A coalition of librarians, booksellers, readers, and authors are filing suit against Arkansas, challenging the state for a sweeping new law that threatens jail time for librarians.
The suit, filed Friday by a group including the Arkansas Library Association and the Central Arkansas Library System, takes aim at Arkansas Act 372, a new library law signed by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders in March. The law, which critics describe as overbroad or unenforceable, implements a new system for challenging library books and threatens up to a year in prison for librarians who make banned books available to minors.
Carol Coffey, president of the Arkansas Library Association, described Act 372 as an attack on intellectual freedom.
“Library workers across Arkansas are rightly concerned that the overly broad edicts of Act 372 will prevent them from serving their patrons as they have always done, by providing a wide variety of materials to fill their information needs, and perhaps more importantly, materials that allow each child to see themselves in the books in their library,” Coffey said in a statement. The Arkansas Library Association is a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
“The primary mission of the Arkansas Library Association is to support libraries and library workers and to defend intellectual freedom. We join in this lawsuit because it is the best way for us to fulfill our mission.”
The lawsuit challenges the Arkansas law on constitutional grounds, claiming it violates Arkansans’ 1st and 14th amendment rights. Following a 2004 legal loss, Arkansas cannot fully ban library books to all patrons, the lawsuit notes. But the new law could have the practical effect of banning those books by labeling them inappropriate for minors and require the books be kept in “adult only” areas, which many facilities lack. “Their only choice will be to remove all materials which might be deemed harmful to their youngest, least developed patrons or customers,” the lawsuit reads.
Arkansas librarians have expressed concern that the age limits would disproportionately target certain identities. Recent book challenges have overwhelmingly targeted books about race and LGBTQ+ issues, analysis by the Washington Post shows. Just 35 percent of challenges did not target books that dealt with race or LGBTQ+ themes. Under Sanders’ governorship, Arkansas has also made other moves to restrict discussion of race in schools, like an executive order banning the teaching of what Sanders terms “critical race theory.”
Amid a nationwide surge in book bans and restrictions, some parents and advocacy groups have turned to lawsuits to keep titles on the shelves. Last month, free-speech organization PEN America filed suit against a Florida county’s book removal policy.
The Arkansas librarians’ lawsuit also comes one week after three Arkansas parents filed their own suit against the treatment of books on LGBTQ+ topics in a Crawford County, Arkansas library system.
Following complaints that books about LGBTQ+ topics constituted “pornography” or “grooming,” those books were reshelved to a section of their own, resulting in “stigmatization of certain books by placing a prominent color label on them and moving the books to a separate ‘social section,’” according to the Crawford County lawsuit.
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