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A new law aims to protect Colorado’s public libraries from book bans

The Glenwood Springs Branch is one of six library locations in the Garfield County Public Library District.
Caroline Llanes
Aspen Public Radio
The Glenwood Springs Branch is one of six library locations in the Garfield County Public Library District.

Last month, Gov. Jared Polis signed a new law designed to protect Colorado’s public libraries from book bans.

The new law, SB24-216, requires libraries to have policies to address challenges to books, including disclosing its process to the public. A “challenge” is an attempt to remove or restrict material on library shelves.

Jenn Cook is the technical services director for the Garfield County Public Library District — which has seen residents attempt to restrict children’s access to certain books.

“It really doesn't change the way we operate,” she said in an interview with Aspen Public Radio. “It simply codifies into law, that we should follow the policies that we already have set and continue following those policies going forward. It just puts those policies into legal standing.”

Cook said that GCPLD’s policies for challenging books, or a “request for reconsideration,” is already in compliance with the new law, which has a number of requirements for a challenge policy.

Cooks said she recognizes that there are many concerns and anxiety about what information is available to kids, and they want to hear from the community and listen to those concerns.

“But the fact of the matter is, libraries do not operate in loco parentis… according to the law, we do not act in place of parents,” she said. “We do not take away the parent's rights to decide what their children should have access to, and we don't take away the parent's responsibility to supervise what their children are accessing.”

She said the law represents Colorado’s commitment to upholding its residents' First Amendment rights to read and access whatever information they choose.

The law establishes that anyone challenging a book must live within the library’s service area. A challenged book cannot be removed from shelves while under reconsideration, and a public library cannot review a book or other material that’s already been evaluated more than once every two years. Furthermore, any challenge to a book is now subject to the Colorado Open Records Act, or CORA. That means that the name and address of a challenger would not be redacted.

In addition, the law says that a library may not exclude materials from its collection on the basis of the creator’s opinions or identity. That includes race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and other protected classes.

It also protects library staff from retaliation if they refuse to remove a book or other material from its shelves. Cook says the anti-retaliation piece is extremely important for librarians, due to an increasingly hostile political environment.

“I think it’s really encouraging that we have a legislature that has declared that librarians are highly trained and educated and doing the job that we have been sent out and trained to do,” she said. “So many states around the nation are criminalizing librarians, and the work that librarians do and Colorado is only the fifth state in the nation to adopt an anti-censorship law and protect our librarians.”

In our region, Utah has passed a law allowing a book to be banned in public schools statewide if three school districts deem it objectionable. In Idaho, the governor signed a bill this year mandating that libraries remove materials deemed “harmful to children.”

Copyright 2024 Aspen Public Radio

Caroline Llanes
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