Arkansas Suit Fights Law That Could Jail Librarians

Legislation calls for violating constitutional rights, libraries and publishers argue
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 2, 2023 4:35 PM CDT
Arkansas Suit Fights Law That Could Jail Librarians
Nate Coulter, executive director of the Central Arkansas Library System, looks at a book in the main branch of the public library in downtown Little Rock last week.   (AP Photo/Katie Adkins)

Public libraries and book publishers have joined forces to fight a new Arkansas law that they see not only as an attempt to limit constitutional rights by severely restricting access to material, but as a threat to librarians themselves. The coalition filed a federal lawsuit Friday to prevent Act 372 from taking effect on Aug. 1, NBC News reports. The legislation would allow misdemeanor prosecution of librarians over providing children access to material it labels harmful to minors. "We don't exempt doctors from abuse laws. We don't exempt pharmacists from drug laws," said Republican state Sen. Dan Sullivan, the bill's sponsor, in arguing for imprisoning librarians over the issue. "And I don't know why we would exempt librarians from these laws."

Booksellers also could face prison, per the New York Times. Other states recently have approved or are considering similar laws. Oklahoma became the first last year to strip librarians of their protection from prosecution. The executive director of the Central Arkansas Library System said librarians in his state are upset because they don't think lawmakers respect their integrity and consider them the enemy. "They've been called groomers. They've been accused of being pedophiles," said Nate Coulter. "They're basically targeted by a very divisive, angry group of people who are vocal about believing that somehow the library is the problem in our community."

Librarians would be required to keep material that might be harmful to minors, including books, magazines, and movies, in an adults-only area. That would keep 17-year-olds from seeing materials ruled unsuitable for 7-year-olds, the suit points out. The "harmful" category often is used to apply to books with references to gender identity and sexuality. "They’ve created this catch-22," said Adam Webb, executive director of the county library in Hot Springs and one of the plaintiffs in the suit. "Either I comply with the law but violate the constitutional rights of my patrons, or I uphold the constitutional rights of my patrons and possibly get charged with a crime." (Read more Arkansas stories.)

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