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Should Hillsborough impose parental controls at libraries? New commissioner thinks so.

Commissioner Michael Owen also wants the county to drop its American Library Association membership because of who leads it.
 
Commissioner Michael Owen’s push came a week after a commissioner in Manatee County also suggested his county drop its affiliation with the American Library Association.
Commissioner Michael Owen’s push came a week after a commissioner in Manatee County also suggested his county drop its affiliation with the American Library Association. [ GEORGE WILKENS | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published March 2, 2023|Updated March 2, 2023

A Hillsborough County commissioner wants parents to know what their kids are reading at the public library.

Commissioner Michael Owen also wants the adults to have the opportunity to block their youngsters from having access to materials in the adult section of the library or “checking out controversial books dealing with sexuality.”

“These should be safe spaces for parents to trust their children are not getting fed garbage, basically,” Owen said.

He also called for the county’s 30-branch library system to drop its affiliation with the American Library Association. That nonprofit organization began in 1876 and promotes libraries and library education internationally. It had nearly 50,000 members in 2021.

Owen, however, said the association has morphed from a library resource to an activist organization.

“The (American Library Association) has clearly gone radical,” Owen told the rest of the commission Wednesday.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Michael Owen wants the county to drop its affiliation with the American Library Association.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Michael Owen wants the county to drop its affiliation with the American Library Association. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]

The association’s incoming president, Emily Drabinski, an academic librarian at the City University of New York, called herself a Marxist in a tweet posted after she won the office last year.

In her campaign for the association’s presidency in 2021, she said: “So many of us find ourselves at the ends of our worlds. The consequences of decades of unchecked climate change, class war, white supremacy and imperialism have led us here.

“If we want a world that includes public goods like the library, we must organize our collective power and wield it. The American Library Association offers us a set of tools that can harness our energies and build those capacities.”

Owen read the statement nearly verbatim to the rest of the commission, but dropped the reference to “white supremacy.”

Owen said in an interview afterward that he was unaware he read an edited version of Drabinki’s comments, which are posted on the American Library Association’s website.

“It’s not what it’s about,” he said. “It’s about her claiming she’s a Marxist and us being affiliated with an organization like that. It has nothing to do with LGBT or race or white supremacy.’’

His earlier statements came near the conclusion of the commission’s meeting Wednesday in which board members list topics for future discussion. Chairperson Ken Hagan cut off Commissioner Pat Kemp as she tried to respond to Owen, saying the subject hadn’t been publicly noticed and would be discussed at a future meeting.

“The library was a sanctuary for me,” said Kemp who told other commissioners she checked out a lot of materials as a child that were considered adult books.

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She expanded on her comments in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.

“I’m just really concerned about starting to impose on our libraries. They’re doing a great job. I don’t see a reason why we should be reining in our libraries. We should just be encouraging everyone to use them,” she said.

“I just don’t want to put our libraries in the middle of a culture war.”

Owen asked the staff to report back to the commission on: the county’s status as a member of the American Library Association; what is required to disassociate from the group and what, if any, program benefits the county library would be forfeiting if it dropped its membership. Separately, he asked for a report on whether minors can check out materials from the library’s adult section and whether parents can have an opt-out provision for their children’s library cards to prevent juvenile access to adult materials.

Owen’s push came a week after a commissioner in Manatee County also suggested his county drop its affiliation with the American Library Association. The comment came during a workshop and was not the subject of a commission vote.