Tennessee Becomes Next State Seeking Public Library Oversight, Censorship

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From BookRiot:

Following in the footsteps of Republican lawmakers in Missouri, a pair of bills aimed at public libraries are making their way through both the House and the Senate of Tennessee. Senate Bill 2896, sponsored by Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta), and House Bill 2721, sponsored by Representative Andy Holt (R-Dresden) seek to create parental oversight boards for public libraries. Those boards, one for each library, would make final determinations on whether or not sexual materials are age-appropriate.

. . . .

The boards would be made of five individuals, each appointed by the county for two-year terms. Members would be elected by local government officials, though onus falls upon library boards to notify their communities of said election.

. . . .

In other words, the parental oversight board would be appointed by local government, not anyone related to the library, though it’s the library’s responsibility to notify their patronage of said election.

Determination of sexual content inappropriate for minors is, according to the House Bill: “any description or representation, in any form, of nudity, sexuality, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse, that: (A) Taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest of minors; (B) Is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community with respect to what is appropriate material for minors; and (C) Taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.”

When material is brought to the board for determination of appropriateness, “[T]he board shall convene public hearings at which members of the community may present concerns to the board. After receiving comments from the public, the board shall examine individual instances of the questioned sexual material to determine whether it is age-inappropriate sexual material under this section.”

Once a hearing convenes, the board can choose to remote the material, and their decision is final. It’s not subject to review from any library governing body, the state itself, or any division within the state government.

. . . .

Like the bill in Missouri, librarians would be subject to misdemeanor violations and fines in instances where they do not comply with board decisions. The state can also revoke funding for libraries not found in compliance.

Many believe this bill specifically targets Drag Queen Storytime events at libraries, though according to quotes from Representative Bailey for the Herald-Citizen, the decision to bring simultaneous bills came from concerns “to certain groups using public buildings for things that some may find age inappropriate.” He admits it “could” mean Drag Queen Storytime or other groups. A Drag Queen Storytime in 2019 in Putnam County, Tennessee, drew protests and criticism, and bills like these would empower communities to disallow such events. The Putnam County event did not violate any of the library’s policies, and the event itself was not sponsored by the library.

Vague language at this stage would allow for parental oversight of not just events, but also books available in public libraries. What that board determines as inappropriate would be moved or removed, and librarians would bear the brunt of legal repercussions for not uniformly following that directive.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

PG is inclined to regard local libraries as entities that should be governed by local boards drawn from the community as a whole. PG has no problem with the local boards reviewing the policies the librarians apply with respect to activities taking place in the libraries, books acquired and books placed in areas where they are not available to children and younger teenagers.

A local library remains a valuable community cultural asset even in an era in which access to the internet is widely available to individuals of most ages. It is a place where members of the community gather for face-to-face educational, conversational and community purposes. As such, it should represent and embody the sorts of compromises communities have been making for a very long time. Based in part upon PG’s personal experiences with libraries and the experiences of PG offspring with libraries, PG thinks the environment should reflect the cooperative consensus of those members of the community as to activities, acquisitions, etc., rather than battlegrounds for Social Justice Warriors, other sorts of would-be social and behavioral dictators, etc., to attempt to impose their standards on people who have beliefs unlike their own.

Compromise and consensus are, in general, positive values in any community that is functioning in an effective manner.

3 thoughts on “Tennessee Becomes Next State Seeking Public Library Oversight, Censorship”

  1. I’m not sure what the basic problem is.

    I disagree with the misdemeanor punishment for librarians. Zillions of firms and government agencies can manage their employees without recourse to misdemeanors.

  2. Well, I guess this means they’ll be limiting access to the Bible? After all it has descriptions of naked bodies, scenes of rape, seduction, incest, and so much more. I mean, we don’t want to damage the minds of children by letting them read about Lot having sex with his daughters, do we?
    A bill like this when I was a minor would have resulted in some random ‘protector of morality’ deciding that THX-1138 didn’t have any artistic merit for a minor and thus remove it from my library. I never would have learned about the amazing possibilities of science fiction and become a much different person.

  3. As a rural library trustee, I hear complaints about the materials available in our library branches. And I sympathize with patron concerns.

    I try to stick to a few simple principles on what the library makes available. First, everyone is entitled to respect for their opinion on what the library should or should not circulate, but that entitles each person to a seat at the table, not a unilateral veto. Every seat is entitled to a voice. With limited funds, we can’t circulate every item that everyone requests, but we try to circulate everything with a substantial requestor base.

    The consequence of that rule is that we circulate a lot of material that some people object to and others praise. I take the praise with the objections. No books that few want, many books that some hate, others love. In reality, many more books that everyone loves.

    But this requires another principle regarding children: if the library is to serve everyone, parents must take responsibility for choosing what they will allow their children to access or not access. In a community with diverse opinions and standards, a parent cannot assume that because a book is in the library, even in the children’s section, it will meet their own standards.

    In other words, parents, shape up. If you are concerned about what your children can access, take responsibility, don’t pull books for your kids blindly off the shelf. Choose carefully and teach your children your principles so they can choose for themselves when the have reached that stage in maturity. The library represents both people who agree with your standards and people who do not. Everything on our shelves is chosen carefully with community standards in mind, but not everyone in your community has your particular standards.

    If you don’t like a book, let the library know. We try to label books clearly so you get what you expect and your concerns help us do that accurately. But do not assume that everyone in the community agrees with your opinion, because I can assure you we get both complaints from Buddhists against Christian bias and complaints from Christians about anti-Christian bias. It’s all fun.

    The drag queen thing is a case in point. As far as I can see, in our community, for every parent who is vocally against drag queen story times, there is one equally vocally in favor. I hear both sides.

    Parents against D-Q events should not delegate decisions on their children’s attendance to parents who favor D-Q events, and vice versa. If the community is overwhelmingly anti-D-Q, D-Q events will soon disappear. The library can’t waste limited resources on events that no one asks for, and we can’t afford to repeat events with poor attendance.

    Knowing what I do about what communities are actually like, some folks in Tennessee may be surprised at what their parental oversight boards come up with. It might not be what they expect.

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