GILLETTE, Wyo. — Two Campbell County Public Library System board members, Sage Bear and Charles Butler, are aiding an organization that is an alternative to the American Library Association.
In fall 2022, the library board approved in a 4–1 vote a statement saying that it would no longer be part of the ALA, a Chicago-based institution. Since then, the board has taken the mention of the ALA out of the job description for the library’s executive director and its collection development policy, though the policy is not yet in effect since the board needs to fill the executive director position. On Aug. 8, the library board named Campbell County Human Resources Director Brandy Elder the library’s interim director. The board fired Terri Lesley July 28.
While many media outlets have billed the World Library Association as conservative, it’s not, according to Executive Director Dan Kleinman.
“Everybody opposes the sexualization of children,” he said.
A Rasmussen Reports and Capitol Resource Institute September 2022 survey indicated that the majority of the polled 1,000 likely voters who identified as Democrat, Republican or Other believed books containing “explicit sexual depictions of sex acts, including homosexual sex” should not be in public school libraries. The specific percentages were 69% for high school libraries, 79% for middle school libraries and 85% for elementary school libraries. The closest a subgroup came to endorsing “explicit sexual depictions of sex acts, including homosexual sex” in a school setting was the group who said that they “strongly approve” of President Joe Biden. Thirty-eight percent of those people said such books should be present in public high schools.
Kleinman said he wasn’t aware of any surveys on this topic for public libraries, however.
“Nobody thinks that books should be pulled from public libraries, frankly,” he said.
Kleinman said that for about 24 years, he investigated the ALA, and he’s now gathering a team of people who will funnel their skills, knowledge and experience to help communities take control of their libraries away from the ALA, which has become very political. A librarian will be joining the team, and other librarians are helping anonymously. Everyone on the team is a volunteer.
The organization is seeking 501(c)(3) status, and the IRS forbids 501(c)(3) organizations from participating or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for an elective public office.
As library trustees, Butler and Bear have gained the knowledge to be able to advise other libraries’ trustees who have been contacting the World Library Association seeking guidance and an alternative to the ALA, he said. So far, resources the association provides include an online, anonymous material reconsideration form, as most libraries’ forms are based on an ALA model.
“We want to provide policies and guidance for libraries and librarians and communities on how they can improve libraries for themselves,” he said. “That’s why we say we’re guided by common sense, community standards and the law.”
He said he wants to keep the organization’s website and feed on the platform X — formerly known as Twitter — upbeat and informational, not preachy about the ALA. The organization seeks to clarify to community members what laws apply to libraries. School libraries and public libraries are subject to different laws, and more awareness of those laws can help cut down on confusion and the number of reconsideration form submissions, saving librarians time.
“If we can help guide people to make good decisions, such as not trying to pull every book out of a public library, then we’re going to do that,” he said.
He said he’s already been able to stop some book challenges in public library settings.
The organization also hopes to put together a database of community and state laws to inform the residents in those areas, he said. Many people aren’t aware that these local laws that created their libraries might help them keep harmful activities out of libraries.
“If people actually read those laws and applied them to the situation that they have now, they could actually solve their current problems, right under the existing law. … My priorities are helping people help themselves by just providing them with guidance,” he said. “Then, they decide.”
He said the organization isn’t charging anyone or any institutions for resources. He doesn’t plan to, either. No one will pay dues to the association. Currently, he’s paying out of his own pocket to set up the organization, run the website and hire an attorney and a CPA. He will not pay Bear or Butler, and neither of them will ask him for money.
“There will be no exchange of money whatsoever between them personally or the place where they work or the state of Wyoming or anybody,” he said.
Kleinman said that instead, he plans to get support from major donors and he’ll be transparent about it.
“I don’t intend to have any kind of dark money of any kind whatsoever,” he said. “People [who] want to help me, fine, they can do it publicly and they can say so publicly.”
Donors will support legal defense for parents whom ALA has sued and for countering laws like one in Illinois that directly references the ALA’s library bill of rights, according to Kleinman.
Butler said that losing Campbell County librarians’ access to continuing education opportunities was an unintended consequence of leaving the ALA, and the board was trying to come up with a solution. He didn’t realize that unlike some other industries, like scuba diving, library science education, apart from Christian library organizations, is largely tied to the ALA.
“That was a shock to us,” he said. “We just figured, what the heck, you know, we’ll just turn the page and find another organization to deal with or work with.”
During library board members’ search for an organization that would provide librarians with continuing education following the departure from the ALA, they found Kleinman’s SafeLibraries blog and they reached out, Butler said. When Kleinman launched the World Library Association in July, he asked whether Butler and Bear wanted to help other library boards learn how to help their librarians with the education piece.
So far, the World Library Association has a copy of the Campbell County Public Library System’s new collection development policy and is using parts of that as a blueprint, Butler said. A couple of people have contacted him asking where and how the Campbell County library board began separating from the ALA. With the Freedom Caucus’s request for state libraries to remove themselves from the ALA, library boards will be seeking options for continuing education.
He said there’s never been a mention of pay when it comes to helping the World Library Association.
Bear said she wanted to support Kleinman’s effort to offer an alternative to the ALA, and librarians, not libraries, join associations.
“I won’t be strong-arming anyone into joining the World LA. … This nation’s librarians need a choice,” she said.
The library board’s next meeting is Aug. 28.