New Bill Would let City Councils Overrule Local Library, Limit Access to Books

By Ty Rushing

February 11, 2022

Under a new proposal, Iowa public libraries may have to create a secondary adult section to keep certain materials away from minors; however, the bill does not specify if red lights or beaded curtains will be required.

Rep. Jon Thorup (R-Knoxville) introduced HF 2321 on Thursday. Thorup’s bill would allow a city council to overturn a library board’s decision on where the library can place books if those books were the subject to a citizen complaint.

According to the bill, “If the council votes to overturn the library board’s decision, the council shall provide direction to the library board for placement of the book or other material, which may include placing the book or other material in a secure location and limiting check-out privileges for the book or other material to adults if the book or other material considered sensitive in nature.”

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Iowa library board members are appointed and approved by city officials. The board’s responsibilities include hiring library directors, approving and monitoring the budget, developing and adopting policies, and evaluating services.

Thorup’s bill falls in line with an overall Republican-led effort to restrict reading materials—especially books written by authors of color and/or the LGBTQ community—although most of the legislation this legislative session have centered on public school classrooms and school libraries.

There has been a debate in Thorup’s neighboring legislative district over “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe. The book, which has become one of the most challenged pieces of literature in the country, is located in the Pella Public Library’s adult graphic novel section. However, some parents want it removed entirely.

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Phyllis Peter, the youth services librarian at the Newton Public Library, is not a fan of the bill. She said it places an unnecessary hurdle on information.

“Restricting access is placing a barrier, and can often just be another means of suppressing a viewpoint,” Peter said. “Intellectual Freedom is a slippery slope and we always have to think through the long-term ramifications of these actions very carefully. How many books would end up behind the desk, only available by special request?”

Newton Public Library Director Nicole Terry, Peter’s boss, also disagrees with the bill. Terry stands behind the American Library Association’s Freedom to Read Statement, which affirms that libraries carry materials for all viewpoints and sectors of the community.

“If a parent wants to limit what a child or adolescent is reading, then they should exercise that right by accompanying their child to the library and reviewing their check-outs,” she said. “If a person is trying to limit what someone else’s child is able to check out, what gives them the right to do so?

“Labeling a book ‘sensitive by nature’ and placing it behind a desk and/or limiting its ability to be checked out is a slippery slope towards censorship, and a democratic society should not be censoring the views and opinions that may be present in its community.”


by Ty Rushing

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  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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