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National Library Week: Why aren't some librarians in Alabama in a celebratory mood?


It's National Library Week, but in Prattville, Ala., it's a time of stress for librarians. Troy Public Radio's Ann Kenda reports the suburb of Montgomery is at the center of Alabama's book challenges.

ANN KENDA, BYLINE: On a recent spring evening, a small group of protesters showed up in downtown Prattville.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Hey, hey, ho, ho, this library board has got to go.

KENDA: They're holding signs that say things like ban bigots not books, and all books are important. The protest comes after new members on the public library board had asked library director Andrew Foster to review 113 books for sexual content. When he tried to get clarification, the board's lawyer at the time, Laura Clark, answered in email.

JACOB HOLMES: One email that included Laura Clark giving advice on how or whether he could remove books from the library.

KENDA: That's journalist Jacob Holmes, who'd filed an open records request with Foster to see the email exchange. The board then fired Foster because they said the emails were privileged information and should not have been released without their permission.

HOLMES: And that is the apparent impetus of what caused them to call the meeting to fire Andrew Foster.

KENDA: The board didn't comment for this story. Foster, who's suing to get the job back, also didn't comment. But his former colleague Lacie Sutherland was at the protest. She's one of three other librarians fired for supporting Foster.

LACIE SUTHERLAND: Basically, we had an old-fashioned stand-down, like in the old Wild West, except it was - there was a circulation desk between us.

KENDA: Sutherland says she loves the Prattville library but is now applying elsewhere.

SUTHERLAND: As much as I would love to have my job back, I am moving on. I can't wait forever for them to see the light and I can't not have a job.

KENDA: The Prattville Library controversy is not new to Kasey Meehan. She's with PEN America, which advocates for writers. She says across the country, people are losing their jobs in fights like this.

KASEY MEEHAN: Individual librarians, educators, library directors are being dismissed from their roles for defending and for protecting and for advancing the freedom to read.

KENDA: At the protest, Nancy Klasterka worries that more book bans are not far off. She's a retired librarian.

NANCY KLASTERKA: Believe me, when they get the LGBTQ books out of there, then it'll be the books on the Civil War because white people are portrayed in a poor light. And then it'll be books on religions that are different from their own. There's no stopping these people.

KENDA: She's referring to conservative groups like Clean Up Alabama, which is behind the Prattville book challenge. The group would not comment for this story. Prattville's library has an interim director and is open, but a Facebook post asks the public for patience as it's understaffed.

For NPR News, I'm Ann Kenda in Prattville, Ala.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ann Kenda