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Idaho Library Goes “Adults Only” in Response to State Book Banning Law

Photo of padlock and chain in front of books

Growing efforts to criminalize providing minors with access to “inappropriate” books have led one small library to become “adults only.” Donnelly Public Library in Donnelly, Idaho, made the decision in response to the state’s so-called “Children’s School and Library Protection Act.” The law allows parents or guardians to file complaints about material they deem inappropriate (a term left undefined) for minors and requires school or public libraries to relocate the material where minors can’t access it. Parents or guardians who report violations would receive damages if a library fails to comply—which will of course incentivize complaints and fear mongering around books. 

The library explained on its Facebook page that the ambiguity of the new law, combined with the small size of the library (only 1,024 square feet), made it impossible to comply by relocating materials as the law required: “Our size prohibits us from separating our ‘grown up’ books to be out of the accessible range of children.” The library added, “this change is painful and not what we had hoped for at all. We desire to comply with federal and state legislation, but because of size we have to protect our staff, our library, and our taxpayer money.”  

Overbroad and ambiguous laws like Idaho’s that are popping up all around the country have a chilling effect. Because it is not clear what books might be deemed unlawful to allow minors access and penalties are stiff, libraries and librarians are forced to drastically limit—or even eliminate—the materials and services they provide to minors. Donnelly Public Library’s response is a good example of this. They had two choices to comply with the new law: either remove all books that someone might possibly find inappropriate or become an “adult only” library. The result is that all library patrons must now sign a “patron agreement,” only permitting children access to the library in the company of an adult, and requiring children who take part in the library’s after school programming (which is vital not only to the community, but to the library’s funding) to have parental waivers. 

A similar situation is taking place in Sumner County, Tennessee. Several public libraries have been forced to limit minors to the children’s section when they aren’t accompanied by a parent or guardian. As “Right to Read Sumner” noted on its Facebook page, this means that even “16 and 17 year olds with drivers licenses can no longer freely access the young adult section without their guardians.”  

It is a sad day indeed when even teenagers are not permitted to go to public libraries on their own. So many of us grew up finding refuge and discovering a love of reading in our local libraries. These politically-motivated laws trample the rights not only of minors but also their parents, and inevitably will lead to a less educated and literate society.