As we reported in Publishers Weekly, the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals this week heard the state of Iowa's bid to lift the temporary block placed on the state's controversial book banning law, SF 496, on June 11 in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Signed by Iowa governor Kim Reynolds in May 2023, SF 496 seeks to ban books with depictions of sex, written or visual, from school libraries, and prohibits instruction and materials involving “gender identity” and "sexual orientation" for students through sixth grade. The law's passage prompted two separate legal challenges last fall, and in an emphatic 49-page opinion and order issued last December, federal judge Stephen Locher found the law unconstitutional and issued an order blocking key provisions.

But at Tuesday's 30-minute hearing (which you can listen to here), the appeals expressed strong concerns about the plaintiffs’ broad "facial challenge" to the constitutionality of the law, with one justice harshly questioning the district court’s acceptance of the plaintiffs' challenge, and suggesting that the proper legal challenges at this juncture should be filed against individual school districts. Arguing for plaintiff Penguin Random House, attorney Frederick J. Sperling insisted that the facial challenge was proper. “The question that's actually before this court is whether this overbroad and vague statute is constitutional, and it's not," he argued.

At a post-hearing news conference, the Des Moines Register reported that Christy Hickman, chief legal counsel for the Iowa State Education Association, said that having to sue individual school districts would be burdensome. "If we had to start all over and start suing individual school districts, think about the court and school and public resources that go into that," Hickman said. "I hope that is not where we end up."

Meanwhile, as we also reported in Publishers Weekly, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that state superintendent Ryan Walters overstepped his authority by attempting to force the Edmond Public School district to remove two books deemed inappropriate. "We conclude that a local school board possesses statutory authority to maintain and control its local school library, and one aspect of this control includes discretionary selection for providing supplemental educational books and instructional material deemed appropriate by the local school board in compliance with state statutes," the unanimous decision reads.

The decision comes after state superintendent Ryan Walters oversaw the creation of new rules governing library content in schools last year, including the inception of “a library media review committee” to assess content. The move drew national headlines after it was disclosed that far-right social media star Chaya Raichik, who runs the controversial account Libs of TikTok, was appointed to the committee.

The Oklahoma Voice reports that Edmond school officials praised the court’s decision, saying the ruling wasn’t about the books in question but, more broadly, about who gets to choose them. "Today’s decision protects our locally elected school board’s role in creating policies that determine how library materials are selected and reviewed," reads a statement issued by the district.

In a statement, PEN America applauded the ruling. "After being accused by State Superintendent Walters of 'peddling porn,' school libraries are once again free to curate according to their own local standards and librarians’ professional expertise. Other states, including South Carolina and Utah, should take heed as they attempt to exert increased state control over local decision making."

Today’s decision protects our locally elected school board’s role in creating policies that determine how library materials are selected and reviewed.

Meanwhile, in South Carolina, the State reports that the state legislature is finalizing new rules that would require minors to have parental permission to view books that contain allegedly "prurient" material. "The conference committee finalizing the state’s spending plan starting July 1, adopted a Senate proposal to require county libraries to certify they are not offering any books or materials that 'appeal to the sexual interest of children under the age of 17 in children’s, youth or teen book sections of libraries,'" reads the report. "The material will only be made available if the child’s parent gives explicit consent."

The Houston Chronicle reports that many parents in the Houston Independent School district are upset after seeing photos of a school library that has been transformed into a discipline center under a recently adopted plan. "The photo features rows and rows of desks, placed closely together in near-uniform positions, all facing one direction," the article states. "A long row of tables stacked with computers is on one side of the room. There is nothing else in the former library, except for a sign that reads 'You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax, all you need is a book.' The quote is from Dr. Seuss, perhaps an odd leftover from the previous layout as there are no books to be found in the room, nor is Dr. Seuss part of the NES curriculum."

The Washington Post reports on a Florida school district that banned a book about banned books. The Indian River County school district banned Alan Gratz’s Ban This Book, which told the story about a fourth grader’s quest to return her favorite book to her school library after it had been removed. “The overwhelming irony of banning a book about book banning has been enough to keep people from banning it for a little while,” Gratz told the Post.

NBC Out reports that a digital library is offering hundreds of free books with LGBTQIA+ themes. The Queer Liberation Library has a catalog with more than 1,200 books. Sara Katherine, who noticed a lack of support for LGBTQIA+ youth when she moved back to her hometown of Valparaiso, Indiana, from New York, said she discovered the resource and spread the word. "I was able to tell them, 'Hey, guess what? I have something free for you, and it’s thousands of books you can read where there are characters just like you who are falling in love, who are having adventures," she told reporters.

First Coast News in Florida reports on a group of parents joining a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Education. The suit was brought after the St. Johns County school board restricted several books to specific grade levels. "Every parent has a right to direct the education and upbringing in this state and there’s only so much a parent can do," one of the parents, Stephana Ferrell, said.

Over at Book Riot, Kelly Jensen begins her weekly censorship news roundup with a look at state legislation that proposes to discourage book banning.

And finally this week, Fox 13 reports that Orem, Utah has adopted new policies to protect employee free speech after the city retaliated against librarians who criticized the city for banning Pride displays in the library, and effectively "banned all library employees" from participating in the Utah Library Association. "A year later, Orem librarians are back with the ULA and a new policy was just implemented," the report states. What prompted the change? The threat of legal action. "The city said changes were 'made based upon research conducted by the legal department.'"

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.