Speakers decry organization’s president and ideological issues
Two weeks ago, 18 members of the public urged the Sarasota County Commission to adopt one resolution supporting the right to medical freedom and a second resolution making the county a Bill of Rights Sanctuary.
This week, six speakers pleaded with the commissioners to cease paying county dues to the American Library Association and the Florida Library Association.
The commissioners did not comment on those pleas. Typically, the board members do not engage with anyone who addresses them during the Open to the Public comment period, unless it is to ask questions or to ask County Administrator Jonathan Lewis to put a speaker in touch with a county staff member for assistance.
At least part of the speakers on Oct. 24 were members of the same organization — the Sarasota County Republican Assembly Chapter — that called for the Oct. 10 action.
On its website, the American Library Association says it “is the oldest and largest library association in the world.”
The website adds that the organization was founded on Oct. 6, 1876 during the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. “[T]he mission of ALA is ‘to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all,’ ” the website points out.
Barbara Vaughn, the first of the group to appear at the podium this week in the Commission Chambers in downtown Sarasota, urged the board members “to end our county’s membership in the American Library Association and its state affiliate. Please make a motion to place this discussion on the agenda for your next meeting.”
She said she did not pay enough attention when her children and grandchildren were in school, “and that’s how we let small things slip in …” Vaughn talked of “teachers and administrators who brought evil with them,” adding that Emily Drabinski, president of the American Library Association, “has a long history of advocating for the queering of public libraries.”
(Drabinski is an associate professor at the Queens College Graduate School of Library and Information Studies,” her website says. “She publishes and presents widely on topics related to knowledge organization, information literacy, and critical perspectives in librarianship. Drabinski edits Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies, a book series from Library Juice Press/Litwin Books. She is a contributing writer at Truthout.”)
Vaughn told the commissioners that Drabinski “is a self-proclaimed Marxist.”
“How many more are in our school systems, in our schools, in our elected offices that we don’t know about?” Vaughn continued. “It’s time for us to do something.”
Ending the county’s relationship with the American Library Association “is a small place to start,” Vaughn added, “but [the organization] has its fingers in all of our libraries nationwide.”
The next speaker, Linda Weinrich, told the commissioners, “My concern is the same as Barbara’s concern.”
She urged the board members to be wary of people representing groups who come to them with requests, unless the commissioners have researched the topics before listening to those requests.
Weinrich also appeared to question other actions of the county’s Libraries and Historical Resources Department as she showed the commissioners a pamphlet she said she had picked up in the foyer of the Commission Chambers. It had details about reading challenges promoted by the department, including the annual Winter Reading Challenge, she noted.
Then Weinrich talked about the availability of books in public libraries that focus on witchcraft and include pornography, for examples.
“We’ve been going to school board meetings,” she continued, and looking into actions of school district leaders. “We’re asking you to pay attention to these things and help us out.”
The third speaker, Michelle Pozzie of North Port, who is a Republican candidate for the District 74 Florida House seat, told the commissioners, “I heard a rumor that if you want something done in this county [that is an example of] strong, staunch conservative action, this is the place to be in.”
She thanked the board members for approving the resolutions on Oct. 10 (on a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Mark Smith dissenting).
Then Pozzie asked the commissioners to “take up the cause of defunding the American Library Association” and its Florida chapter. Those organizations, she continued, “push ideology” and “DEI talking points,” noted that the latter are “a pet peeve of our governor.”
(“DEI” stands for diversity, equity and inclusion. “In Florida, we are not going to back down to the woke mob, and we will expose the scams they are trying to push onto students across the country,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a March roundtable discussion in West Palm Beach. “Florida students will receive an education, not a political indoctrination.”)
“No one wants to ban books or censor speech,” Pozzie pointed out to the commissioners. “But filth and ideology [should not be funded by taxpayers]. It’s not my responsibility to fund a book … that teaches young children, in cartoon imagery, to give oral sex. … That makes me sick.”
Sally Nista of Venice, who wore a Republican Assembly name tag, told the commissioners that information resulting from a public records request submitted to county staff showed that the county pays $1,300 a year in American Library Association dues. She also said that the Florida Association of Libraries “appears to be the little sister of ALA,” and it pushes DEI ideology and porn in books.
Nista vowed to be back at the next County Commission meeting, which is set for Nov. 14 in Venice, to talk more about the issues.
Finally, Clayton Thomas, who said he was representing only himself, urged the board members to take up the American Library Association dues issue on their next agenda. “We should not be funding subversive organizations,” he added.
Referring to the Association as the “evil empire,” he told the commissioners that it “is run by a Communist.”
Receipts that The Sarasota News Leader received through a public records request show that the county’s Libraries and Historical Resources Department did pay $1,300 in dues to the American Library Association for the period from May 1 of this year through April 30, 2024.
County receipts provided to the News Leader through that public records request also show a $2,500 dues payment to the Florida Library Association for 2020, 2022 and this year.
Additionally, the county paid for individual dues of $173 to that organization for Renee Di Pilato, director of the Libraries and Historical Resources Department, for 2020, 2021, 2022 and this year.
A call for action across the United States
The News Leader found that the actions of those speakers this week mirrored initiatives in other parts of the nation.
The Associated Press reported that, during the summer, “[T]he the state libraries in Montana, Missouri and Texas and the local library in Midland, Texas, announced they’re leaving the ALA, with possibly more to come. Right-wing lawmakers in at least nine other states — Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wyoming — demand similar action.”
The AP added, “Part of the reason is the association’s defense of disputed books, many of which have LGBTQ+ and racial themes. A tweet by ALA President Emily Drabinski last year in which she called herself a ‘Marxist lesbian’ also has drawn criticism and led to the Montana and Texas state library departures.”
The article then quoted Dan Kleinman, whom the AP identified as “a blogger and longtime ALA critic”: “This is the problem with the American Library Association[;] it has changed from an organization that helped communities and used common sense into one that just promotes a view.”
On Sept. 14, the News Leader also learned from the AL.com website, that John Wahl, chair of the Alabama GOP, said he did not want to be associated with an organization “ ‘whose head is an open Marxist,’ and confirmed that he’s requested the Alabama Attorney General’s Office investigate whether the state’s library board can remove Alabama’s affiliation from ALA.”
The article by John Sharp also included this quote from Wahl: “I think the big question is if there is anything in state law requiring the state board to recognize local libraries based on ALA (affiliation) …’ ”
Wahl was speaking during an Eastern Shore Republican Women’s luncheon in Fairhope, Sharp noted