Attorney General Jeff Landry issued guidance that is shaping how local library boards implement a controversial new law restricting minors' access to certain library materials (Remi Tallo for Louisiana Illuminator)
A controversial new Louisiana law does not mean libraries have to restrict minors’ access to materials deemed “sexually explicit” before checkout, Attorney General Jeff Landry is advising library administrators.
The guidance, which a Northshore library board cited this week in a policy decision, comes as a blow to some far-right activists who have been using the law to push libraries to create restricted sections for challenged books. Library administrators have until Jan. 1 to implement the law and many are currently weighing how to best implement the necessary policy updates.
“Whether a book is appropriate for a particular collection is controlled by the collection policy of the library,” Landry wrote in his opinion. “Before relocating a book to a different collection, the library should consider whether relocation is appropriate under the library’s collection policy.”
The law also does not require the books to be pulled from circulation pending review, according to Landry. The St. Tammany Parish Library Board of Control cited the opinion in its decision Tuesday to rescind a controversial policy that segregated more than 150 challenged titles pending review, a practice First Amendment advocates say was unconstitutional.
The law, which Sen. Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek, created earlier this year with strong support from Landry, prohibits minors from checking out books classified as sexually explicit if their parents haven’t approved their access to such material. Libraries must develop a card system for younger patrons to show whether they have parental permission.
Landry’s interpretation of the law leaves a pretty big loophole for young readers with a restricted card; librarians can’t stop minors with unrestricted cards from checking out sexually explicit materials for their friends.
Librarians do not have to do a full review of their collections to determine which materials meet the law’s definition of sexually explicit, Landry said. They do have to review books challenged by patrons who live within the library’s service area, although library boards have the right to evaluate materials that have not been challenged.
The law’s local-only challenge provision, coupled with Landry’s opinion that one library’s determination an item is sexually explicit does not apply to others, means activists who have sought to ban the same books across the nation will have their work cut out for them in Louisiana.
While Landry says decisions of whether an item is sexually explicit should be guided by the definitions of the law and not board members’ ideological views, library board members are political appointees who have, in some cases, been open about how their personal beliefs guide their votes.
If a library board determines a book is sexually explicit, which several paragraphs in the law defines, it does not mean the book has to be moved to the adult section, only that minors with restricted cards — which libraries are required by the new law to set up — can’t check them out.
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