Free Expression Friday: Read Freely Alabama (Angie Hayden)

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Since this interview, the Autauga-Prattville Public Library board has used recently passed policies to fire their director who refused to remove 133 LGBTQ+ books, as well as four librarians who refused to open the library after he was terminated. Read Freely Alabama has provided the following statement:

‘Read Freely Alabama supports the library staff of the Autauga-Prattville Public Library after the APPL board fired Director Andrew Foster for “sharing confidential information in violation of criminal law” after fulfilling a public records request for a local reporter. We also stand with the four library staff members who were fired after they shut down the library until Mr. Foster was reinstated.

From the beginning, the Autauga Prattville Public Library has been a cautionary tale of what could happen to other public libraries in Alabama should extremism run unchecked. The freedom to read is essential, like air and water, to a healthy democracy. We will continue to fight alongside our neighbors in Prattville and the library supporters for the right to read.

If you are a Prattville or Autauga resident, we urge you to voice concerns and frustration through this online “Save our Library” petition. If you would like to join us in supporting all these amazing individuals, you can donate to an assistance fund created by EveryLibrary Institute NFP.’


Angie Hayden is a founding member of Read Freely Alabama, an Alabaman, a mother, and a passionate advocate.

What is Read Freely Alabama’s mission?

I am in Prattville, which is just right outside of Montgomery in Central Alabama. We are ground zero for the book banning efforts here in the state of Alabama. It started last spring. The group here is really Moms for Liberty by another name — they started out as Clean Up Prattville, and now they're Clean Up Alabama. It began with one woman here, Hannah Mann Reese, who took five books to the library, and then to the city council, demanding that they be removed from the children's section. They were books like The Pronoun Book, and, interestingly enough, Yes! No!: A First Conversation on Consent. I and a couple of other mothers heard about it, went to the city council, and started pushing back against it. A group of us have come together and formed this little bit of magic here, and it's really taken off. Now we have chapters all over the state. And we are really making great strides in protecting our libraries and Alabama families’ freedom to read. 

What made you get involved? 

I have two daughters — they're grown now, 23 and 26. They grew up in our little library, avid readers, both of them. I have pictures of them at 9 and 12 years old coming out of the library with books stacked up to their little noses. To have people look at my children and say that stories about kids like them are inappropriate or dangerous is just something that I can't stand by and watch happen. At the first city council meeting that I went to, after Clean Up Alabama spoke, the very first words out of my mouth when I stood up were, “I'm here because I want you to know that there's more than one kind of concerned parent in Prattville.” I didn't know what to expect out of that, but the number of people who have rallied behind us and showed support has been overwhelmingly encouraging.

I'm a mother with an openly gay daughter, so this really is very personal for me. But it's really not even just an LGBTQ+ issue. It's an intellectual freedom issue. I find it so interesting that here in Alabama, where you hear so much talk from politicians about small government and freedom, that this is happening, because it seems to run contrary to all of those ideals. 

How has the right to read been attacked in Alabama in the past few years, and how did it start? 

They have been following the same template that Moms for Liberty is using elsewhere, except in other states they have tended to start in school libraries, whereas in Alabama they have really started with public libraries. Their pattern is to insinuate that librarians are grooming sexualizing children using books meant for young adults, or even in some cases books from the adult section. They wave them around and get people riled up and insinuate that they're in the children's section and that this is sexual — as they would call it pornographic — material being handed to children by librarians for the purpose of indoctrination. We have found that the more we kind of lay out what is actually happening and what is actually true, the more our numbers have grown and the greater our support has grown, and I truly believe that their support is falling away. Unfortunately, we do have a political structure here that is working in their favor. And now that they have moved to the state level and are trying to affect the APLS Administrative Code and push forward some legislation. So we're really fighting it at every level.

How have you been organizing against their efforts?

We have been really aggressively pushing a letter writing campaign, because in the state of Alabama, the governor has requested a change in the state library system’s Administrative Code that would make it easier to censor books. There's now a 90-day public comment period that the citizens can participate in and make their voices heard. We're trying to facilitate that effort as much as we can for everyone that would like to push back against these book banning efforts. Unfortunately, the state did not see fit to set up an internet portal for people to be heard. It has to be handwritten letters, hand-delivered or mailed through the mail system. So we're really focused on having letter-writing parties and letter-writing campaigns. We even have an online portal that you can sign electronically and we will print it out and mail it for you. So you know, a lot of steps are being bought. A lot of envelopes are being addressed, and we're just trying to get as many of those letters out as we can. The deadline for public comment is at the end of April. Then there will be a hearing, and that's when they will either vote to accept the governor's proposed changes or amend them, which is what we are really heavily pushing for. Our goal is to have 1000 letters go in and I think we're going to meet it.

How can Alabamans get involved in fighting book bans? 

People need to know what's happening in their local library. I have learned so much about the library system, and I'm not a librarian myself — I'm just a mother. At your local level, what you can really do is check in with your librarian and ask how things are going. We have helped set up chapters in other towns and cities all over the state, and that way local people can get plugged in. And when these extremists show up, they see someone's there to counter it. Because I have found that these people are not the majority. They are a very, very loud minority. And so the more voices that we can have on our side, pushing back, the better. 

Where can people learn more about Read Freely Alabama?

We have a website, and you can send us an email if you have any concerns about what might be happening in your local library or if you would like to know if there's a chapter close to you and how you can get involved. We are also fundraising: we're having to do a lot of freedom of information requests, and unfortunately, in Alabama, there is no cap on what your local municipality can charge you for those. It's really a messed up system. So our little grassroots effort, just here in Prattville, has spent over $500 in FOIA requests, and then there's the stamps and the mailing supplies… for the most part, at the beginning, we were just funding all of this on our own, but now we've kind of swallowed our pride a little bit and started a little a fundraising site so that people can give and help out. And even more than the money, your voice is what's most important, because I truly believe that our politicians have this false idea that this is what most Alabamans want. The silver lining of this for me, as a fairly progressive girl in Alabama, has been that I am not alone in this. We just tend to be very quiet because we feel like we're all alone in this. But this library issue is something that spans all political beliefs, all faith backgrounds, except for the extremists. The best thing about this for me has been how it's brought so many people out and together.