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February 28, 2024
Ozark library board disagrees on book review process

Conversations continue among Ozark Dale County Library board members about how to handle book reconsideration requests.

Although the board has already dealt with one of only two known reconsideration requests in its history, the board disagreed Wednesday on how it should handle such challenges moving forward.

The agenda included a vote that could potentially make the decision of an anonymous review committee the final say on a book’s placement.

However, board member Christina Faulkner was absent, prompting Chair Liz Delaney and Vice Chair Michael Cairns to ask the board members to consider tabling that policy change until the next meeting so all board members could be present.

But Monica Carroll, the board member who suggested in a text she would “bring a match” to deal with LGBTQ books in the young adult section, disagreed with the policy change. She argued that the board answers to the public and should have a say in whether it agrees with the review committee’s decision.

Delaney said having the library board a final say could “nullify” the work of the committee.

“If we ask them to read the book, do all the research on the book, meet as a committee and then they give us a result—then we are basically nullifying anything they decide if we override them,” Delaney said.

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Carroll told Delaney she doesn’t agree with that line of thought.

“I’m the one that’s liable, I’m the ones the patrons come to and ask me about—we are,” Carroll said. “We are the ones that have to answer to our patrons.”

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The current system in Ozark is not unique—it is very similar to the process in Prattville, which has been at the epicenter of the book-challenging campaign. Gadsden also plans to implement a process for committee review but still giving the library board final say.

Ozark does do things slightly differently though, using an anonymous three-person committee of a lawyer, professor and high-school teacher.

Carroll said she is concerned that the committee is not just anonymous to the public, but to board members as well.

Delaney said that was kept anonymous due to concerns of pressure on the committee by board members.

Cairns argued that there is no real point in having a separate review committee if the board can come in and overrule them.

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“If we have a committee that’s volunteered their time to go and review these books that are up for reconsideration and they make a decision, and then we go against their decision—what’s the point of even having them? Why don’t we just vote on it ourselves?”

On the other side, Carroll asked what would happen if the library board disagreed with the committee’s recommendation, noting her displeasure with the committee’s first recommendation to keep “The Mirror Season” in the young adult section.

“I’m very saddened we decided to put ‘The Mirror Season’ back on the shelf,” Carroll said. “If you think that book is OK, I don’t know what book would not be OK.”

Cairns clarified that he doesn’t like the book either.

“But I don’t think we should be judge, jury and executioner and have the right to take books out we don’t agree with,” Cairns said.

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Carroll said she is carrying out the will of the “silent majority” that she heard from that didn’t want the book in the you g adult section.

The board voted 2-1 in favor of keeping the policy as is. Carroll’s motion was seconded by newcomer Larry Maio, nominated by Carroll’s husband Chris Carroll on the Dale County Commission, while Cairns voted against the motion. Delaney declined to vote on the motion because not all members were present.

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The board will have another decision to make at its next meeting, as the committee has also finished its review of the other challenged book “Only Mostly Devastated.”