Librarians, Publishers, Bookstores Join Lawsuit Over Arkansas Library ‘Obscenity’ Law

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Some 17 plaintiffs—including the ALA’s Freedom to Read Foundation, the Association of American Publishers, the American Booksellers Association, and the Authors Guild—will file a federal lawsuit over a recently passed law in Arkansas, Act 372 of 2023 (also known as SB 81), which exposes librarians to criminal liability for making allegedly “obscene” books available to minors.

According to a report in the Arkansas Advocate, news of the suit comes after the Central Arkansas Library System board of directors voted on May 25 to proceed with the litigation. At press time, the suit had yet to be filed.

In a statement to PW, ALA officials confirmed their participation in the suit. “The American Library Association is pleased that the Freedom to Read Foundation, our First Amendment legal defense arm, and our state affiliate, the Arkansas Library Association, are participating in the lawsuit to vindicate Arkansas residents’ freedom to read,” ALA president Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada told PW. “The government has no place in deciding what books people can borrow or buy.”

The law in question, which was signed by governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders on March 31 and is set to take effect on August 1, removes an exemption from prosecution for school and public libraries and would empower virtually anyone to challenge the appropriateness of library materials in Arkansas. Library staff found to have “knowingly” distributed or facilitating the distribution of allegedly obscene material to a minor—defined as anyone under 18—would be open to a potential felony charge.

The impending lawsuit in Arkansas is the latest in an escalating legal offensive being waged by freedom to read advocates in response to the ongoing surge in book bans and legislative restrictions nationwide.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

8 thoughts on “Librarians, Publishers, Bookstores Join Lawsuit Over Arkansas Library ‘Obscenity’ Law”

  1. “…deciding what books people can borrow or buy…”

    As usual, conflating a measure intended to keep the parents (or legal guardians) of a minor in control of what they are exposed to with a broad censorship of media. “The Village” must be in control.

    • More to the point, “the government” absolutely decides what books people can borrow–after all, public libraries are government entities, usually, which makes their employees, who are the ones who make their purchasing decisions, members of the government.

      I should note here that I am not a fan of this law–a librarian should not be held liable for a sixteen year old who gets into the adult nonfiction section, snags a copy of the Kama Sutra, then uses their parent’s library card to check it out–but I honestly think a lot of the outrage of the plaintiffs stems from the belief that they are the only people with the right to gatekeep.

      • I have heard school teachers, officials, and librarians tell us they are the ones who should have exclusive rights to materials presented to children. Glenn Younkin famously said so and lost the governors race in Virginia.

        The push back from parents is in response to this attitude.

        I seriously doubt a librarian would be charged if the 16-year-old actually looked like an adult and presented an adult library card. However, I suspect a 10-year-old would would change things.

        • One would hope so, but right now it seems like no one is inclined to be reasonable.

          (There’s also the issue of things like self-checkout systems and the like.)

  2. The problem here is not what librarians do (or do not) make available. It is what parents would make unavailable to children not their own; it is those parents’ demand that everyone else act as perfectly compliant proxies when those parents are not present to snatch that copy of Invisible Man out of their own curious teenagers’ hands, or that copy of And Tango Makes Three out of their own curious second-graders’ hands while pretending that one of those second-graders’ classmates “doesn’t have a real family.”

    You’re only allowed to parent (or, in some instances, abuse-without-state-intervention) your own children.

    • Wouldn’t a rational system provide opt-in or opt-out options–much like parental controls on TVs, game consoles, phones, tablets, ereaders, and PCs–instead of forcing a one size fits all mandate favoring either side?

      I see no difference here: both sides are “my way is the only way”.
      Absolutists wrapped in victimization, which is the political coin of the day. They’d rather have an unsettled matter to drive the base to the polls than a readily available rational compromise. No innocents involved other than the kids.

      Pon ‘pon both houses.

      • (1) I’m not on principle in favor of a parental right to censor what even their own kids read. I had to hide parts of my reading habits by checking out waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too many books (a paper grocery bag full) every week and burying the most-interesting stuff in the middle of the bag. I turned out ok. (Quiet down, peanut gallery!)

        (2) And all one does by turning on “parental controls” is trust someone else’s idea of what’s inappropriate and should trigger the parental controls. As one of my acquaintances sang about not so long ago, calling something “obscene” (or “age inappropriate” or whatever) is still enforced orthodoxy.

        * * *

        Parents who really believe they should enforce orthodoxy on others bloody well need to be personally engaged in the enforcement efforts for their own children and their own children only, not lazily allowing someone else to determine for them what’s sufficiently (un)orthodox. Not to mention that King Canute had better probability of success against the tide… especially so long as we continue to consider both Michelangelo’s David and Gentileschi’s Susannah and the Elders as uncriticizable-Sam-the-Eagle-approved ART in all caps. Then, I suppose, as they will — but I’d be keeping a close eye out for other signs of abuse and neglect.

    • I don’t think either Wells’ or Ellison’s Invisible Man is a very good example for the current controversy. We may find either as an outlier, but certainly not anything near the driving force.

      The Tango makers story of penguins does fit with the collection targeted by the parents, but it’s far from the graphic illustrations of homosexual sexual activity that sparked the movement. Parents object to librarians choosing these books for kids who are not the the librarians’. They also object to the notion that they should be compliant and accept that librarians and PhDs in education know what is best for the kids. Anyone remember the New Math or Whole Word Reading?

      The parents question why the family situation of one kid should drive the curriculum. Some wonder why all the other second-graders’ family situations are ignored while one is elevated for special consideration.

      More parents see the library books as part of an odd movement on the part of educators to encourage and assist young children in pursuing sex change options. They don’t see this as the mission of government schools and employees. Teachers encouraging sex-change for other people’s children.

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