When did Idaho drop its American Library Association membership — and why?

The Idaho Commission for Libraries’ membership with the American Library Association expired in February.

The decision appeared to have nothing to do with politics — and came down to whether the $175-a-year membership was worth the money.

On Thursday, state librarian Stephanie Bailey-White offered more details about Idaho’s relationship with ALA, a group that has drawn criticism in conservative circles. Earlier this week, a group of 13 hardline conservative lawmakers urged Idaho libraries to sever their ties with ALA — citing a since-deleted April 2022 tweet from ALA President Emily Drabinski, in which the Boise High School graduate described herself as a “Marxist lesbian.”

The 13 lawmakers want Idaho public and school libraries to drop the ALA, saying the association’s role “in corrupting libraries and exposing children to a pernicious ideology can no longer be ignored.” The Montana State Library Commission voted earlier this month to drop its ALA membership.

Bailey-White noted earlier this week that the Idaho commission is not an ALA member. In an email to Idaho Education News, she explained the decision.

The membership provided the state a 10% discount on ALA-provided books and resources, as well as a discount for posting job openings on a national platform. Some years, those discounts more than offset the membership cost.

“We hadn’t been utilizing many of those discounts in 2021-2022, thus the decision to not renew,” Bailey-White wrote Thursday.

Commission members voted in September to end the state’s ALA membership. The membership expired five months later.

Under a longstanding commission policy, the state does not pay for individual memberships to ALA. “Staff who choose to become members pay for membership on their own,” Bailey-White wrote.

Still, since 2019-20, the state commission has spent $6,319.76 of state tax money and federal funds on ALA services. These numbers come from Transparent Idaho, the state’s online checkbook.

In 2022-23, the commission spent $970 in state general fund money for training, allowing four staff members to ALA-sponsored conferences.

In 2020 and 2021, the commission spent $1,357 per year for virtual webinars, hosted by the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of ALA.

“This was a cost-efficient way to provide access to virtual professional development specific to serving teens in a library setting, especially during the COVID years when in-person attendance was challenging,” Bailey-White wrote.

But after interest waned in the training, and as data on attendance grew spotty, the state dropped this project, Bailey-White said.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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