Saline library chief decries GOP’s ‘x-rated’ book billboard

(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Jared Haas)

Motorists driving along Interstate 30 toward Benton near its local Walmart have recently been seeing a billboard that reads: "STOP X-RATED LIBRARY BOOKS" and ""

This is, in fact, not the correct website for the library. Instead, anyone can access this public site to see a list of "inappropriate" and "obscene" books deemed so by the Saline County Republican Committee. The list includes photos of books marked up in pen or with stickie notes denoting what they say is inappropriate language or images.

The opening paragraph on the webpage proclaims:

"This website will give you a small sample of the hundreds of inappropriate, sexually explicit books being marketed and distributed to minors at the Saline County Library. In April, the Saline County Quorum Court passed a resolution requesting that the Saline County Library make these types of books inaccessible to minors and requested that the library take the steps necessary to come into compliance with Act 372 of 2023. Within days, Director Patty Hector went to the media stating that she will not move the books."

Scott Gray of the Saline County Republican Committee who originally posted a photo of the billboard on Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.

Hector, director for the Saline County Library in Benton and Bryant, said the billboard is "reprehensible," and disagrees that the library has any "x-rated books."

"[Saline County Republicans] think that those books are x-rated, and they put them on a website that anyone can access, including children," she added.

Hector also noted Act 612, which prohibits the distribution of harmful materials to minors.

"It makes any minor have to have a digital copy of a license [to view such materials], but there's no requirement on their website that they say is filled with terrible books," she said.

Hector also pointed out that the library "has always been in compliance" with Act 372, which exposes library personnel to criminal charges for "knowingly" distributing material found to be obscene.

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.

Local elected officials will have the final say over whether a challenged book can stay on publicly available library shelves or must be moved to an area that minors cannot access, the law states.

"We haven't had a challenge to any book since as far back as we can remember," Hector said. "These books have been on shelves for years and nobody's ever questioned them. The people that actually use the library support us."

She said that Saline County has great libraries and an award-winning staff who "do a great job."

In April, the Saline County Quorum Court approved a resolution "requesting" the Saline County Library relocate certain material "due to their sexual content or imagery," without first consulting the library.

Keith Keck of District 13, one of two quorum court members who voted against the resolution, said it left out the key player in excluding the library from prior discussions.

"I think we missed a step in not having them because I don't think we'd be going through this stuff that way," he said.

A total of 53 Saline County residents signed up to speak about the resolution, allotted three minutes each. The public comment period lasted 75 minutes.

Many spoke for and against the resolution. Gray of the County Republican Committee said children must be protected from "indoctrination."

Bailey Morgan, a Saline County Library Alliance organizer, spoke against the resolution at the meeting, calling it a vehicle for censorship.

In regard to the Republican Committee's billboard and website, Morgan said he's heard from a few people who were confused by the similarity in name to the actual library's website, .

A GoFundMe for the Library Alliance to purchase its own billboard to correct the misinformation has received over $5,000 as of Tuesday with 147 donations, surpassing its original goal of $3,500.

"We've got a few different mockups, but we want it to be clear, supportive of the library, and indicate our stance on the issue and direct folks to our website where we'll have corrections to the bad info spread around," Morgan said.

He noted that it seems the Republican Committee is "gearing up" for a ballot measure to defund the library.

"It starts out with them talking about books that are 'inappropriate,' but now there's 'obscenity' in the taxpayer library and it's become financially focused," Morgan explained. "I think the billboard and the site are stepping stones to sway the public toward this idea that the library is illegitimate. It's a way to harm the library so they'll be more successful in a defunding campaign."

Morgan said with an issue like this the alliance could still be "dealing with it" come November of next year, so the extra funds raised will be used for future efforts in keeping the billboard up or other means of community outreach.

"Despite what their message has been, the Saline Library is a nonpartisan group. We welcome anyone of any political ideology, and our membership reflects that," he said.

Information for this article was contributed by Josh Snyder of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.