Earlier this month, the Georgia state senate made national headlines by passing SB 390, a bill that seeks to bar the expenditure of state funds on programs or materials involving the American Library Association or its affiliates—which include the Georgia Library Association.

Georgia is not alone. In 2024, amid a years-long surge in book bans and threats to the freedom to read, the library community is now facing a pernicious new threat: a wave of proposed legislation, agency rules, and executive orders in a growing number of states that seek to prohibit states and municipalities from engaging financially with library associations.

Every librarian as well their vendor partners—including publishers—should pay close attention to what’s happening here. If adopted, these state-sponsored restrictions would directly threaten the financial sustainability of state library associations—organizations that do vital work in their communities in support of literacy and access to books and information. As advocates, we cannot stand by while library associations are targeted with financial erasure for purely ideological and subjective reasons. We must fight back, and with every legal means at our disposal.

Traditionally, and especially in recent months, the library community, with the help of their professional associations, have had success in litigating against book-banning laws based on asserting their First or 14th Amendment rights. Effectively countering these new attacks on state library associations, however, may involve taking a novel approach.

Because these unjust new bills and restrictions are targeting the financial viability of state library associations, we at EveryLibrary believe a restraint of trade action rooted in the Constitution’s commerce clause is a potentially more powerful cause of action than one centered on due process, free association, or equal protection rights. After all, these new laws and regulations do not dictate how individuals can spend their own money, and individuals remain free to join any voluntary membership association they wish. Rather, what’s being targeted with these actions is the ability of state library associations—which at their core are nonprofit corporations—to conduct their business.

To be sure, if the attacks on library associations are allowed to stand, the threat won’t stop there.

To be sure, if the attacks on library associations are allowed to stand, the threat won’t stop there. The functions of a state library association are no different than those undertaken by state medical associations, bar associations, retail federations, restaurant associations, academic groups, or for that matter, author, bookseller, and publishing industry associations. This includes sending members and boards to conferences (such as PLA), purchasing training materials, caucusing across the sector to set standards, supporting professional development, shaping policy, networking, and issuing awards.

Certainly, none of these activities could be viewed in any way as illegal business activities that must be restricted by the state. Rather, it’s obvious that lawmakers in several states are openly targeting the ability of state library associations to conduct business for purely partisan political reasons. And if not confronted, such actions could very well undermine the foundation of all professional association activities and destabilize the collaborative networks and educational frameworks vital to the well-being of any profession.

Framing library membership associations as businesses with marketplace interests is a somewhat different approach to library advocacy—and one that may make some in our sector uncomfortable. But it can be effective. At EveryLibrary, we studied the issue ahead of issuing a policy paper last month. We believe the courts, federal or state, will have no trouble seeing these state actions for what they are: an unjustifiable interference by the state in a competitive marketplace, and a politically motivated, unconstitutional restraint on an association’s ability to conduct business in the public’s interest.

John Chrastka is executive director of EveryLibrary, a political action committee dedicated to libraries.

Return to the main feature.