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Saline County library facing more scrutiny

Ahead of board meeting, groups keeping up pressure by Paige Eichkorn | May 29, 2023 at 7:30 a.m.
The Saline County Republican Committee billboards decrying “x-Rated library books” stand on display over I-30 in Benton near the local Walmart on Friday, May 26, 2023. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

The Saline County Library board delayed a vote earlier in the month that would grant the county judge power to relocate or remove "controversial" books from youth sections in the Benton and Bryant locations.

The board's meeting was the first since the quorum court approved a resolution in April recommending the library system "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."

Director Patty Hector has voiced that the library is already in compliance with Act 372, which will go into effect on Aug. 1, changing the way libraries handle challenges to content that members consider "obscene" and making librarians liable for disseminating such materials.

Hector mentioned that she hadn't received any material reconsideration forms until the past week before the board meeting.

County Judge Matt Brumley argued that anyone should be able to go into the library and ask a staff member to reconsider a book without having to fill out a form.

But the two locations hold thousands of books, Hector said, and there's no way her staff could possibly know and read them all.

"The county has no control over books in the library, the county can't compel a library to do something," Hector said. "A book has to be declared by the courts that it's obscene and then if you don't take it off shelves, that's when it's a felony. There's a lot of chances to meet to avoid a charge on a librarian."

A total of six Freedom of Information Act requests with 44 questions about the library's assets and how it spends its money in a very detailed manner were submitted to the library recently, Hector said.

"I'm not sure why anyone would want such detailed information," she said.

Bailey Morgan, an organizer for the Saline County Library Alliance, speculates that defunding efforts are brewing for the library.

"The GOP social media presence is confusing, and the judge said it's about moving them from downstairs to upstairs but Saline County Republican Women said it's about removing them entirely, but then other folks are saying it's about removing tax dollars to the library," he said. "Every time a member of the [Saline County Republican Women] or GOP are asked about defunding they say no, but at the same time they're doing this, and it's a little like the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing type of thing."

A billboard along Interstate 30 toward Benton near the local Walmart, put up by the Saline County Republican Committee, has also brought confusion to residents.


Chairman of the county Republican committee David Gibson said a number of "like-minded Christians" got together to get the word out so individuals and families can look at the information and decide whether they want their children exposed to such materials.

The website, which is not the actual library's homepage, gives a "small sample of the hundreds of inappropriate, sexually explicit books being marketed and distributed to minors at the Saline County Library," it states at the top.

Gibson emphasized that the books are pornographic and should be moved to an adult section.

"The library has been spinning this, but let's just deal with the facts: these books are sexually explicit and they're in the children's section," he said. "Why do library directors think this is necessary or appropriate? [Hector] has to understand that she's placing herself and her staff at risk when the law is implemented on August 1.

"They're upset because we drew attention to the truth. Sex education has nothing to do with these books, these books discuss rape, how individuals were exposed to sex acts; there's no education here, it's hypersexualizing children," Gibson said.

Gibson said the content on the billboard and website is "intended for the average adult voter."

"I don't think many children driving down the road will take the same interest," he said. "The library has said this material is acceptable; the problem is, they redefine what an adult is, and they said it's 12 years old, but the law decides that."

Morgan said he got some feedback from a community member who had to explain to their child who was in the car with them what "x-rated" meant.

"It blows my mind that children could be exposed to 'sexual materials' and then parents are having to explain what 'x-rated' means because of their billboard, when children generally going to the library would never be exposed to that anyway," he said.

The library alliance now has two billboards of its own, proclaiming "KNOW THE FACTS. FIGHT THE LIES. STAND WITH THE LIBRARY" and ""

"General feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and people are happy there's a group trying to publicly advocate for the library," Morgan added. "Our website leads folks to the fight for the first page, explains who we are and what our goals are and dispels misinformation that's been spread about the library."

Those who regularly visit the library have let Hector and staff know that they are on their side, Hector said.

"We've gotten support from our patrons. Every day someone says that they support us and they appreciate that we're not trying to censor anything," she said.

The next library board meeting will be on July 10 at the Bob Herzfeld Memorial Library.

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