Proposed law could impact local libraries in Oklahoma

A House panel Wednesday overwhelmingly approved guidelines to require materials containing sexually explicit or gay themes to be removed from general reading areas for children and young adults.
The bill, by Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, would withhold state funds from public libraries that do not place those materials in a special area.

— If a proposed law is approved by the state Legislature, small libraries could face big challenges about some of the books on their shelves

A House panel Wednesday overwhelmingly approved guidelines to require materials containing sexually explicit or gay themes to be removed from general reading areas for children and young adults.
The bill, by Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, would withhold state funds from public libraries that do not place those materials in a special area.

Tulsa and Oklahoma City public libraries already have adopted the guidelines, but Jeanie Johnson, president of the Oklahoma Library Association, said small libraries may have a hard time complying.
�We�re really concerned about it, Johnson said. The idea that we would restrict books really restricts freedoms.

Preliminary estimates indicate it will cost $826,000 to renovate small public libraries to create special areas for the material, Johnson said. There are more than 200 public and special libraries in Oklahoma.
Karla Shaffer, director of the Sapulpa Public Library, said the guidelines pose several problems, including paying for the staff time to recatalog items in the collection and finding space to put another special collection.

To add another special collection, you have to find some place to put it, Shaffer said. Our library is fairly open, as most libraries are, so it is difficult to find a place for something like that.

Kern said she wants a special shelving policy to shield children from language and behaviors they are not mature enough to understand.
It”s protecting the future of our children, she said. Sex is not bad. Sex is not wrong. It”s the misuse of it.

But that raises another important question, Shaffer said: Who is to decide what is questionable?

As much as we have this philosophy that we want parents to be involved in selecting what”s appropriate for their children, at the same time more and more when we say you have a book with a certain theme you have to put somewhere else, I think in many libraries it�s going to lead to censorship.

Kern said the measure will encourage libraries to ensure that parents know the content of children”s books before a child reads them. She said children exposed to sexual material without parental guidance often engage in risky behavior later.

I”m not a Nazi. I believe in free speech, Kern said. But for every right we have, there is a responsibility.

We do have a policy in place for people if they have objections to material and feel it should be removed, Shaffer said. Written complaints are reviewed by the library board, which makes decisions with the staff about moving or removing material.

Shaffer said some larger libraries have computer systems that restrict what materials are available to children, but no such system exists at most smaller libraries, including Sapulpa.

Materials in the collection are chosen by the library staff, Shaffer said, based on professional book reviews and their own judgment. Therein lies the other problem, she said. The library staff is making decisions about moral issues that a parent may or may not agree with.
Shaffer said she is not aware of any complaints made about sexually-themed material in the Sapulpa library, but she said patrons can be vocal about other material they find.

We try our best to buy a broad range of things that appeal to most of our community, but you”re never going to satisfy everyone, Shaffer said. We leave a place for community input.

The measure passed the House Appropriations and Budget Committee 14-4 and was sent to the full House for a vote. Rep. Ray McCarter, D-Marlow, debated against the measure.

What she”s trying to do is put these rules in where they can”t be accomplished, McCarter said. He said there is no practical way to segregate books from reading areas because of space limitations.
We”ll just shut down a whole bunch of small libraries out there, McCarter said.

He also said it is not the Legislature”s role to decide what books children should have access to.
Their parents are the ones who should be making these decisions for them. We shouldn”t be shoving things down their throat, McCarter said.
Last year, Kern asked the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Library Commission to place the book “King and King” and similar books in the adult section. She made the request after receiving complaints from two constituents who objected to the book”s content.

book ban”sapulpa library”,”sally kern”
“King and King” is a children”s tale about a prince who shuns princesses in favor of another prince.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Greg Stone 224-5185 Ext.206
editor@sapulpadailyherald.com

Author: GREG STONE

News Service: CNHI News Service

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