven-person Montana State Library Commission to the ALA.
A five-commissioner majority approved the action during a Tuesday meeting, with one member voting against it and Commission Chair Peggy Taylor abstaining.
ALA President Emily Drabinski described herself as a “Marxist Lesbian” in an April 13, 2022, tweet, which she has since deleted.
“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 (ALA),” reads a screenshot of Drabinski’s tweet.
The ALA did not respond immediately Wednesday to a request for comment.
Campbell County Way Earlier
The Campbell County Library Board in Gillette, Wyoming, divorced the ALA nine months before Montana did in October 2022.
Its chair, Sage Bear, said she was delighted to see Montana do the same.
“I’m so excited about that,” Bear told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. She said she’s going to talk to people to learn the likelihood of Wyoming doing the same at the state level.
The ALA doesn’t dictate to libraries what they have in their collections, Bear said. But they can influence those decisions.
“They strongly influence. They influence the publishers, make book list recommendations,” said Bear. “They have a huge influence.”
Bear’s board has worked for several months to tighten curation policies to weed sexually graphic books out of the Campbell County Public Library after the community erupted in 2020 and 2021 with controversy and some community members asked for a criminal obscenity investigation into the library.
Wyoming Not Saying
Wyoming is noncommittal about the likelihood of following Montana’s lead.
The Wyoming State Library has worked with the ALA for 99 years this year, said Jamie Markus, Wyoming State Librarian.
Markus said he does not support the ALA necessarily and has a variety of professional and personal thoughts on it, which he declined to discuss. But the organization offers continuing education for library staffers and events where vendors and other service providers gather. That makes for time and cost savings.
The Wyoming State Library has a different structure than Montana’s. Rather than having a seven-person panel voting on policy decisions, Markus runs the division, which in turn is under the umbrella of the Wyoming Administration and Information Department.
The department’s director, Patricia Bach, answers directly to Gov. Mark Gordon.
Gordon’s spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment on the state’s attitude toward the ALA.
“I would probably need to take direction from somebody above me on that,” said Markus of the prospect of divorcing ALA.
ALA presidential terms only last one year, Markus noted. ALA’s election literature confirms this point.
He cautioned against taking drastic moves on fleeting politics.
“Someone may get elected to a particular position today — that doesn’t mean that (person’s) perspective will always be around,” said Markus.
Just A Resource
Conrrado Saldivar, president of ALA’s Wyoming chapter the Wyoming Library Association, said ALA is just a resource, and a valuable one.
The divorce, he said, “is going to have a severe impact on what the Montana librarians have access to. It’s unfortunate to see that essentially one tweet is causing such a rift in the library community.”
Saldivar said ALA can recommend books, but it doesn’t dictate curation. Its training resources are what librarians really value, he added.
The ALA does not always represent the Wyoming perspective, especially in rural areas, said Saldivar. But, he said, the Wyoming Library Association works to mitigate those differences and redirect ALA’s impacts to suit the state’s values.
Saldivar indicated political differences between the state and the ALA.
“We’re obviously a Republican-led state, and we fully respect that, and many of our board members are Republicans themselves,” he said. “We make sure every voice is represented on the council.”
Because Of The Porn Filters
Bear said the differences are both political and philosophical.
“(The ALA) are definitely for freedom of speech no matter what. I’m all for freedom of speech for adults, but I think we need to protect our children,” said Bear.
She referenced the ALA’s legal challenge of 20 years ago against the Child Internet Protection Act, which required libraries to install computer filters restricting access to child pornography, obscenity and material harmful to minors as a condition for receiving federal money.
The case ascended to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the majority declared the Child Internet Protection Act constitutional, especially since individual library patrons could ask librarians to remove filters for the duration of their computer use.
“A library’s need to exercise judgment in making collection decisions depends on its traditional role in identifying suitable and worthwhile material,” reads the majority opinion. “It is no less entitled to play that role when it collects material from the Internet than when it collects material from any other source.”
Bear said this and other ALA maneuvers contributed to her board’s decision, not just the “Marxist” tweet. She encouraged community members to lean into, not away from, their local libraries, however.
“I don’t want people to get dissuaded from going to libraries,” said Bear. “People should attend libraries and tell librarians how they feel about things. I don’t want them to get ugly or anything like that – but let their voice be heard.”
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.