'A radical social agenda’: Georgia GOP senator on the push to cut ties with American Library Association

Banned books are stacked at an exhibit at the American Library Association's annual conference, June 24, 2023, at McCormick Place in Chicago. (AP Photo/Claire Savage, File)

This story was updated March 6 at 11:07 a.m.

One bill WABE has been tracking under the Gold Dome this legislative session is the GOP-pushed Senate Bill 390, which would sever ties between the American Library Association and state public and school libraries, as well as libraries at public universities. The overhaul would stop libraries from spending public funds and private donations on services offered by the ALA.

The measure passed by a vote of 33-20 in the Georgia Senate on Crossover Day. It now heads to the state House of Representatives.

The bill would also dissolve the state board for the certification of librarians, and provide new guidelines for those who would lead public libraries.

Republican state Sen. Larry Walker claims the ALA is influenced by “Marxist” ideology and he pushed cutting ties with the association after discovering his public library received a grant from the ALA to “diversify” its collection.

Democrats oppose the bill, claiming the ALA gives state libraries invaluable services that promote boosting children’s literacy rates and freedom of speech.

“It’s hard to think of librarians as villains,” said Democratic state Sen. Elena Parent. “We all agree in the state Senate that Georgia’s kids should be reading more. And waging war against librarians is contrary to that goal.”

Democrats also cite that literacy rates plummeted in Georgia during the COVID-19 pandemic, and have not rebounded. According to the Georgia Governor’s Office of Student Achievement and the Georgia Council on Literacy, 56% of Georgia third grade students were not reading at grade level at the end of the 2022 academic year.

Walker joined WABE’s “Morning Edition” and discussed the reasoning behind severing ties with the ALA. When asked why GOP lawmakers are not focusing instead on the state’s low literacy rates, he acknowledged that it is a problem the state needs to work on.

“You’ve got this outside private organization, the American Library Association, that is trying to insert their social, reengineering agenda into our libraries, and to politicize our libraries, and make it a battleground for their agenda and culture war,” Walker said, arguing that “Marxist” ideology will drive parents away from libraries.

“It’ll make Georgia parents not feel comfortable taking their children there,” he added.

The measure is the latest push from Georgia’s GOP to overhaul what materials students at public institutions can access, what educators can teach, and comes amid a wave of book bans across the country — where most of the bans target books that feature people of color, or characters that identify as part of the LGBTQ community.

During Georgia’s last legislative session, Gov. Brian Kemp signed a GOP-pushed bill into law limiting how public K-12 school teachers can talk about so-called “divisive concepts.” That includes teaching that the U.S., and the state of Georgia, “are fundamentally or systemically racist.”

In a statement, ALA officials wrote that contrary to the claims made by GOP proponents of Senate Bill 390, the library association does not promote any “ideology,” and has made it a mission for nearly 150 years to preserve publicly funded libraries as “community institutions that provide free and unfettered access to a wide range of information and ideas for all people.”

The ALA warns that the proposed Georgia legislation is based on “false narratives” and the state should be concerned about lawmakers’ efforts to “restrict freedom of trade, freedom of speech and freedom to associate.”