Library board to hear report on ‘harmful materials’ legislation

Bartholomew County Public Library staff are wondering whether state lawmakers might expand Senate Bill 12, a piece of legislation centered on inappropriate material in school libraries, to apply to public libraries as well.

The library’s board of trustees will meet at 4 p.m. on Monday in the Red Room of the Columbus branch. The agenda includes a “legislative update” as part of the director’s report.

“I will be giving the board an update on SB12 that currently deals with school libraries but could easily have public libraries added at the last minute,” said library director Jason Hatton.

The bill has passed out of the Indiana Senate and into the House, where it had its first reading on March 6 and was then referred to the Committee on Education.

In its current version, the SB 12 would remove schools from the list of entities that are eligible for a special defense against criminal prosecutions for disseminating material that is harmful to minors — while at the same time adding colleges and universities to the list of eligible entities. It also removes a defense based on materials being shared for educational purposes.

A previous version of the bill also removed public libraries from the list of entities with a legal defense for disseminating material that is harmful to minors. However, it has since been amended, with the current version only striking schools from the list.

SB 12 would also require schools to establish a procedure for the parent of an enrolled student to submit a complaint that a book in the school’s library is “inappropriate,” as well as a response and appeal procedure.

“Teachers and librarians worry that this bill would lead to some trying to censor or ban materials that are not harmful to minors but merely contain ideas or content with which they personally disagree,” said Columbus Educators’ Association representative Alan Birkemeier as he moderated a Third House session earlier this month.

Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, voted in favor of the bill, and Rep. Ryan Lauer, R-Columbus, has also expressed support for it.

During the general assembly’s regular 2022 session, a similar piece of legislation made it out of the Senate but died in the House. Senate Bill 17 would have removed both schools and public libraries from the list of entities with the legal defense and would have removed the defense that the material was distributed for educational purposes.

Hatton was among those who voiced concerns about the bill, and the library hosted a read-in in opposition to it. A few hundred people attended the event to show their support.

Still, discussions around library materials — within both the Bartholomew County Public Library and the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. — have been contentious over the past year, with some individuals raising concern about “inappropriate” materials being available to youth, and others criticizing these efforts as censorship. Many of the books in question have dealt with LGBTQ themes or sexual content.