Library officials say new law about harmful material is vague and difficult to implement - East Idaho News

Library officials say new law about harmful material is vague and difficult to implement

  Published at  | Updated at
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready ...

POCATELLO — After a controversial bill passed last month, Idaho librarians have had to figure out how to adapt to its requirements and potential consequences.

Libraries have until July 1 to comply with House Bill 710, which became law on April 10. The new legislation requires libraries and public schools to “take reasonable steps” in protecting kids from harmful material.

Under the law, parents can submit a written request to have certain material relocated to an “adults only” section. The library board has 60 days to move the item once the request is submitted. If the board doesn’t remove it, it could be sued by the person who made the request.

Across the state, there are different interpretations of the law and many librarians are still not clear on everything they’ll be expected to do. Figuring out how to comply is a huge challenge.

“The bill has some vagueness to it,” said Lisa Harral, director of the Blackfoot Public Library. “A lot of people believe (they don’t need to do anything). A lot of people feel they need 55 new rules to cover this.”

Up to this point, Harral says they’ve only received two challenges to material in the Blackfoot Library, and neither of them were over anything sexual.

“As far as book challenges, we’ve been very sheltered from that so far and I think I have a very, very supportive community,” Harral said.

The board is meeting on Monday to discuss the issue.

Marshall Public Library Director Eric Seuss says material is sorted into sections by age group but there isn’t any section that’s currently off limits to any patron.

He and his staff are planning to comply with the law but they’re trying to decide where the new restricted section would go.

“We have to figure out exactly where that’s gonna be and what that’s gonna look like, and so that’s still to be determined,” Seuss said.

Seuss also pointed out Idaho libraries already have a well-established and highly considered reconsideration process for books that are challenged. That process will stay intact, and they’ll have to establish a separate policy for challenges to send material to the restricted section.

Statewide, the challenge of creating a restricted section is an unfunded mandate. It creates a challenge for rural libraries in particular because budgets are smaller.

That’s the case for the South Bannock Library District. It has locations in Downey, Lava Hot Springs and McCammon and a bookmobile that travels through the county.

District director Megan Short says there hasn’t been a complaint about library material in 20 years and she wonders if she’s going to have to create a restricted station that stays empty.

The legislation doesn’t have a location requirement for people who challenge material and Short says it would raise a lot of red flags if there were a sudden uptick in the number of removal requests.

The Downey library has a meeting room used for many purposes, and Short has had to consider turning that room into an area for restricted materials.

Another issue for her district is that some of her buildings are small, like the library in Lava Hot Springs.

“It’s packed to the brim and has no meeting room. I don’t know how I would ever separate anything out in that area,” Short said.

Short also wonders if the restricted section requirement will even apply to her cramped bookmobile.

“I have it separated out very clearly from children’s (books) all the way up to young adult. But then my other side is all adults. So you can’t go in the bookmobile without seeing the adult books,” Short said.

As library officials work to answer these questions, Harral feels the lack of clarity unnecessarily complicated the issue. Ultimately, she says it’s going to result in a court case to iron out the specifics.

“When we leave things open to interpretation, we’re leaving it open to lawsuits,” Harral said.