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Manatee County severs ties with American Library Association

The commission voted to end the county's membership and barred staff from attending conferences of the national library organization.

Braden River Library is one of seven locations in the Manatee County Public Library System.
Braden River Library is one of seven locations in the Manatee County Public Library System.
Photo by Liz Ramos
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In the same week the Lakewood Ranch Library opened its doors, Manatee County commissioners shut the door on the American Library Association. 

A motion made by Commissioner James Satcher to “direct staff to not attend any ALA hosted conferences, not renew our membership and withdraw immediately from the American Library Association until such time that we are assured they’re no longer pushing a woke agenda” passed in a 6-0 vote with Commissioner Jason Bearden absent.

Before the vote on Jan. 9, Commissioner George Kruse questioned if the motion was made out of “spite.” He wanted to know if the benefits of the organization, such as printing discounts and training opportunities, outweighed other perceived problems. 

The ALA provides access to professional publications and a 10% discount on conferences, training manuals and marketing materials. 

Kruse estimated the move could cost taxpayers thousands of dollars by losing the discount. Library Service Manager Tammy Parrott said she couldn't estimate what the loss of those discounts would total.

Her staff employees don't attend ALA's annual conferences, but they do attend the Public Library Association’s biannual conference. The Public Library Association is aligned with the ALA, but county employees are not banned from going to those events, now at full price with no discount. In cutting ties with the ALA, the county will lose any discounts generated through the PLA as well.

The county’s budgeted cost is $1,800 to attend a PLA event, including travel expenses, per person. Parrot and Tiffany Mautino, the Lakewood Ranch Library Branch Manager, were panelists at the 2022 PLA virtual conference. 

Satcher said his problem with the ALA is its president, Emily Drabinski, who he said has identified herself as a “Marxist lesbian” after being elected in a tweet. Her term expires on May 31, the same day the county’s membership would have expired. 

“She publicly says she’s a Marxist,” Satcher said. “And that does not align with — I don’t believe — Manatee County taxpayers or this board.”

“The president of the ALA has made comments that were definitely more divisive than unifying, and that’s problematic,” said Shannon Keever, director of communications for Women’s Voices of SW Florida. “But that doesn’t reflect on the roughly 150-year history of the organization and the benefits it brings, especially to newer librarians.” 

Parrott explained how staff will lose opportunities for networking and professional development.

“That kind of professional connection would be curtailed by leaving the American Library Association because I just wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn from or speak to those folks unless I do it on my own dime,” Parrott said.

A group of protesters defended the ALA against accusations of being a "woke organization" during a commission meeting in April 2023 when Commissioner Amanda Ballard wanted an additional library advisory board to oversee the book collection.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer

Friends of Lakewood Ranch Library President Sue Ann Miller said the group was disappointed but not surprised by the vote.

“It’s the professional organization (for library staff), and we all belong to professional organizations,” she said. “Since Sarasota went this route, we kind of expected it.” 

Sarasota commissioners voted 4-1 in November to end the county’s membership. A month earlier, the state issued a ruling that Florida libraries could no longer accept grants from the ALA. Collier, Citrus and Hernando counties have also canceled their memberships. 

Mautino said it was nothing new to her because she lived in Missouri before moving to Florida and Missouri cut ties with the ALA four months before Florida. 

The unexpected element was Satcher’s timing. 

“We got an email Dec. 5 flat-out telling us that staff already decided not to renew our membership,” Kruse said. “We didn’t have to do anything. I certainly don’t understand putting it on an agenda while we’re trying to promote and be proud of a new library while simultaneously bashing library staff and accusing them of being indoctrinated every time they show up at a conference.” 

During the meeting, Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge said staff “shouldn’t be sent off to be indoctrinated by the ALA” and that cutting ties with the organization was the last step to getting the library system “back on the rails.” 

Keever called the move “grandstanding” and didn’t believe Satcher demonstrated how leaving the ALA benefits citizens. 

“He comes in with his own personal agenda that is heavily influenced by his religion,” she said. “It’s fear mongering, and it’s blown out of proportion.” 



Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

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