New Report: Unpacking 2023 Legislation of Concern for Libraries
The recent wave of state legislation affecting libraries across the United States has been largely negative, with a focus on restricting access to certain materials, particularly those deemed harmful or inappropriate for minors.
Through June 17, 2023, twenty-four bills have passed in state legislatures. Two were vetoed, and 22 are in various stages of enactment. These bills have been enacted in fourteen states: Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah. The bills encompass several recurring themes that pose potential challenges to library operations and services.
"Unpacking 2023 Legislation of Concern for Libraries" for free (opens PDF)
This report provides a moment-in-time review of state-level legislation affecting libraries and education while looking at key themes across and between states. The report offers strategic recommendations for state library association leaders and legislative advocates to build coalitions, activate constituents, and work across the entire lifecycle of a bill, including pre-session communications and post-session actions.
In several instances, historic defenses from criminal prosecution for public librarians, schools, or libraries over books and materials have been removed, raising concerns about librarians' professional autonomy and ability to provide access to content without fear of arrest. Other themes include provisions related to changing the definitions of obscenity and harmful to minors; changes to collection development and collection review or challenge policies; mandating age verification checks for patrons; creating new liabilities for school libraries; withholding funds; and imposing book rating systems.
The report goes beyond simply monitoring legislation to help state library associations plan for better outcomes in the 2024 cycle. It underscores the need to not only work within the legislature but also to be well-prepared in case for a veto, especially when a veto seems likely or inevitable. The report also discusses the importance of post-legislative advocacy, which is often neglected in traditional library advocacy discussions. Even after a bill becomes law, the work of advocates doesn't necessarily end. State library associations need to be involved in implementation, rules-making, and appropriate pathways to relief in the courts.
“Unpacking 2023 Legislation of Concern for Libraries” concludes with a call to action for library advocates to adopt an activism model, which involves building political power by engaging activists for libraries among the public. It encourages library associations to identify their supporters, donors, and volunteers and keep them rallied for libraries as early as possible. This report is a valuable resource for anyone involved in library advocacy, providing insights and strategies to navigate the complex legislative landscape.
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