Library Lens on Dismissal of Obscenity Suit Against B&N
It is heartening that the obscenity suit brought against Barnes and Noble was dismissed by the Court today in Virginia Beach, VA. The plaintiffs had attempted to weaponize the use of obscenity laws against books that included sexual content that does not fit their worldview. The court made the right decision in finding that these books do not meet the definition of obscenity under the law.
While this suit was focused on the retail and publishing side of our ecosystem, it has important implications for libraries. In several states, lawmakers have removed, or are attempting to remove, librarians from long-standing exemptions from prosecution under obscenity laws. Historically, librarians, educators, museum professionals, and researchers have been exempted from even the notion that they are distributing obscene materials when they circulate books or teach or curate artwork. Removing that exemption from prosecution places librarians in jeopardy of false, baseless, and politicized accusations by people with an agenda.
These particular books have been challenged in schools and public libraries and have been banned nationwide. If this court had found them to be obscene, it would have been a very short walk to seeing librarians accused under obscenity laws as well. In that this particular Court upheld a reasonable and legal definition of what is considered obscene, it is an important affirmation that sexual content does equate with illegal content.
Read more about the history of the suit from Publishers Weekly and coverage of the Judge's decision today from the Washington Post.