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Collier County cancels membership in national library group over political and other concerns

Collier County public libraries are cancelling membership in the American Library Association. Some citizens raised political and other concerns about the association, and commissioners voted Tuesday to cancel the county's $1600 annual membership.

Collier County is cancelling its membership in a national library group because of political and other concerns.

Commissioners voted unanimously to have county public libraries drop out of the American Library Association, known as ALA. Collier now becomes the third Florida county to cancel membership in ALA while Montana became the first state to withdraw membership.

Jamie Merchant and others brought concerns to the county commission in recent weeks. Merchant spoke during public comment Tuesday afternoon at the commission meeting.

She said Emily Drabinski, the current ALA president, has openly spoken of being a Marxist, and that the group's board of directors knew of Drabinksi's political views when it voted for her last July. Marxism is the anti-capitalism ideology that has led to socialism and communism in some countries in the past century.

Merchant went on to say that ALA promotes gay and sexually explicit books that children could find in libraries.

"This is a much bigger problem than just one person. Ms. Drabinski is just the symbol," Merchant said. "How do you protect the innocence of children who might stumble upon these books?"

Joy White also spoke to commissioners. She said she is the librarian at St. Ann Catholic School in Collier, and has a personal membership in ALA.

White said she's never encountered inappropriate books or political agendas in her dealings with ALA. She said she had found the organization to be most helpful and professional.

"I'm appalled. It's just not true, what she is saying," White said of Merchant's comments.

Administrators said Collier pays about $1,600 a year to be a member in ALA. That membership allows for discounted rates for library staffers to attend conferences and seminars, and to get discounted prices on some library materials.

However the county also said that no staffers or administrators had attended ALA conferences since before the pandemic.

Commission Chairman Rick LoCastro talked with WGCU News about the controversy.

"The juice may not be worth the squeeze," LoCastro said.

"I mean the $1,600 may not be getting us a lot. But it's causing concerns with some people, and parents and elected officials. And commissioners may have an issue with that."

LoCastro added that when he was a colonel in the U.S. Air Force, he knew to keep political views to himself. He said Drabinski of the ALA should do the same.

Commissioners voted 5-0 to immediately cancel ALA membership. Citrus and Hernando counties in Florida recently took the same action, according to Collier County administrators. And U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has accused ALA of using federal tax dollars to promote a left-wing agenda.

WGCU tried several times, going back to last week, to get comment from the ALA, and received no response.

Mike Walcher is an Assistant Professor in Journalism at FGCU. He also does some reporting for WGCU News. He can be reached at mwalcher@fgcu.edu WGCU is your trusted source for news and information in Southwest Florida. We are a nonprofit public service, and your support is more critical than ever. Keep public media strong and donate now. Thank you.

Forty-one-year veteran of television news in markets around the country, including more than 18 years as an anchor and reporter at WINK-TV in southwest Florida.