On May 25, we learned that a library-led group of 17 plaintiffs (which includes the Association of American Publishers, the Freedom to Read Foundation, the American Booksellers Association, and the Authors Guild, as well as libraries, library users, bookstores, and local citizens) would sue to strike parts of a recently passed law in Arkansas, Act 372, which, among its provisions, would expose librarians and booksellers to criminal liability for making allegedly “obscene” books accessible to minors.

The suit was just filed this afternoon: it claims that Act 372 violates the First and 14th Amendments "because it imposes a content-based restriction on speech that (a) is not narrowly tailored, (b) is overly broad, and (c) is vaguely worded," the complaint states. "Plaintiffs bring this action to safeguard their fundamental rights and the rights of their members under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution to disseminate, receive, and peruse constitutionally protected books, magazines, and other printed or audiovisual media. Act 372 forces bookstores and libraries to self-censor in a way that is antithetical to their core purposes."

A release on the AAP website further explains: "The lawsuit will challenge two provisions of Act 372 that violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments. One component of the new law makes it a crime for libraries, booksellers, and any brick-and-mortar establishment to display or make available works that might be harmful to minors. This will require libraries and booksellers to limit all readers to books appropriate for minors or exclude all minor readers from their premises. The second provision makes it possible for any person in Arkansas to demand the removal of a book the person deems inappropriate, limiting readers to one person’s opinion about what books should be in the library."

News of the suit's imminent filing broke after local outlets reported that the board of the Central Arkansas Library System, the driving force organizing the legal challenge, had voted to approve the action at its May 25 meeting. CALS executive director Nate Coulter, (whose decision to pursue the suit drew an angry May 4 editorial from the bill's sponsor) explained the library's decision to spearhead the suit in an updated message on the CALS website:

"I sought authority to have CALS file suit because I believe strongly that it is the responsibility of the largest public library in the state to lead efforts to have a court determine the legal and practical obligations of this new law," Coulter, also a named plaintiff in the suit, writes. "We are doing this for our patrons and our staff, and to honor our longstanding opposition to censorship and commitment to free speech and the freedom to read."

Coulter added that he has been heartened by the expressions of support for the library, including pledges of financial support, and announced a fundraising effort to defray the costs of the litigation. Those who wish to contribute can follow this link to the CALS Foundation site. "All donations made there will be used for the purpose of underwriting the costs of CALS in the pursuit of fighting censorship and protecting the freedom to read," Coulter writes. "If you cannot afford to donate, feel free to share the link with friends."

News of the impending Arkansas suit comes after Penguin Random House on May 16 joined forces with PEN America to sue school administrators in Escambia County, Florida, over the removal of books from school libraries.

In addition, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat & Gazette reports news of another lawsuit over book banning in Arkansas, citing a Crawford County Quorum Court decision to color code and move books with LGBTQ+ characters and themes from the children's section. The suit was filed by a group of local parents alleging "viewpoint discrimination" in violation of the First Amendment. The complaint includes a letter from a new library board member to "Crawford County Pastors," which the plaintiffs say speaks to the County’s "motivation" for removing the books: "As I am sure you have heard there was a display of children’s books aimed at children 10 and under purchased and displayed at our local libraries focusing on alternative lifestyles," the letter (cited in the complaint) reads. "The only reason to do this is grooming a generation of children to feel this is normal and an accepted way of life.”

Meanwhile, the Association of American Publishers, Candlewick Press, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Scholastic have also moved to file an amicus brief with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in a closely-watched case in Texas, Little v. Llano County. The suit, filed by a group of local residents in 2022, alleges that the county's removal of allegedly inappropriate books violates the First Amendment. In March, federal judge Robert Pitman issued a preliminary injunction ordering Llano county officials to return books pulled from library shelves and barred the county from removing any books while the lawsuit proceeds, which Llano County has appealed. "It cannot be ignored that the majority of the Banned Books are coming-of-age stories, memoirs, and other personal accounts of individual experience and self-discovery. Most are told from outsider perspectives, in voices not commonly heard," the publishers' amicus brief points out. "By removing books from circulation, the county limits the range of ideas accessible to the community, enforcing an orthodoxy of perspective and experience. This violates the individual liberty of self-exploration embodied in the First Amendment, which is nurtured by the wealth of knowledge and viewpoints available at public libraries."

The Texas Tribune reports on the passage of House Bill 900, which now awaits Governor Greg Abbott's signature. The new law would regulate so-called "sexually explicit" books in school libraries and require publishers and vendors to assign ratings based on sexual content. "Books with a 'sexually explicit' rating would be removed from library bookshelves," the Tribune explains, "and students who want to check out books with a 'sexually relevant' rating would have to get parental permission first."

The Iowa Capital Dispatch reports on Governor Kim Reynolds signing her state's school library bill. The new law bans books "with written and visual depictions of sex acts from school libraries, with an exemption for religious texts like the Bible, Torah, and Qur’an," the Dispatch reports. "The new law also prohibits instruction and materials involving 'gender identity' and 'sexual orientation' for students in kindergarten through sixth grade."

The rule’s implementation sparked confusion in libraries across the state...

From the Kansas City Star, Missouri secretary of state Jay Ashcroft’s new 'harmful to minors rule' for libraries in the state went into effect went into this week—and it appears not to be going well. "The rule’s implementation sparked confusion in libraries across the state, where employees feared how it would be enforced and whether they were at risk of losing funding," the article states. Among the new rule's provisions, Ashcroft can pull state funding from libraries that offer minors access to allegedly inappropriate materials without parental permission, or use state funds to buy materials considered obscene. In an email, Cody Croan, chair of the Missouri Library Association Legislative Committee, told the Star that the rule "has and continues to create mass confusion" in libraries. Ashcroft, who is running for governor in 2024, told the Star the rule was about wanting "children to be 'children' a little longer than a pervasive culture may often dictate."

From Colorado Newsline, coverage of a library meeting in Douglas County, Colorado that shows the power of showing up. "Some of the more than 60 residents at a Douglas County libraries meeting Wednesday called certain LGBTQ books in local libraries obscene and pornographic and demanded that they be removed from public view. It was the second meeting in a row where they made such a demand," the article notes. "But this sentiment was challenged almost 2-to-1 by other residents at the meeting who said removal of the material was akin to book-banning and that the issues being raised were not concerned with protecting children but rather avoiding sexuality and gender expression."

Over at Book Riot, Kelly Jensen starts her weekly censorship roundup with a closer look at the absurd propaganda and scare tactics being used by the would-be book banners in Douglas County. It's an eye-opening and important read. "The purpose of sharing this is twofold: first, exposure matters since too many folks who care about the First Amendment Rights of all and the freedom of access are putting their heads in the sand and not looking at this stuff," Jensen writes, "and second, this will help in your own talking points with friends, family, board meeting members and attendees, educators, and legislators, debunking fact from fiction."

The New Republic is one of many sources reporting on a public library's canceling the appearance of a transgender speaker because of the state's new law prohibiting drag. "The Butte-Silver Bow Public Library hosts a monthly series called First Fridays, which features a speaker or documentary on the first Friday of each month. The library was set to host trans Indigenous journalist Adria Jawort on June 2 to discuss the history of two-spirit (the Indigenous term for trans and nonbinary) people in Montana and the community’s current experiences," the article notes. "Our ‘First Friday’ speaker has been canceled due to recent legislation (HB359) and at the recommendation of Butte-Silver Bow County legal council," the library announced on its Facebook page.

From the local Holland Journal (Michigan), a thoughtful editorial from columnist Barbara Mezeske. "The people rallying against libraries don’t want anyone at all to have access to these books. And they want to criminalize librarians who won’t remove books about race, gender and history from their shelves," Mezeske writes. "Ultimately, they want to close libraries that won’t knuckle under. And there’s the problem. Who gets to decide what can be read by the public? Whose moral code, or level of discomfort with ideas gets to rule everyone else?"

And finally, the ALA Intellectual Freedom Round Table has announced that Louisiana librarian Amanda Jones is the recipient of the 2023 John Phillip Immroth Memorial Award for her "contributions to intellectual freedom" and "demonstrations of personal courage in defense of freedom of expression." The honor is well deserved.

Last July, Jones, a veteran school librarian and SLJ's co-Librarian of the Year for 2021, spoke up at a public meeting against a bid to pull a number of mostly LGBTQ-themed books from her hometown public library in Livingston Parish, La. The following day, she was accused on social media of grooming children and fighting to make pornography available to kids. A graphic death threat followed shortly thereafter. Rather than be intimidated, Jones responded by filing a defamation suit against those who attacked her, she has created "toolkits, a webpage, a citizen alliance, and co-founded Louisiana Citizens Against Censorship." And she has become one of the library community's most vocal, most inspirational, and most courageous voices standing up for the freedom to read.

In March, Jones was awarded the 2023 American Association of School Librarians’ (AASL) Intellectual Freedom Award. In April, she was honored with The Paul Howard Award for Courage. The Immroth Memorial Award honors "notable contributions to intellectual freedom and demonstrations of personal courage in defense of freedom of expression."

It certainly hasn't been easy for Jones, something we might all get to understand a little better one day soon: Jones has recently agreed to document her experiences in a memoir for Bloomsbury, tentatively titled That Librarian. As in, "who was that librarian who defied an onslaught of harassment and bravely stood up for right to read, inspiring so many others to do the same?" That would be Amanda Jones.

The Week in Libraries is a weekly opinion and news column. News, tips, submissions, questions or comments are welcome, and can be submitted via email. Previous columns can be viewed here.