Letter: GF Library Board opposes censor bills
The bills imply that library staff have not been competent, while simultaneously muting community voices. The bills amount to government overreach.
As Grand Forks Public Library Board members, we vehemently oppose two North Dakota legislative bills. HB1205 and SB2360 prohibit explicit sexual and obscene material from public library collections. We have three objections.
First, the bills violate the First Amendment because they restrict citizens' right to receive information and ideas, which is an extension of one’s freedom of expression. A person is not forced to read a book that they find objectionable, but they have a right to make that choice. Although children possess these rights, parents appropriately hold authority to screen content for their children. HB1205 and SB2360 strips parents of that right, preemptively deciding what is acceptable and what is not.
Second, the bills are open-ended in terms of the standard upheld. HB1205, for example, allows books that “have serious artistic significance, or works with anthropological significance,” which are highly subjective criteria. SB2360 would ban “obscene material” which will be judged “with reference to reasonable adults.” The exercise will not be simply academic. These bills will require staff to review all library materials, closing the library for a time. Should the state panel determine that staff have not purged books that a “reasonable” person would deem unacceptable, SB2360 permits the government to charge them with a class B misdemeanor.
Third, the bills, at best, are solutions looking for a problem. HB1205 and SB2360 imply that objectionable materials are readily available. Professional staff carefully consider any new additions to the collection, locating them in appropriate sections of the library. Moreover, the Library has a process in place that allows “reasonable” people to contest the inclusion of a book.
Thus, the bills imply that library staff have not been competent, while simultaneously muting community voices. The bills amount to government overreach, which will always be the case when censorship is proposed.
If you have misgivings about the bills or the library collection, we encourage you to visit the Grand Forks Public Library, review the abundance of books and other materials that provide a doorway to discovery and intellectual enrichment. Then, contact your state representative and express your opinion.