Libraries Under Attack – Stocking Wrong Books Can Send Librarians to Jail

Photo by Spencer Scott Pugh on Unsplash

By Crescenzo Vellucci

The Vanguard Bureau Chief

MONTGOMERY, AL – Libraries used to be safe—and quiet—spaces. Now, they seem to be under attack from many quarters throughout much of the U.S., and librarians are seeking protection.

Here in Alabama last week, the GOP-dominated House OK’d a measure that could send librarians to jail under the state’s obscenity law for providing “harmful” materials to minors. The vote wasn’t close either, passing on a 72-28 vote. It now moves to the Senate.

But, news reports are recording similar efforts latest in a wave of bills in Republican-led states targeting library content and decisions, writes the Associated Press, “amid a soaring number of book challenges — often centered on LGBTQ content — and efforts in a number of states to ban drag queen story readings.”

It’s not censorship, said Republican Rep. Arnold Mooney, the bill’s sponsor, noting, “This is an effort to protect children. It is not a Democrat bill. It’s not a Republican bill. It’s a people bill to try to protect children.”

What the Alabama bill does, writes the HuffPost, is remove the existing exemption for public libraries in the state’s obscenity law, expanding the definition of prohibited sexual conduct to include any “sexual or gender oriented conduct” at K-12 public schools or public libraries that “exposes minors to persons who are dressed in sexually revealing, exaggerated, or provocative clothing or costumes, or are stripping, or engaged in lewd or lascivious dancing, presentations, or activities.”

Under the process laid out in the bill, a librarian in a public library or public K-12 school could face a misdemeanor charge if the librarian fails to remove material or cease conduct that violates the state’s obscenity law within seven days of receiving a written complaint from the public.

“This process will be manipulated and used to arrest librarians that you don’t like, and not because they did anything criminal. It’s because you disagree with them,” Rep. Chris England, a Democrat from Tuscaloosa.

Craig Scott, president of the Alabama Library Association, said, “Why are they coming into libraries or thinking that they can come in and run the place better than us as professionals?”   

And in Arkansas, AP reports a court temporarily blocked Arkansas from enforcing a similar law that approved criminal charges against librarians and booksellers for providing “harmful” materials to minors.

Scott, who began his career in 1977, said in an AP interview he has never seen anything like this, claiming one person in the library where he works challenged 30 books, most about gender identity, but one about a boy who wants to become a ballet dancer.

The legislation removes immunity that public libraries had under the obscenity law, but limits when prosecutions could occur, and be just misdemeanors.

One Democrat lawmaker argued, though, “I feel like this is a violation of the First Amendment, and it’s easily going to be abused.”

But those found guilty of a similar measure in West Virgina, could receive fines up to $25,000 and face up to five years in prison.

The West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill that would remove protections from criminal liability for schools, public libraries, and museums that distribute or display “obscene matter” to a minor, when the minor’s parent or guardian is not present.

Vanity Fair reports school librarians are “also under threat in Georgia. There, state senators have advanced a proposal requiring school libraries to inform parents of every book their child borrows. A separate pending proposal, Senate Bill 154, would subject school librarians to criminal charges for distributing ‘harmful materials to minors.’ Teachers in the state are already subject to such penalties.”

But, added a Vanity Fair story, the Maryland General Assembly, for instance, is “weighing a bill—dubbed the Freedom to Read Act—that would protect librarians from disciplinary and retaliatory measures related to the materials they offer. It would also push back against attempted book bans, noting libraries should not “prohibit or remove material from its catalogue because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”

But, the attack on librarians appears relentless.

In Missouri, a library ended plans for a bookmobile to provide books at school after a law criminalizing anybody who makes visually explicit materials available at a school went into effect in late August, wrote The Guardian.

“Conservative parent groups that formed to oppose masks during the pandemic, only to pivot to the fight against ‘theory,’ have now begun to focus on scrutinizing books, often by and about queer and Black people, and lobbying for their removal from library shelves,” The Guardian reported.

“Politicians have hopped on the bandwagon, drafting legislation to supposedly protect children against indoctrination and predation, calling out books by name and making it impossible for the people who run schools and libraries to do their jobs. Fringe activists and government officials are taking to social media,” added The Guardian.

In October 2021, Texas state representative Matt Krause created a list of about 850 books he argued “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex.”

Books included John Irving’s The Cider House Rules, which features a doctor who performs abortions, as well as the Amnesty International book We Are All Born Free: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures, wrote The Guardian.

The publication added, “In July, Oklahoma’s secretary of education, Ryan Walters, tweeted screenshots from Gender Queer and Flamer, two autobiographical graphic novels about growing up LGBTQ+ that he found in Memorial high school’s library catalogue.”

South Carolina state senator Josh Kimbrell last August demanded a public library remove multiple books or be defunded.   

The American Library Association documented 729 attempts to censor library materials in 2021—and there’s many more the past few years—targeting 1,597 titles. There were 681 challenges to 1,651 titles in just the first eight months of 2022, The Guardian said.

The Guardian’s research found, for many librarians, “the stress has become unbearable. Increasing numbers are complaining of sleepless nights, quitting their jobs and setting their social media accounts to private in order to protect themselves from the deluge of harassment and humiliation tactics…More than two-thirds of respondents to the 2022 Urban Library Trauma Study said they had encountered violent or aggressive behavior from patrons at their library.”

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

Related posts

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for