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WI Bills Would Require Libraries to Tell Parents What Books Their Kids Check Out

Librarians say the GOP bills would restrict children’s ability to research topics in a safe environment.

A librarian reading aloud to children at table in school library.

Wisconsin Republicans have introduced two bills that would require libraries in the state to inform parents any time their children check out books or materials, a proposal that critics say would be overly burdensome and detrimental to children’s rights and safety.

Senate Bills 597 and 598, authored by Republican Senators Romaine Quinn and Barbara Dittrich, are being promoted as so-called “parental rights” bills.

“This bill puts the parent and/or guardian in the driver seat to have conversations with their children about any materials or themes that they find their child is not ready to be exposed to,” Quinn said during a hearing in the Senate Committee on Mental Health, Substance Abuse Prevention, Children & Families at the state capitol on Tuesday.

But other committee members expressed concern that the bills could lead to restrictions or bans on library materials, citing efforts by conservative parents in several Wisconsin school districts to ban books, particularly those with LGBTQ or racial themes.

The bills are unlikely to pass, as Gov. Tony Evers (D), a former educator, would likely veto them.

The bills would require libraries across the state to inform parents when their children check out books or other materials within 24 hours, and would also require libraries to disclose the titles of those materials. Librarians testifying on Tuesday noted that such a requirement would be incredibly burdensome.

“As there is a [librarian] staffing crisis, and not all schools have a certified full-time librarian, I am concerned that this will require a large amount of administrative time when there is not enough staff right now,” said Emily Dittmar, legislative chair of the Wisconsin Educational Media and Technology Association.

The proposed bills are also redundant, as state law already allows parents to request from libraries what materials their children have checked out if they are under the age of 16.

Critics also expressed worry that the proposals will stifle children’s ability to seek information that restrictive parents may want to withhold from them, including answers to questions about their own identities.

“For so many children that are trying to just seek knowledge, the library has always been a safe place, and now we’re making that an unsafe place because we want to know exactly what it is that they’re reading and exactly what it is that they’re doing,” said Democratic state Sen. LaTonya Johnson.

“Kids should have the freedom to explore all the perspectives and stories that a library has to offer,” Senate Democratic Leader Melissa Agard said on social media. “@SenateDemsWI do not support the efforts of the GOP to stifle learning and limit access to information.”

Madison Public Library Digital Services and Marketing Manager Tana Elias said that parents should take proactive steps in monitoring children’s behaviors if they deem it necessary, rather than relying on librarians.

“I think it’s putting the responsibility that should live with the family on to the schools and the public libraries,” Elias told an NBC affiliate television station in Madison.

Others noted that the bills would put more pressure on libraries to acquiesce to conservative parents’ demands for censorship. In conjunction with demands from far right parents to remove certain titles from shelves — as well as state Republicans pushing for a so-called “Parents Bill of Rights” — the new proposals amount to an “intimidation on librarians and educators, all under the guise of parental rights,” said Kasey Meehan, the Freedom to Read Program Director at PEN America.

Lawmakers should direct their energy elsewhere, said Lucy Ripp, communications director for A Better Wisconsin Together.

“Instead of spending time and resources on real issues facing Wisconsin families and students, like making child care more affordable or ensuring Wisconsin schools are fully funded, state Republicans are continuing their efforts to meddle in personal and educational decisions they have no business in — this time with a bill that unjustly scrutinizes school libraries, imposes unwarranted burdens on local librarians, and impedes upon Wisconsin students’ freedom to read,” Ripp said.

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