Region & State

Proposed law to hold libraries accountable for ‘obscene’ material passes Arkansas committee

By TESS VRBIN | Arkansas Advocate

An Arkansas Senate committee approved a bill Monday that would open the door to criminal liability for the distribution of “obscene” content by libraries.

Stephanie Sweeney, a librarian at the Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library, speaks against Senate Bill 81 before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 20, 2023. Betsy Fisher, director of Clark County’s library system, is pictured in attendance. | Tess Vrbin/Arkansas Advocate

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to pass the bill after hearing testimony from only 16 of the 23 members of the public who signed up to speak for or against the bill.

Senate Bill 81 would remove schools and public libraries from the part of Arkansas state code that currently exempts them from prosecution “for disseminating a writing, film, slide, drawing, or other visual reproduction that is claimed to be obscene” under existing obscenity laws.

READ MORE: Clark County librarian says bill ‘unnecessary’

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Jonesboro) (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate 02/15/2023)
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Jonesboro)

The state’s definition of obscenity is “that to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to prurient interest,” with prurient meaning overtly sexual.

Senate Bill 81 would not amend the definition of obscenity, but it would add the loaning of library materials to the statute governing the possession and distribution of obscene material.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Jonesboro), the bill’s sponsor, said the policy would allow parents to be more aware of what their children are reading and protect children from sexually explicit content.

“We don’t let kids smoke, we don’t let kids drink, we don’t let them drive — the list can go on forever,” Sullivan said. “We protect children in this way. This bill seeks to add library material that’s inappropriate to that list of things the state of Arkansas is willing to do to protect our children.”

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2 replies »

  1. Arkansas legislators are taking its citizens back to the age of “burning books”! Most libraries have sections for books “too mature” for young eyes! It is not the librarian’s job to monitor young people checking out “mature” reading materials…it is the parents’ job! Are they going to start labeling “mature” materials, (i.e. BK-14 only, BK-21 only, etc.)! Besides, if the child wants to read a “mature” book, all they have to do is ask their parent/guardian to check it out for them! Don’t you “legislators” have something better to do than putting pressure on people doing the job they have been doing for years?