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Donor offers Sarasota County to pay ALA dues

Written by on Thursday, December 7, 2023

The offer comes after commissioners vote to drop libraries’ membership in the venerable organization.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: Dec. 6, 2023

Host: A private person offered to donate to Sarasota’s public libraries the $1,300 Sarasota County Commissioners did not want to spend on a membership in the venerable American Library Association – an organization too woke in the eyes of some local activists. Ramon Lopez tells us how the county reacted to the offer.

Ramon Lopez: The Sarasota County Commission’s vote on Nov. 14 to end Sarasota County’s involvement with the American Library Association, or ALA, will stand.

This, despite an end-run offer by a local private citizen to pay the $1,300 membership fee for the upcoming year and keep the Sarasota Library System in good standing with the well-established national library organization.

The controversial vote to not pay for the Sarasota Library System’s membership for 2024 was 4-1, with Commissioner Mark Smith casting the lone ‘nay’ vote.

The commissioners voted after hearing from 40 county residents, most of which favored the county’s continued support of the ALA.

Those assembled in the packed commission chamber in Venice warned that rejection of the ALA amounted to book banning. But the commissioners said book banning did not factor into their vote.

The ALA is the oldest and largest library association in the world. It provides training to local librarians and works to improve library and information services.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, both Republicans, back defunding the ALA. They said the group is ‘toxic’ and ‘exposes children to pornography’.

It was clear that the commissioners voted to keep county librarians out of the ALA because of their dislike of ALA President Emily Drabinski. She is a lesbian with self-professed Marxist leanings. They said her political agenda is to back social justice initiatives, not promote literacy.

Renee Di Pilato, Director of Libraries and Historical Resources for Sarasota County, had nice things to say about the ALA at the hearing.

Renee Di Pilato: I’ve been a member of the American Library Association for over 20 years. My education is accredited by the American Library Association. I have benefited greatly from the education and opportunities provided to me through ALA, including a leadership institute that I was selected for, hard to believe, 15 years ago. I have also been elected to the ALA Council twice. I served two terms on the council which is .. the policymaking and governing body for the organization. So that was a source of great pride for me, that I was elected by my peers to represent them in ALA. I think it’s important to remember that the president of the ALA is a one-year term. It will end in June of 2024. The organization is run by a staff day to day.

Di Pilato

RL: She was asked by Commissioner Smith if the county should remain a member of the ALA.

RdP: I think the membership provides us with numerous benefits. Whether you like it or not, the American Library Association is the premier source of professional development and continuing education opportunities for those in our profession. By being a member, we receive great discounts on attendance at those events, and webinars and conferences. I would also like to say that .. many of us are personal members of ALA, myself included, as I noted, but a lot of our staff cannot afford that membership on their salary as a new librarian. And so the fact that we have an organizational membership helps for those staff who cannot afford a membership to benefit from the educational opportunities that ALA provides.

RL: County resident Stephanie Weisbroth wrote in a recent Sarasota Herald-Tribune letter to the editor that she was “appalled” by the decision of the Sarasota County Commission not to fund the library system’s membership in the ALA.

She said she immediately got on the local library website chat line and offered to pay the dues herself. She was told her offer “needed to go up the line for a decision”.  

Weisbroth said she hadn’t heard back from the county, but hoped the county would accept her offer since “it is important for ordinary citizens to work against destructive behavior and for responsible government”.

When asked if the county library system could use Weisbroth’s cash offer to stay in the ALA, Sarasota County Media Relations Officer Sara Nealeigh said, “The Board of County Commissioners was clear in their direction at the November 14th meeting, and Libraries and Historical Resources will abide by the board’s instruction”.

Meanwhile, a group of Pasco County residents and religious leaders have urged their local school board to cut ties with the ALA for the same reasons voiced by the Sarasota County commissioners. And the Hernando County Commission stopped paying dues to the organization in October. The Citrus County Special Library District took the same step in August. Earlier in the year, the Hillsborough and Manatee County commissions considered similar moves.

This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.


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