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Age-Restricted Library Cards Aren’t a Solution. They’re a Liability: Book Censorship News, July 28, 2023

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

As a response to challenges from the public and/or the state, several public libraries across the country have come to compromises with these bodies in terms of access to collection materials for minors. Among the compromises are library cards with age restrictions. In some facilities, all library cards for those under 18 have been made void and every child now needs to reapply for a new card with parental/guardian restriction choices on them. In other facilities, the new cards based on age are being implemented either when old cards expire or when a new card is requested. Age-restriction cards might look like limiting access to materials for those under 8 in one category, those in the 8-12 category, and/or those in the 12-18 category. Every library going this route is doing so a bit differently.

These cards not only go against everything a public library stands for, but they are a tool of censorship. And while it is a means of avoiding problems from the community or the state — so read this knowing most public libraries going this route are not doing so without a lot of thought — these age-restricted cards are opening up the potential for endless lawsuits at public libraries.

Although it is parents/guardians who will determine what card is appropriate for their child, that is where the parental responsibility ends. Now, every decision afterward falls explicitly on the public library. Knowing how litigious right-wingers pushing for such measures are, they, too, are fully aware that their “parental rights” arguments really mean they want to foist the real parental responsibilities off on underpaid, overworked, deeply battered public service workers like librarians (and educators, of course). Demanding a library create separate cards for different age groups and restrict certain materials based on those cards isn’t about parenting. It’s about ensuring you don’t actually have to parent. You get to sign off on a card and let the library handle it from there.

So for the libraries doing this, some questions.

What happens when a circulation worker miscategorizes one of the cards when a young person and their legal guardian signs up for one? This is not out of the realm of possibility in the least, particularly with how cumbersome such changes or modifications can be with an integrated library system (and especially if that system is shared among different libraries who are offering different “levels” of access). One wrong click and suddenly, right-wing mommy’s daughter, who is 16, has checked out Gender Queer, which is a no-no for card holders in the under 18 category. Who gets sued then? Is it the individual who made a mistake? Not likely; they won’t have money. It’ll be the library itself, putting the entire facility and its funding in a chokehold — again, this is precisely what that contingent of folks want to have happen.

No one is naive enough to believe that these cards will restrict what young people look at if they are in the facility. What happens when right-wing Johnny’s son decides to go to the library after school with his under-18 card and reads Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human (A Graphic Novel) in the stacks but never actually borrows it? Two things immediately come to mind: the parent will claim that the library failed to uphold their promises with the age-restricted card and/or they will demand that library workers check cards at the door and monitor where their kids are at all times. This turns library workers into babysitters, police, and censors all at the same time.

None of those things are their job nor their responsibility. (Besides, police should not be in the library anyway, but that’s been well covered already). But it will become their responsibility the moment a minor does the thing a young person does because they’re a young person: break the “rules.”

We’re back to the opportunity for lawsuits, paired with histrionics about how libraries are giving children porn. Their paper terrorism will grow to terrorism via the courts.

A final consideration: what happens when the library’s card restricts access to materials that are essential for the young person who is in school? At Keene Public Library in Nebraska, for example, the new card categories will only allow young people to borrow items that fall within their category. For those between 13 and 18, they will only be able to borrow items in the young adult section or lower. What happens if they need to get a copy of The Great Gatsby for school? Or a Shakespeare play? What about any classic work of literature that isn’t reshelved in the YA section (and thus a liability now because they are not young adult books?).

Worse, these same kids will have no access to the print materials they may need for an evidence-based research paper outside of the material in the young adult section. While YA nonfiction has a lot of great stuff, it’s not going to be enough to offer the robust research needed to complete an assignment.

So now, the same right-wing christofascists who cite false information as fact get exactly what they want: a young generation of people who could not even access facts or research that is peer reviewed and edited and published by reputable outlets. Those kids will have to rely on the internet for their resources or hope to have enough classroom lessons to understand how to navigate library databases and how to differentiate truth from right-wing truth when it comes to the internet. This is all predicated on the belief that minors will even have access to their library’s digital resources. They don’t in states like Mississippi. We’ll also ignore how much truth is locked behind a paywall and how abundantly free the fake stuff is, all of which has helped to even bring us to where we are in this moment of censorship-excited history.

These kinds of restrictions will just turn young people off to the library all together. We’ve already seen how book bans have caused students to stop going to their school library and stopped reading, period. A populous who has lost interest in learning and reading, one who has lost those inherent traits thanks to the actions of their radicalized parents, guardians, aunts, uncles, cousins, and neighbors, is a populous rife for being sucked into those same dangerous mindsets.

That’s precisely what the christofascists want.

We also know that restricted cards aren’t the answer that the book crisis actors want. What they want are restricted cards AND restricted books, ensuring that the library is unable to keep up with the ever-shifting goal posts and they get to keep talking about how their needs are not being met and therefore, why support the library at all?

The answer isn’t in the cards.

Book Censorship News: July 28, 2023

  • Several Texas booksellers have filed a lawsuit against the state for their new book ratings law. This is great news on many fronts, including the fact it should hinder the law’s date of enactment, which is slated for September 1.
  • One of the things I covered earlier this year was that a frontier to anticipate being explored is libraries withdrawing from larger sharing systems/cooperatives. Yancey County Public Library (NC) had a proposal on the board agenda for just this this week. Why? Pride month displays in a different library in the consortium. It did not pass.
  • Fort Worth Independent School District (TX) removed three books from district shelves. Gender Queer and Flamer appear to be two of the titles. Bonus points for the woman who complained at a board meeting conveniently not having kids in the district anymore.
  • Montgomery County Libraries (TX), which previously chose to restrict LGBTQ+ books from teen readers, is now going to increase the conservative books in their collection. This is antithetical to everything a public library stands for, and the legislators pulling the strings here know that.
  • Metropolitan School District of Steuben County (IN) removed several books from middle and high school shelves. We don’t know the full list, and the books are not going away completely. Instead — this is no joke — “Any titles that were on the list have been pulled to a section that requires the media specialist to hand that book to the child and they have a conversation and check appropriateness for the child and the age of the material.” Isn’t this the coparenting with the government that the crisis actors don’t want? And why would you put the onus of such a conversation on the librarian? We aren’t going to mention the privacy factor students now no longer have.
  • I Am Billy Jean King will remain on shelves in Leon County, Florida schools.
  • Temecula School District (CA) is adapting the California social studies curriculum they have been fighting against but still plan to not talk about Harvey Milk.
  • Earlier this month in the roundup of disruptions and dismantling of Pride events and displays, I included a story of two women who checked out all of the Pride books on display at one of the San Diego Public Libraries (CA). Guess what? Their censorship backfired [gifted NYT link].
  • This is a story running on a Fox affiliate station from The National Desk, one of the right-wing outlets who is a major player in owning the news cycle over book ban crisis acting. The reason for linking is the continued belief that Libs of TikTok is a legitimate source for anything and because it targets access to This Book Is Gay in a Kimberly, Wisconsin middle school digital library.
  • Here’s the latest from the Moms for Liberty’s attempts to tell the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (NC) how to do their job. This is the board that met with them at the beginning of last school year one-on-one.
  • Wake County Schools, also in North Carolina, have a new book challenge policy.
  • New Hanover County (NC) is holding another meeting to determine whether or not to ban Stamped from the schools.
  • Campbell County Public Library System — a long embattled one in Wyoming — is now questioning whether their professional librarians are capable of doing their literal job of weeding.
  • An update on the Erie County Public Library’s (PA) removal of a Pride display last month in the children’s area. It sounds like a lot of mess.
  • A judge says that Stamped will remain off shelves while it is under review in Pickens County Schools (SC). That…is not great.
  • Eastern Howard School Corporation and the Greentown Public Library (IN) are struggling to figure out how to serve patrons with the state’s new laws against “inappropriate materials” in schools.
  • Grangeville Centennial Library (ID) will not be reclassifying nearly a dozen YA books from the YA section to adult.
  • I am paywalled, but here’s how the St. Charles County libraries (MO) are creating new library card classifications.
  • “Several students at North Smithfield High School [RI] are speaking out after noting that an elective class that drew criticism from parents this year will not be offered next fall. A class dubbed, ‘Gothic Literature and Fairy Tales,’ is not on the roster for the 2023/2024 school year, according to students speaking before the School Committee on Tuesday, July 18. The class came under scrutiny in March after parents questioned inclusion in the curriculum of The Virgin Suicides, a 1993 novel that centers on five sisters who all take their own lives in a single year.” They canceled an entire ELECTIVE class over the use of a book that is appropriate for use with this age group and in this class.
  • This article will publish before the verdict is known, but the decision over a lawsuit in Arkansas over new “inappropriate books” legislation impacting libraries will come this week.
  • Academy District 20 (Colorado) put several books back on school shelves. The books are Push, Identical, and Lucky, all of which were returned when the Bible was challenged under the same guidelines used to pull the other titles.
  • “Octogenarian Betty Van Bibber, wearing a straw hat with a paper band reading ‘Stop Pornography in Children’s Library’ quoted Bible verses and said, ‘When someone asks me what pornography is, I have the answer. Pornography is sin.’ Resident Zach Agnew said the controversy over some of the library’s books has brought the debated library materials into the spotlight.” Anyway, Saline County Public Library in Arkansas may be under the rule of the judge soon, board of directors be damned.
  • Mankato Area Public Schools (MN) have now heard their first curriculum complaints in a long time, and it’s over the use of March by John Lewis used in an English class lesson about racism. Uh. Hmm.
  • This is a wonderful piece about the patrons who showed up to support Athens County Public Libraries (OH) who kept their Pride displays and programming as-planned, rather than back down to complainers.
  • Dayton Public Library in Washington, which is close to shutting down and has been attempting to keep its doors open, is appeasing the book banners by relocating YA books to other places in the library. Censoring to try not to be shut down due to lies spread by book banners. America 2023.
  • Boundary County Library (ID) is now creating a nonsense “new adult” category of books for the library. This is what Samuels Library (VA) announced they were doing last week. 1. there is no such thing (it’s a failed marketing concept so how are you going to determine what belongs there?) and 2. that’s going to confuse the hell out of patrons looking for new adult books (as in, books for adults that are new).
  • And Tango Makes Three is once again available in Lake County, Florida elementary schools.
  • A look at book bans in Massachusetts over the last school year and boy oh boy, look at the titles. Not a single surprise among them because book banners are not creative. They’re just racist and bigoted.
  • In Polk County high schools (FL), there is currently a challenge being processed over Assassination Classroom.
  • “King added he thought the Miller Test was intended to determine obscenity for adults and not for minors.” These people are in charge of making educational decisions and they don’t even know what the law means (or they purposefully misinterpret it). Anyway, The Perks of Being a Wallflower will remain, with some restrictions as previously decided, in Sumner County Schools (TN).
  • Texas City, Texas sounds like they have written a solid book challenge policy. You can view it in full here — given their neighbors in League City can’t as much as form a review committee for a challenge, this is refreshing.
  • Over on my personal substack, I wrote about how the Montana State Library Commission withdrawing from the ALA shouldn’t be a surprise because there has been great coverage leading up to this decision — something that can’t be said in many places.