Aug 1, 2023 - News

What to know about the blocked library law in Arkansas

Illustration of a red lifesaver rescuing a hardcover book

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A federal judge on Saturday temporarily blocked parts of a new state law that would have allowed criminal charges against librarians and booksellers who provide “harmful” materials to minors. Act 372 was set to take effect today.

Details: District Judge Timothy Brooks cited First Amendment rights numerous times in his 49-page opinion on why the state cannot criminalize furnishing materials to minors.

  • A separate section of the law that would have required libraries to have written policies on the selection, relocation and retention of physical materials and set up a process for people to challenge the appropriateness of materials is also prevented from taking effect.

Background: Eighteen people and entities — including the Fayetteville Public Library, Fayetteville bookstore Pearl's Books and the Arkansas Library Association — sued over the law, which was sponsored by state Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-Jonesboro) and Matt Stone (R-Camden), along with state Reps. Justin Gonzales (R-Okolona) and Mary Bentley (R-Perryville).

  • Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed the bill into law.

What they're saying: "The vocation of a librarian requires a commitment to freedom of speech and the celebration of diverse viewpoints unlike that found in any other profession,” Brooks' order reads. “The librarian curates the collection of reading materials for an entire community, and in doing so, he or she reinforces the bedrock principles on which this country was founded."

  • "The librarian’s only enemy is the censor who judges contrary opinions to be dangerous, immoral, or wrong," it continues.

Yes, but: Other sections of Act 372 are going into effect today. The law removes schools and public libraries from the part of Arkansas state code that previously exempted them from prosecution “for disseminating a writing, film, slide, drawing, or other visual reproduction that is claimed to be obscene” under existing obscenity laws, the Arkansas Advocate reports.

The big picture: Attempts to ban books nearly doubled last year from 2021, hitting an "unparalleled" 20-year record, according to data from the American Library Association.

  • The book-banning movement often targets writings by or about members of the LGBTQ community and people of color.

What's next: A statement from Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin's office to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette said, "We are reviewing the judge's opinion and will continue to vigorously defend the law."

Go deeper: Read Act 372 and the judge's order.


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