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As Idaho lawmakers examine library bills, library leaders explain depth of the consequences

Some library leaders across Idaho worry that new laws will vastly impact the policies they publish on who can access a library and how.

BOISE, Idaho — As lawmakers work to wind down the legislative session, two bills on the topic of content in libraries sit waiting. Legislation aims to prevent minors from accessing harmful materials in school and community libraries.

The topic is top of the marquee in Meridian, Idaho. For months the community has watched a battle over what is in the library, and where it’s placed. Senate Bills 1187 and 1188 would legislate that around the state, with a collection of “policies to protect minors from harmful materials.”

“We feel that to comply with the requirements of this policy, we would need to make some pretty significant operational changes,” said Trustee Chair of the Meridian Library District Board, Megan Larsen.

Policies laid out in proposed legislation would vastly change how content is accessed and by who. Further, that to comply with the bill's requirements, they would need to rescind library cards that are issued to minors, Larsen said.

“Currently, we would need to prevent any minors from entering the library unless they were accompanied by a parent. We would need to discontinue our home delivery service. We would need to limit our outreach activities to only those locations where we don't expect minors to be. And possibly other changes to our policy,” Larsen said.

Larsen said library entities simply can’t take on the financial risk of being subject to lawsuits and penalties. That reality sets another option for places like the Meridian library.

“The other option would be to just absolutely decimate the adult collection in the library and remove every work of literature, nonfiction work that contains descriptions of sex. Either way, we just think the impact on our community would be nothing short of devastating. And truly, I'm just heartbroken,” Larsen said.  

The proposed legislation also sets up a citizen review committee to help the community deal with content questions. However, critics of the bill question the make up of that committee which includes one representative from “the religious community.”

“A huge concern about a government entity such as a public library district, selecting a member of the religious community and excluding many other religious communities. We don't we don't see how that can be done without violating the establishment clause. We are a governmental entity. And for us to choose one religion over another is just does not seem like a thing that we can do acceptably,” Larsen said.  

Larsen also draws attention to the proposal that states if a court finds an entity allowed minors access to harmful material, an Idaho court can order the seizure and destruction of the material.

“I'm stunned that that we would place law enforcement in the position of seizing and destroying materials from a public library. That's reminiscent of some pretty awful things in history. And I would not want to place our law enforcement was providing great service to this community. And, you know, in that position of being the people that that would be required to do that, that's it's not a good look,” Larsen said.  

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