The Montana State Library Commission voted Tuesday to withdraw from the American Library Association based on that organization’s new president, who is a “Marxist lesbian” by her own description.
The lopsided vote (5-1, with one abstention) represents the first time a state entity has withdrawn from the 147-year-old nonprofit.
“Our oath of office and resulting duty to the Constitution forbids association with an organization led by a Marxist,” the commission told the ALA.
After winning an election to become the president of the ALA from 2023-2024, Emily Drabinski celebrated in a now-deleted tweet, “I just cannot believe that a Marxist lesbian who believes that collective power is possible to build and can be wielded for a better world is the president-elect of the @ALALibrary. I am so excited for what we will do together. Solidarity! And my mom is SO PROUD[.] I love you[,] mom.”
Drabinski later confirmed in an interview that the “Marxist lesbian” label is “very much who I am and shapes a lot of how I think about social change and making a difference in the world.”
“Queer theory informs new strategies for teaching the library catalog from a queer perspective,” Drabinski wrote in 2013, in an article titled “Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction,” which was published in the peer-reviewed quarterly journal Library.
Drabinski speaks frequently on topics such as “organizing for change,” “teaching the radical catalog,” “decolonizing the library catalogue,” “herstory through activism,” and “critical librarianship.”
In 2019, she co-authored a research article in Transgender Studies Quarterly documenting “a collective effort by a handful of catalogers” to revise library catalogue practices “so that binary gender was not encoded into the metadata of library records.”
“The ALA has been promoting progressive ideology for many years,” Meg Kilgannon, Family Research Council senior fellow for education studies, told The Washington Stand. “Their annual conference has had breakout sessions on how to feature racist and sexualized content frequently. The reelection of an openly Marxist president, who ran for the job promising to inject her militant views into the organization, was the last straw in Montana.”
At the commission’s June 22 meeting, Commissioner Tom Burnett proposed to consider withdrawing from the ALA at a special meeting, which was scheduled for Tuesday.
“Marxism stands in direct opposition to the principles of the Constitution of the United States,” said Burnett. “It’s fair to discuss and learn about Marxism, not to affiliate with Marxist-led organizations.”
“I believe that the national association has been polarized,” agreed Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen, another commissioner. “We do not need to be tethered to a national organization that does not honor our great state, our values, or our nation as being America.”
Kilgannon said public libraries are especially important in a state like Montana, a mostly rural state with long months of winter weather.
“The public library is where movies are checked out, books are checked out, community fellowship happens, especially when the weather is bad,” she said. “When politics enter this space or ideology takes over, it alienates the people libraries are supposed to serve.”
During an hour of public comment, many speakers supported the decision to withdraw from the ALA.
“I think this is a really good move to send a really clear signal to our national organizations that we are not in agreement with the direction they are taking these organizations,” said parent Cheryl Tusken.
Tusken drew a parallel to the Montana School Boards Association’s withdrawal from the National School Boards Association last year.
After NSBA leadership conspired with the Biden administration to draft a letter asking it to investigate concerned parents as domestic terrorists, 30 of its 49 member state associations “distanced themselves from the NSBA’s letter,” and 26 states took “further action … to withdraw membership, participation, or dues from NSBA.”
Even though the NSBA appointed a new CEO and issued an apology, many of those state associations formed their own alternate interstate association instead of returning.
“We are grateful to them for their leadership in setting a standard other states should follow,” said Kilgannon. “The National School Boards Association learned this the hard way. Amazingly, other education groups have failed to learn from that example or the millions of parents across the country who are speaking out.”
The Executive Board of the Montana Library Association issued a statement opposing the decision to withdraw from the ALA. However, not every Montana librarian shared its position.
One Montana librarian submitted an email comment, concealing his identity “due to fear of retribution.” He complained that he had watched “my profession go from honorable to shameful,” as “libraries all over the country and within Montana have shifted from serving communities to serving power.”
The anonymous librarian lamented that he noticed a “change in my co-workers who had become aggressive to the point of supporting violent acts (I have evidence of this I am not willing to share in an email).” He said he had “become fluent in critical pedagogy” to “adapt to the rapidly deteriorating conditions in my workplace and surroundings.”
In April, Montana found itself embroiled in a tense cultural controversy that drew national attention when the Legislature worked to enact a law to protect minors from irreversible, harmful gender-transition procedures.
A trans-identifying lawmaker accused his colleagues of having “blood on your hands” and urged on protesters who were disrupting proceedings. The protests only grew more heated after the Legislature censured the representative because he refused to apologize.
It “said a lot” that the librarian was afraid to use his or her name, Commissioner Tammy Hall noted, “because of the personal attacks this person would be open to if they didn’t follow what I would call ‘the woke agenda being promoted by the ALA to our librarians.’”
“Parents all over the country are waking up to the fact that many in organizations like ALA are not willing to entertain other ideas or accommodate differences,” Kilgannon added. “The best course of action now is to leave the organization, take your funds and brain power with you, and use that money to serve the people in your state.”
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