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Pasco County residents push school district to cut ties with national library group

woman speaks at pasco county school board meeting
Pasco County Schools
Kirsten Krauer, a mother of two elementary-aged kids, spoke out against the American Library Association at the Nov. 21 Pasco County school board meeting.

The American Library Association has drawn the ire of conservatives for its stance on book bans and censorship. Now, Pasco residents want any possible funds going towards the ALA scrubbed from the school budget.

County and school libraries across the state have come under pressure to drop all ties with the American Library Association (ALA), which identifies as the oldest and largest library organization in the nation.

The group provides professional development for librarians and advocates for state and federal grants for libraries. But in the past year, conservative backlash has roiled against the ALA's leadership and stance on book bans and censorship.

Last year, the ALA's president posted a now-deleted tweet describing herself as "a Marxist lesbian."

Several counties across the state — including Hillsborough, Sarasota, Hernando, Citrus and Collier — have withdrawn their libraries' institutional memberships with the ALA this year.

Amid other states severing ties with the ALA, the Florida Department of State issued a guideline in September prohibiting grants and related activities with the ALA and its affiliates. The exact impact of the new rule is unclear, though the Florida Library Association said state libraries received about $252,000 in grant fundsfrom the ALA since 2021.

Reactions over the ALA's stance

Outcry surfaced at a Nov. 21 Pasco County school board meeting, where community members criticized the ALA for speaking against book bans and promoting LGBTQ-related stories.

The school board agenda included a review of the district's interim budget statement, which showed about $77,000 spent on library books, less than a percent of total expenditures.

Several parents and religious activists demanded that any possible funding going towards the ALA and its affiliates be scrubbed from the district budget.

"They do have some unsavory suggestions to librarians. And I do hope that when these books were purchased, none of those suggestions were considered because they do go against Christian beliefs."
Kirsten Krauer, parent of two elementary school students

Troy Pederson, a local pastor and the Pasco director for Protect Our Children Project, asked the school board to "join the groundswell of libraries cutting ties with the radical ALA and its various divisions."

Pederson decried ALA leadership for "aggressively promoting" Drag Queen Story Hour, an event featuring drag queens reading stories to children in libraries and bookstores.

A Pasco County Schools spokesperson previously told WUSF that the district does not have a "formal relationship with ALA and does not spend grant funds on memberships or participation in ALA events."

However, John Labriola, who represented Christian Family Coalition Florida, a group that he said is leading a campaign to defund ALA statewide, pointed to individual memberships Pasco schools may be funding — and that those memberships may be with the American Association of School Libraries, a division of ALA.

"I know they're not organizational memberships, but their staff memberships within the library system and ... it's probably having an effect on the books that are purchased," said Labriola.

The ALA's 'undue influence'

Labriola ran unsuccessfully for Inverness City Council in 2022 and was fired from his Miami-Dade County government job in 2021 after writing an "inflammatory opinion piece" opposing the proposed Equality Act, according to a report from the Citrus County Chronicle.

Kirsten Krauer, a parent of two elementary school students, said she was concerned that the ALA has "undue influence" on what books librarians should purchase.

"They do have some unsavory suggestions to librarians," said Krauer, "And I do hope that when these books were purchased, none of those suggestions were considered because they do go against Christian beliefs."

The ALA and Florida Library Association have previously stated that, while they "defend the values of intellectual freedom and freedom to read," they do not have power over what books are part of local library collections.

Board members did not respond to the comments on ALA funding. They pointed out that the district has a formal process for challenging books if community members have issues with any materials in school libraries.

As WUSF's general assignment reporter, I cover a variety of topics across the greater Tampa Bay region.