In Idaho’s most recent legislative session, House Bill 710, officially titled the “Children’s School and Library Protection Act,” created a law requiring libraries and schools to relocate books to a separate, “adults’ access only” section if they contained a depiction in any medium of nudity, sexual conduct, arousal or sadomasochistic abuse.

Why the protests then?

Abigayl Martin, a BYU-Idaho alumna and writer who has been following the bill’s history the past few years, explained how last year a version of the law passed the House and the Senate but was vetoed by Governor Brad Little due to dangerously vague language and enforcement concerns.

For example, containing sexual conduct is one of the grounds for requiring a book to be relocated; however, in House Bill 710, part of the definition of sexual conduct includes anything “homosexual.”

Protestors against the bill did a read-in just outside of the Madison Library District building, hoping to draw attention to the law's flaws.

Protestors against the bill did a read-in just outside of the Madison Library District building, hoping to draw attention to the law's flaws. Photo credit: Chester Chan

“Say there was a book with a gay main character or trans main character or something like that,” Martin said. That could very likely be, even if there was nothing else, you know, no sex, no anything else, no language, just that the main character, you know, was gay or trans. And then that will be reason enough to ban a book, which is kind of terrifying, if you asked me.

One major concern individuals have with the law is that legislators did not listen to librarians’ feedback while it was still in committee.

“Every lawyer I’ve talked to has a different take on this. The law is not very straightforward,” said Valerie Vale, the Madison Library District’s director.

Interior of the library.

Interior of the library. Photo credit: Chester Chan

Smaller libraries are most affected. Without funding for legal advice and adequate space to relocate books per the law, they have to invent other creative solutions or face closure.

The Donnelly Public Library became an adult-only library in May, according to the Donnelly Public Library Director Sherry Scheline.

“Especially as a teenager, I loved going to the library so if I … couldn’t go to the library anymore, I’d be so sad. Honestly, pretty upset,” Martin said.

Teens and kids are constantly in and out of the Madison Library for everything from summer programs to novels.

Teens and kids are constantly in and out of the Madison Library for everything from summer programs to novels. Photo credit: Chester Chan

Scheline explained that now the library offers three different waiver options for minors parents to sign in order to allow them into the library.

Every patron is required to renew their membership. To allow their minor to be left unattended, they must choose from the following options: completely barring their children from removing any items from the shelves without supervision, allowing them to participate in the library’s programs but not use its materials or completely waiving their right under House Bill 710.

Only one family has chosen to restrict their children’s use of library materials, according to Scheline.

Monday, concerned individuals, including parents and teachers, sat outside the Madison Library district building to draw attention to the new law.

Teachers, parents and individuals against recently enacted House Bill 710 sit outside of the library reading next to signs expressing their concerns.

Teachers, parents and individuals against recently enacted House Bill 710 sit outside of the library reading next to signs expressing their concerns. Photo credit: Chester Chan

Opponents of the new law balk at the shifting of parental responsibility into lawmakers hands.

Concerns center on the suppression of free speech, a First Amendment right now in tension with state law.

“The main argument was … we don’t want porn in libraries. … So anyone who was opposed to this bill, you know, was seen and painted as being pro-pornography, which is absolutely ridiculous,” Martin said.

Additionally, many libraries already have protocols in place when selecting books to include in their collections, and the new law threatens to bring a chilling effect on librarian’s book choices.

The new law threatens to bring a chilling effect on librarian's book choices.

The new law threatens to bring change to librarian's book choices. Photo credit: Chester Chan

The previously vetoed version of the law allowed for $2,500 in damages paid to the parent or guardian if the reported children’s book was not relocated within 30 days.

The version signed into law lowered the maximum penalties to $250 per offense.

“Which, you know, could add up to a lot of money,” Martin said. Especially, you know, we’re very blessed and have a very good library here. But like in smaller, more rural areas, they can’t deal with that, or their libraries aren’t built to be able to move, you know, books around very easily.”

The law outlines a process for book relocation.

First, every library is required to have forms available for parents, guardians or minors to fill out when they encounter material harmful to minors that they want to be relocated, as defined in House Bill 710, according to Vail.

The form is then considered by the library board of Trustees and volunteer officials elected by library district voters.

If the material is considered offensive to minors as defined by the law, the library must relocate it in the allotted time or face paying up to $250 in damages.

These officials have no part in the day-today workings of the library.

“No two libraries in the state are going to do this exact same because no two libraries in the state are the same,” Vale said. That’s the beauty of it. They get to be morphed to, they can adapt themselves to the community that they’re in and be specialists for that community.

Valerie Vail explains how the library's RFID book return system works.

Valerie Vail explains how the library's RFID book return system works. Photo credit: Chester Chan

Vail has worked at the Madison Library District for 25 years, 12 of those as the director with experience at the Pocatello and Blackfoot Libraries before that.

“I appreciate our community,” Vale said. “This library is a testament of what our community values.”