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Huntsville library to privatize months after Pride book display controversy

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Posted at 5:58 AM, Jan 04, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-04 08:00:14-05

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — A Huntsville library is set to be privatized for the next 10 years and some residents are calling it a move towards "censorship."

As first published by Houston Public Media, last December, the Huntsville City Council voted to outsource its public library operations to a private company.

The move was approved in a 6-3 vote, with council members Pat Graham, Russell Humphrey, Bert Lyle, Jon Strong, Vicki McKenzie, and Huntsville Mayor Andy Brauninger voting for the proposal.

Meanwhile, council members Daiquiri Beebe, Karen Denman and Deloris Massey voted against it.

Prior to their decision, a move to delay voting to allow further public input was narrowly voted down after being proposed by McKenzie.

A Huntsville Public Library employee has since disclosed in anonymity to Houston Public Media that they received the notice shortly after a holiday luncheon.

A luncheon attended by City Manager Aron Kulhavy, who had ordered the removal of their "Read With Pride" display last August and later proposed the contract with the Maryland-based company, Library Systems & Services.

The display is said to have highlighted books with LGBTQ+ themes and was later removed after a complaint was made by a community member, the library employee said.

The library has since been prohibited by city officials from having any sort of display, the employee also told Houston Public Media.

Now, the nine existing employees are being told they can still interview for jobs with the company, or for another position with the city - but are not guaranteed any roles.

Meanwhile, last October, the Huntsville Police Department was ordered to review a series of the library's books after a complaint was raised about their legality; according to an open records request shared with Houston Public Media.

"This is a form of censorship,” a Huntsville resident told the council.

“… To let the library people go before Christmas, even Ebenezer Scrooge would not approve of that,

"This is heartless."

A library employee has since confirmed with Houston Public Media that no books ended up being taken off the shelves.

This move has since been opposed by the American Library Association, with spokesperson Raymond Garcia stating that "publicly funded libraries should remain directly accountable to the publics they serve.”

The President of the Huntsville Public Library Board, Michelle Lyons, also told Houston Public Media that the board was not "informed or consulted" about the proposed contract.

Lyons added that board members are specifically appointed by the city council and are tasked with making library policy and programming recommendations.

"Clearly, better oversight is needed," said a Huntsville resident in support of hiring the private company.

The contract is set to take effect in late January.