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Librarians sue Arkansas state over law banning them from giving ‘obscene’ books to children | Books

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The American Library Association and the Authors Guild are among a group of organisations bringing a lawsuit against the state of Arkansas over a law which makes it a crime for librarians to give children books with “obscene” content.

The lawsuit involves 17 plaintiffs, including the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS), the Association of American Publishers and the American Booksellers Association.

The groups are aiming to challenge Senate bill 81, which exposes librarians who provide “obscene materials” to children to criminal liability. The law, part of Act 372 of 2023, is due go to come into force on 1 August.

It says that anyone will be allowed to “challenge the appropriateness” of a book, but it does not define exactly what is meant by “obscene” or “appropriateness”. Under the law, a group of people chosen by head librarians would review material that had been challenged, and vote in a public meeting about whether it should be kept on public display or moved to an area of the library inaccessible to those under 18.

CALS executive director Nate Coulter said this part of the law would be “totally impractical to enforce”, reported the Arkansas Advocate.

The board of CALS voted this month to file the lawsuit challenging parts of Act 372 of 2023. John Adams, a lawyer from Fuqua Campbell, the law firm representing CALS, said that librarians needed clarity on the law to ensure they could do their jobs without risking arrest.

American Library Association president Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada told Publishers Weekly that the lawsuit was “to vindicate Arkansas residents’ freedom to read”.

“The government has no place in deciding what books people can borrow or buy,” she added.

The lawsuit is expected to be filed in the coming days. It is the second high-profile lawsuit this year concerning the restriction of books available in libraries. Earlier in the month, PEN America, Penguin Random House, and a group of authors and parents, filed a lawsuit against a Florida school district for implementing book bans. The suit argues the removal and restriction of access to books discussing race, racism and LGBTQ+ identities violates the first amendment.

It comes after increased activity by rightwing groups to remove books from libraries and schools in the US. In 2022, calls to ban books hit the highest level ever recorded in the US, according to the American Library Association (ALA), which tracks requests for removal.

Last year, there were requests to ban 2,571 titles; up 38% from 1,858 titles in 2021. Most of the books for which removal requests were made, said the ALA, were written by or about members of the LGBTQ+ community and people of colour.


The American Library Association and the Authors Guild are among a group of organisations bringing a lawsuit against the state of Arkansas over a law which makes it a crime for librarians to give children books with “obscene” content.

The lawsuit involves 17 plaintiffs, including the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS), the Association of American Publishers and the American Booksellers Association.

The groups are aiming to challenge Senate bill 81, which exposes librarians who provide “obscene materials” to children to criminal liability. The law, part of Act 372 of 2023, is due go to come into force on 1 August.

It says that anyone will be allowed to “challenge the appropriateness” of a book, but it does not define exactly what is meant by “obscene” or “appropriateness”. Under the law, a group of people chosen by head librarians would review material that had been challenged, and vote in a public meeting about whether it should be kept on public display or moved to an area of the library inaccessible to those under 18.

CALS executive director Nate Coulter said this part of the law would be “totally impractical to enforce”, reported the Arkansas Advocate.

The board of CALS voted this month to file the lawsuit challenging parts of Act 372 of 2023. John Adams, a lawyer from Fuqua Campbell, the law firm representing CALS, said that librarians needed clarity on the law to ensure they could do their jobs without risking arrest.

American Library Association president Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada told Publishers Weekly that the lawsuit was “to vindicate Arkansas residents’ freedom to read”.

“The government has no place in deciding what books people can borrow or buy,” she added.

The lawsuit is expected to be filed in the coming days. It is the second high-profile lawsuit this year concerning the restriction of books available in libraries. Earlier in the month, PEN America, Penguin Random House, and a group of authors and parents, filed a lawsuit against a Florida school district for implementing book bans. The suit argues the removal and restriction of access to books discussing race, racism and LGBTQ+ identities violates the first amendment.

It comes after increased activity by rightwing groups to remove books from libraries and schools in the US. In 2022, calls to ban books hit the highest level ever recorded in the US, according to the American Library Association (ALA), which tracks requests for removal.

Last year, there were requests to ban 2,571 titles; up 38% from 1,858 titles in 2021. Most of the books for which removal requests were made, said the ALA, were written by or about members of the LGBTQ+ community and people of colour.

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