Staff will need to review 38,000 items at Jamestown libraries
The collection for children, teenagers includes about 5,000 audio-visual materials
JAMESTOWN — It will take James River Valley Library System employees a substantial amount of time to go through about 38,000 items for children and teenagers by March 31, 2024, to determine what materials have “explicit sexual material,” according to Joe Rector, director.
Rector said the library system has about 33,000 books and approximately 5,000 audio-visual materials, including DVDs and CDs, for children and teenagers.
“The problem with reviewing audio-visual materials is you have to watch it or listen to it,” he said. “Books, you can flip through a lot of them.”
The passage of House Bill 1205 removes or relocates “explicit sexual material” in public libraries’ children’s collections. Gov. Doug Burgum signed HB 1205 on Tuesday, April, 25.
The bill mandates public libraries to come up with policies and procedures before next year for removing or relocating “explicit sexual material,” handling requests to remove or relocate books, developing age-appropriate book collections, and periodically reviewing collections, The Bismarck Tribune reported. Libraries also will have to submit a “compliance report” on their policies to lawmakers. The bill applies to any children’s book inventory maintained by a public library after March 31, 2024
Rector said the March 31, 2024, deadline will be difficult to meet because of the time it will take to review the approximately 38,000 items in the collection for children and teenagers.
“There simply isn’t time with our librarians continuing their normal workload, so it concerns me,” he said. “Our library is going to make our absolute best effort to comply with the deadline, but at the same time, we are strongly concerned that materials might fall through the cracks and the library or our workers might be held accountable for errors that simply arise from the closeness of the deadline.”
He said the library system has no money to hire temporary staff to review the items and that will be done by the staff.
“The carefulness of our review will be limited by the amount of time that we can reasonably devote but we will absolutely do our best,” he said.
It might be a struggle for some libraries to meet the March 31, 2024, deadline, said Rep. Bernie Satrom, R-Jamestown, who voted for the passage of House Bill 1205 along with Reps. Mitch Ostlie, R-Jamestown, and Craig Headland, R-Montpelier. He said Thursday, April 27, in an email that he would hope those libraries would reach out to the community if there are any issues.
“I have heard multiple people and groups that love our libraries that said that they were willing to volunteer to help in any way they could,” he said.
Senate Bill 2360 will not become law after the North Dakota House of Representatives in a 53-41 vote sustained Gov. Doug Burgum’s veto of the bill. The House needed 63 votes to override the veto.
SB 2360 criminalizes a person who willfully displays at newsstands or any other business establishment frequented by minors or where minors are or may be invited any material that either contains explicit sexual material that is harmful to minors.
Satrom said he has stated publicly and on the record multiple times that he has the “utmost confidence and respect” for the James River Valley Library System and its staff. He said he has not heard any complaints from Jamestown residents about the library system.
“If other libraries in the state were (as) sensitive and responsive to the public as our libraries, I doubt these bills would have been drafted, filed and supported,” he said.
Rector said the library system’s staff is very careful about what it puts in the children’s and teen sections. He said the library system tries to be in the middle of the road about the information it provides.
“We try to provide information that meets all of the various information needs that we can reasonably meet,” he said. “ … We try hard to present alternate viewpoints of various issues, so we try to cover those viewpoints fairly but we try to do so in a way that is hopefully not offensive.”
Rector said his biggest concern with HB 1205 is the state Legislature banning materials that are legal. He said the bill is an infringement of the First Amendment.
Satrom said there is no First Amendment right to provide sexually explicit materials to minors. He said current laws say that it is illegal for an adult to provide sexually explicit materials of any type to children.
“SB2360 would have made public librarians responsible to the same standard as any other person in North Dakota,” he said. “The bill does not specify types of sexuality, only that if it is considered explicit and does not meet the standard of the Miller Test, which is a federal regulation.”
The Miller Test determines whether speech or expression can be labeled as obscene.
The primary book that bill proponents have cited is “Let’s Talk About It” because of its sexual topics and visual nudity in drawings. Rector said many people find the book “offensive” and it’s not in the library system’s collection.
But, Rector said “Let’s Talk About It” is in the Library of Congress, which does not collect material that is obscene. He said the book is in 793 libraries in Canada and the U.S., including every state.
“Yet the proponents of these bills say this book must be banned in North Dakota,” he said. “Many people would object to this book, but as a librarian, I’m passionate about freedom of speech and legal materials being legally available to people who want and need to access those materials.”
He said every community in the state needs to have the ability to make its own decision on what materials can be allowed.
“Every community deserves the opportunity to have this book if that’s what they feel their community needs or to not have it if that’s what they also feel is In line with their community needs,” he said.
The library system has three of the 12 books — “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie — that Sen. Keith Boehm, R-Mandan, provided to The Bismarck Tribune that researchers found were the most challenged due to “sexually explicit graphics and/or language, profanity, violence, and depictions of child abuse,“ the Tribune reported. Rector said “The Bluest Eye” is a Nobel Prize-winning book and the library system has had a copy of the book since at least 2000.
“Our community is obviously good with it because it’s been on our shelf for so long,” he said. “I would note that of the three books that we have on the to-be-banned list, they are all written by and about minorities. Why is that?“
Rector said he was concerned about the impact of SB 2360 on e-book providers and users because it would have required vendors of electronic materials to filter sexually explicit materials to be in compliance with the bill.
“The filter would have to know the age of the user and it would have to be able to determine through its algorithm whether an item was acceptable for a person of that age, according to SB 2360,” he said. “I don’t think vendors of electronic materials are going to be developing a filter to comply with North Dakota law.“
The James River Valley Library System Board of Directors approved joining a class action lawsuit against HB 1205 and SB 2360 in March. The agreement is for Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP to represent North Dakota librarians and board trustees at no cost. An attorney originally from Bismarck and now in Los Angeles specializes in First Amendment cases will represent the librarians and board trustees.
Satrom said he is “a little disappointed” about the potential class action lawsuit.
“I got about 30 postcards from the library board and patrons expressing their concerns as well as hundreds of emails from people mostly in support of the legislation,” he said. “I and other legislators worked very hard behind the scenes to address the library’s concerns while balancing and dealing with the concerns of our citizens. I thought it was a mistake to join the lawsuit and publicize it. I think that the lawsuit might give some people in the public the impression that our library condones allowing children to have access to sexually explicit materials.”
Satrom said public libraries have been considered safe places where children and adults can explore and learn and in some communities that public trust has been breached.
“I am hopeful that libraries in some communities will be more sensitive to the local norms and culture when local patrons and taxpayers express their concerns,” he said. “If libraries are not sensitive to their communities I think we will see diminished support and finances for libraries by our taxpayers in those communities and bills like this will be reoccurring and will ultimately prevail.”