After attorney general's letter, libraries report no issues with book collections

Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor sent letters to libraries and school districts throughout the state in mid-November, warning that minors should not have access “indecent materials” at libraries and that parents must be given two weeks notice about any instruction related to “human reproduction and sexual matters.”

The topic of gender identity, Taylor said, falls under this category.

The letters align with a parental rights bill proposed this year by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, which would require parental approval for classes, textbooks, lessons and students nicknames or pronouns. The bill has not passed the state House or Senate.

Though the Irene Ingle Public Library and Wrangell School District both received Taylor’s letters, neither have immediate plans to change their policies and are awaiting guidance from the state.

“Our policies currently may already meet those guidelines,” said District Superintendent Bill Burr. “Maybe not as specific as the letter came through.”

The letters don’t reflect a change to Alaska law, but Burr isn’t sure whether they suggest a different or stricter interpretation of existing statutes. He has reached out to state officials to seek clarification.

The district may conduct a review of its library collection once it receives feedback from the state. “We would of course comply with the law,” Burr continued, “but I’m not sure our policy is out of compliance at this point.”

Like most districts in Alaska, the school district follows guidelines from the Alaska Association of School Boards to determine what materials are available to its students.

Burr is not aware of any complaints from parents or community members about indecent materials being available to minors through school libraries.

Irene Ingle Library Director Sarah Scambler was also not aware of Wrangell-specific concerns on this front. “We have not had any complaints about the content of our books,” she said. “In general, our patrons are very supportive of the library and are capable of making their own choices about what they’re reading and what their families are reading.”

The library is guided by a collections development policy that “strives to offer the most complete and balanced collection possible within existing fiscal and physical limitations,” according to its website.

Community members with concerns about the collection can request a form at the front desk. After stating their concerns and the solutions they’d like to see, the form will be submitted to a committee of library and school employees.

The letters he sent statewide, Taylor said in a press release, are a response to “questions and concerns from Alaskans” that minors may be able view inappropriate material at libraries or learn about gender identity at school without parental consent.

“You should conduct a review and take steps to assure that your organizations are not violating the law,” the letter reads.

In Juneau, the letters’ vague instructions puzzled municipal officials. “If he (Taylor) thinks there’s an issue we’re always happy to engage,” said Deputy City Manager Robert Barr. “And it does strike me as odd for something like this to be done in the blanket way that it was done.”

The letters by Taylor are the latest in a volley of so-called “culture wars” initiatives under the Dunleavy administration. In addition to the parental rights bill he introduced, the state Board of Education in August voted to require the Alaska School Activities Association to ban transgender girls from participating in girls high school sports. That new rule took effect in November.

The Juneau Empire contributed reporting to this story.

 

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