Hispanics upset as library cuts adult Spanish fiction

LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. – The library system in this suburban Atlanta county says it won’t buy any more thrillers, romance novels or other works of adult fiction in Spanish.

The decision has angered Hispanic leaders and thrust Gwinnett County, where one of six residents is Hispanic, into the nation’s immigration debate.

Last week, the library board in this fast-growing county of 700,000 people eliminated the $3,000 that had been set aside to buy Spanish-language fiction in the coming fiscal year. It offered no explanation, but the chairman said such book purchases would lead readers of other foreign languages to demand the same treatment.

However, one board member, Brett Taylor, said the move came after some residents objected to using taxpayer dollars to entertain readers who might be illegal immigrants.

“The argument was we didn’t need to cater to illegal aliens,” Taylor said. “I’m personally offended by that. We’ve to look out for everybody.”

The budget cut passed without discussion at a June 12 meeting, minutes after reporters and residents rushed out the room because the library director had been fired for reasons the board has not disclosed.

The 13-branch library system spent $2,200 for adult fiction in Spanish since it started buying such books in January. It will continue to buy children’s books and adult nonfiction in Spanish, but not, say, a John Grisham thriller in Spanish, or a Marcela Serrano novel in its original language.

“We can’t supply pleasure reading material for all language groups, so we’re not going to go down that road,” said Lloyd Breck, chairman of the library board.

Hispanic advocates were outraged, and said such cutbacks are rare across the country.

“A library is more than a place for kids to read books; it’s often the center of the community,” said Raul Gonzalez of the National Council of La Raza. “A vast majority of the people who don’t speak English as their first language – guess what – they’re citizens of the U.S.”

The library system has 798 adult Spanish titles and will spend about $12,000 out of an annual budget of $22.2 million for Spanish-language adult nonfiction in the coming fiscal year, said Mabel Anne Kincheloe, director of materials management.

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