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Springdale library board backs rules to require supervision of children

Rules on supervision of children, review of contestable books included by Laurinda Joenks | July 19, 2023 at 5:45 a.m.
Amanda Ward, of Springdale, reads a book to her daughter Maggie, 4, on Aug. 23, 2021, at the Springdale Public Library. (File Photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. Wampler)

SPRINGDALE -- The Springdale Public Library Board voted Tuesday to change some of its policies.

Library Director Anne Gresham said the changes are in response to the possible implementation of Act 372, which would put appeals of objectionable books in the hands of quorum courts across the state.

Gresham said one new policy was written to protect the safety of children in the Springdale library.

The Library Board voted 4-0 in favor of each of the three policies. Board members Zelda Parson, Matt Fryar and Felice Barret were not at the meeting.

Gresham said she would ask City Attorney Ernest Cate to review the policies before they are put into use Aug. 14, the first day of school for students in Springdale Public Schools.

Starting that day, the library will require increased parental supervision of children.

Children ages 12 and younger will require parent or guardian supervision at all times in any department of the library, the policy states.

Children ages 13 and 14 do not need direct supervision, but a parent or guardian must be present in the library.

Children ages 15 and older do not require supervision and may use the library freely.

The library staff does not have the staff or time to directly monitor children's behavior and their decisions on what books to read, Gresham said.

The policy reiterates that parents are responsible for their children's use and selection of library materials.

The Library Board also decided to review the policy in six months.

Gresham noted the guidelines for teen programming and volunteers will change with this measure.

The second policy puts into place a procedure to ask for the removal of a book from the library's shelves.

A patron would make a request to library staff, and the book would be reviewed by the director. If the patron does not agree with the library director's ruling, the appeal would be heard by a group of five librarians of the Springdale library. If the patron does not agree with that decision, appealing to the Library Board would be the next step.

The Library Board's decision will be final for three years, the policy notes.

The library might decide to move a book to a different section of the library or remove the book from the shelves. Books removed from the shelves will be retained in library offices and available to patrons by requesting a staff member, Gresham said.

However, Act 372 would give the county the final authority to review and remove books from shelves. It would supersede the Springdale policy, Gresham noted.

The law was set to start Aug. 1, but a group of Crawford County residents in May filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against what they claim is unlawful censorship of material in county libraries, according to court records.

A coalition of 17 plaintiffs filed a separate lawsuit in federal court June 2 asking a judge to strike down two sections of Act 372 as unconstitutional.

These plaintiffs filed a motion June 22 asking for a preliminary injunction, pending a decision on the merits of the plaintiffs' claims.

Alternatively, the motion asks the judge to grant a temporary restraining order barring the application of the two provisions until a decision is made on the request for a preliminary injunction.

A hearing for the motion is scheduled to take place at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Fayetteville, according to court records.

Under Act 372, after a patron asks for a review, a group of librarians in the Washington County Library System would review the book.

Gresham and several of her staff have volunteered to serve on the review committee, she said.

If the patron does not agree with the library system's decision, he could appeal it to the Washington County Quorum Court.

The third policy change for the Springdale library involves the way the library staff considers adding new books to its collection.

The library added 14,168 items in 2022 and 6,467 in 2023, Gresham reported.

The library's new policy lists 11 criteria considered by librarians to consider a book. The policy also lists professional library resources the staff uses to determine a book's contribution to the library's collection. At least two positive reviews are required, Gresham said.

The criteria include a book's appeal to the interests and needs of individuals in the community, authority of the work, clarity, readability, price and more, the policy notes.

But some materials are controversial and might offend some people, the policy acknowledges.

"Decisions will not be made in anticipation of approval or disapproval of the public," Gresham said. "The book will be considered in its whole for its value, not by one piece that might be objectionable."

"Material intended to appeal to a prurient interest -- considered in its entirety -- will not be selected," the policy states.

The Department of Justice says to be considered obscene the material must appeal to an average person's prurient interest; depict or describe sexual conduct in an offensive way; and, taken as a whole, lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

Gresham pointed out that under the legal definition, Playboy magazine would not be considered obscene. "But we would never put it in our library," she assured.

The library board and staff are very aware of Springdale's community standards, which were expressed Monday night as the City Council met as a committee of the whole, noted Paula Wilson, chairman of the library board.

The library also has added a parenting section to its collections, Gresham noted. The policy defines the category.

"We want to be transparent," Gresham said. "We do purchase books about sexual education, and this is where we shelve them."'

Board member Laurie Marshall added that the parenting section also has resources to support parents in having "this difficult conversation."

Wilson added that the parenting section includes books on potty training and many more topics for parents.

Three books in the children's library were recently found objectionable, and library staff moved them to the parenting section, Gresham said. Another book stayed in the young adult section.

The library plans to move the parenting section closer to the library's information desk, so library staff can watch the section to see who is using it, Gresham said.

Print Headline: Library board backs policy changes


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