Saline County justices of the peace approved a resolution “requesting” the Saline County Library to relocate certain material “due to their sexual content or imagery” on Monday evening.
The resolution, titled “A resolution requesting the Saline County Library ensure that materials contained within the children’s section of the library are subject matter and age appropriate,” is listed as “Exhibit ‘E’” at the 6:30 p.m. quorum court meeting. Its sponsors are Jim Whitley, a justice of the peace representing District 10, and Clint Chism, a justice of the peace who represents District 11.
The resolution states, “The library should enact policies to relocate materials that are not subject matter or age appropriate for children, due to their sexual content or imagery, to an area that is not accessible to children.”
During discussion by the justices of the peace, Whitley said he wanted to dispel “rumors and innuendo” surrounding the resolution. He said that people have accused the resolution of being related to defunding the library system.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Whitley said, emphasizing that there was no intent to defund the library in the resolution.
He also rejected claims that the library wanted to remove sexual material from the library at large. Instead, the resolution is “very specific to the children’s section of the library.”
Whitley said children are “inundated daily with sexual language, imagery content that is really inappropriate for them.”
Literature is at the core of America’s democracy, the justice of the peace said, adding that he supports the library system.
However, he said he doesn’t want children to come to the library and “read things they’re too immature to process.”
Chism said that, in the past three days, “I’ve come under a lot of anger.” He read a prepared statement, in which he expressed surprise at their response.
Laws already “do that sort of thing,” he said, adding that movies are rated, and that games and music have warning labels.
“I don’t understand why it’s even being a debate,” Chism said. “Why would you want your children to look at something like that?”
Keith Keck, a justice of the peace representing District 13, proposed an amendment that states “parents or legal guardians are ultimately responsible for the children’s use of the library and for determining the appropriate library materials for their children to have access to.”
After discussion, the amendment was voted down 9-4.
Keck also recommended an amendment that would add an additional reference to Act 372, but withdrew the motion after discussion.
The effort from Whitley and Chism references Act 372, a state law signed March 30 that exposes library personnel to criminal charges for “knowingly” distributing material found to be obscene. Such efforts add to the wave of recent pressure placed on Arkansas libraries to remove children’s books that address sexual subjects.
Act 372 removes existing language from state law that shields library personnel as well as school employees from prosecution for disseminating obscene material.
A person who loans out from a public library material found to be obscene could be charged with a Class D felony under the law. The legislation also creates a new Class A misdemeanor offense for knowingly furnishing a “harmful item” to a minor.
LIBRARY DIRECTOR RESPONDS
In an interview before the quorum court meeting, Saline County Library Director Patty Hector, Saline County Library said she didn’t believe the county resolution was necessary.
The library board has already voted to update standards for Act 372, and their books are in “the appropriate age section,” according to Hector.
Act 372 establishes parameters for citizens to challenge the appropriateness of material available to the public that is held in school or public libraries. Successful challenges could result in material being relocated to an area not accessible to minors.
Decisions not to relocate the challenged material could be appealed to a school district’s board, in the case of a school library, or the governing body of a city or county, in the case of municipal or county libraries.
Anyone wanting to make an official challenge over a book should fill out a form and speak with Hector, the director said. If the complainant wants to continue with their challenge, their complaint will go to a committee of library staff, who will discuss the book. After the committee reports back to the complainant, that person can choose to take the challenge to the quorum court.
However, Hector said that, in the seven years she has been director of the system, “I haven’t had a book challenge in all that time.”
According to the director, library staff read professional reviews of books to determine whether the works are “right” for the library. Staff in the children’s section get together if they feel “the least bit concerned” about a book for kids, she said.
Hector said the library system also doesn’t buy books from groups pushing self-published works, or works that aren’t from a well-known publisher.
“We want things that are vetted by a publisher.”
Hector said she doesn’t think anything will need to be moved or relocated, because she believes her staff bought appropriate books.
In addition to Act 372, Hector pointed to other similar efforts to regulate the availability of certain books in Crawford County, Siloam Springs, Craighead County.
A late September post on the website of the conservative education and research group Family Council lists libraries with children’s and young adult books containing what it calls “graphic sexual content.” Crawford County is listed among them, though neither the Saline County Library nor the Craighead County Jonesboro Library systems are mentioned.
The post states that people can take steps to remove material they find objectionable by using a form that asks libraries to remove offensive materials and call on their elected officials to pass laws that regulate “objectionable material” in libraries.
In February, Crawford County Library System Director Deidre Grzymala announced her resignation following criticisms of the inclusion and public display of children’s books with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning themes at the library.
The Craighead County Jonesboro Library lost half its revenue in November, after residents voted to decrease the library’s 2.0 mill tax to 1.0 mill.
The Siloam Springs Library has had at least 10 of its books challenged.
Similar efforts have also been taking place in other states.
Attempts to ban books “nearly doubled” in 2022, compared against the previous year, a March 22 news release from the American Library Association states. Nationwide, there were 1,269 “demands to censor library books and resources in 2022,” according to the association.
In Saline County, other new business on the quorum court’s Monday agenda included a “resolution recognizing public safety communicators as first responders,” a “resolution authorizing continuation of ICJR grant,” an “emergency ordinance designating planning services as professional services,” an “emergency ordinance establishing Saline County Litter Control Fund” and an “ordinance amending the 2023 Saline County budget ordinance 2022-36.”
Information for this article was contributed by Will Langhorne of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Doug Thompson of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.