Public Library Board Preparation about the Right to Read
As public institutions, public libraries are subject to a range of laws and regulations that affect their operations, policies, and collections.
For library boards and senior leadership, it is important to have a comprehensive understanding of the relevant laws and statutes governing library policymaking about collection development, displays, weeding, and materials challenges. This understanding begins with a knowledge of court cases that have shaped First Amendment protections for public libraries, and an understanding of the distinctions between types of libraries, particularly regarding children's collections. It extends to a current understanding of state statutes and court cases about obscenity and harmful material, especially the existing statutory defenses from prosecution for libraries, as well as relevant federal and state statutes and court cases about civil rights, human rights, and LGBTQ protections that may be impinged by a book ban.
In order to properly fulfill their policy and fiduciary responsibilities under state law, we recommend that public library boards formally request the following information from their attorney as an opinion or briefing memo:
A general discussion of First Amendment court cases about public libraries. This needs to include a discussion about the differences between public libraries and schools. There are substantial differences, even concerning children's collections.
A review of relevant state statutes about library fiduciary and policymaking authority.
A review of any agreements, contracts, and/or memos of understanding between the library and any municipal or other authority. If the library is a municipal department, are there local ordinances which are uniquely focused on that particular library?
A review of state statutes and court cases about obscenity and harmful to minors relative to the exemptions from prosecution defense for libraries and other bona fide professions in that state.
- A review of relevant state statutes and court cases about civil rights, human rights, and LGBTQ+ protections that may be impinged by a categorical book ban.
Public library boards must be aware of the legal considerations and requirements impacting their policymaking and fiduciary responsibilities. By requesting an opinion or briefing memo from their attorney covering the areas we've discussed, library boards can ensure that they are operating within the boundaries of the law and providing equal access to information for their communities. As we continue to navigate a rapidly changing free expression landscape, it is crucial that libraries remain at the forefront of protecting the Right to Read and promoting equality for all. With a thorough understanding of the legal landscape, library boards can ensure that they serve their communities to the best of their abilities while staying within the bounds of the law.