updated 6/21/2006 7:07:17 PM ET 2006-06-21T23:07:17

The library system in this suburban Atlanta county says no mas — 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 out 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 have to look out for everybody.”

Amid debate, director fired
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, the latest 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.”

Other counties face similar battles
Amid the heated national debate over illegal immigrants and whether English should be the official U.S. language, some critics elsewhere around the country have also been objecting to public libraries’ efforts to buy more bilingual materials.

Last fall, Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., wrote a public letter asking if the library in Denver was increasing its Spanish-language collection at the expense of English material.

In Gwinnett County, board member Dale Todd said her only objection to the Spanish-language books is that Harlequin romance novels are not of high enough literary value to put in a library. Instead, she said, the library should offer life-skills books to help immigrants make their way in America.

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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