An Idaho Public Library Will Become Adults-Only July 1, 2024

Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She’s the editor/author of (DON’T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

In what has become an unfortunate and increasing reality in America, a public library in Idaho will be restricting their entire facility to those 18 and older beginning July 1, 2024. Donnelly Public Library is unable to comply with the state’s newly-passed House Bill 710 (HB 710) due to the tiny size of their facility, their small budget, and their lack of an attorney on retainer to handle potential litigation.

HB 710 allows parents or guardians to lodge complaints against materials they deem inappropriate for minors. Once a complaint has been filed, public and school libraries have a total of 60 days to relocate the material to a section that is only accessible to adults. If they do not comply, those parents or guardians can receive $250 in statutory damages, alongside other financial relief for damages.

Donnelly Public Library made a statement on their Facebook page last week that the ambiguity of the bill, coupled with the fact their entire library is a mere 1024 square feet, makes implementing the law impossible. They would be unable to relocate any books deemed “inappropriate” to a section inaccessible to minors. While the library is divided into sections for children, young adults, nonfiction, and adult fiction, the space is small enough that books in the adult section can be touched when looking at books in the designated children’s section. The library already has an occupation limit of 16 and utilizes two tipis on the property to make their programming reach larger.

The only solution to save the library is to make it adults only beginning July 1. Every patron of the library will be required to sign a new agreement to use the facility.

“This change is painful and not what we had hoped for at all. We desire to comply with state and federal legislation, but because of size we have to protect our staff, our library, and our taxpayer money,” read the statement published by the library.

HB 710 especially harms libraries like Donnelly, which are already struggling to meet the needs of their community. The library was ranked 98th in size in the state of Idaho but ranked 25th library by program attendance, the 59th library by annual visitors, and 62nd by circulation, per data from 2021. Donnelly Public Library has been working to fund a new, larger facility, launching a fundraiser campaign for it in early 2023.

Although the library’s collections would be inaccessible to those under the age of 18, Donnelly Public Library emphasized that they remain committed to serving the young people of their community. They will continue their After-School Programming and Summer Programming. But instead of having access to the library itself, all attendees would have to have a parent or guardian sign an agreement that their child can be part of the program and that they would have access to reading materials “carefully curated by library staff” specifically related to the program. After-School Programming is a primary source of income for the tiny library, as it relies on grants and a small tuition. It is regularly at capacity, serving students in Donnelly, Cascade, and McCall. As of 2023, it was the only after school program in Valley County to consistently serve those communities.

Sherry Scheline, the library’s director, clarified that closing the facility does not mean they plan to empty the library of materials for those under 18.

“This does not mean we are getting rid of our children’s books 📚 It simply means your children cannot be in the library without you the parent,” Scheline clarified in a comment under the library’s official post. “We have 1024 square feet. We don’t have space to make anything inaccessible. Our bathroom 🚽🚽 is our craft room, also our kitchen, also our private meeting room. We have done everything we can within our power to comply.”

The Donnelly Public Library is located in a log cabin in the small mountain town of 258 residents. Voters passed a resolution to make the library a district–opening it up to a larger population and more tax money– in 2017. Becoming a district means that the library is independent from the city and that it reaches a broader population than the city itself. It has a service population of nearly 2,900. Scheline indicated that families currently pay around $2.25 to the district for every $100,000 in assessed home value. As of this year, the Donnelly Public Library’s budget was around $75,000. McCall Public Library, a neighboring library with a much larger population and different taxing setup, has a budget of $750,000–ten times that of Donnelly.

“We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Books are constitutionally protected. If we remove a book from the library we can in fact be sued. We are the only Library in Valley County that does not have an attorney on retainer,” Scheline further explained. “Donnelly simply does not have room for an “adult only section.” Anyone who has visited the Donnelly Library knows there is simply no room as it is to hold the materials as well as to serve the population adequately. The request for material to be moved to an “adult-only” section at the Donnelly Public Library would in fact result in the removal of books if the particular challenge were met.”

Idaho’s new law forcing the library to become adults only will be a further financial hardship. In their announcement, the library asks their followers to consider donating funds so they can expand their facility–a goal they’d already been making progress toward prior to HB 710. With more room, Donnelly Public Library would be able to open their collection up to those under 18 again.

“HB710 amongst all of its flaws will disproportionately impact small and rural libraries like Donnelly,” explained Scheline. “Small libraries like Donnelly simply cannot afford the civil penalty, whether the civil penalty is $250 as HB710 requires or larger as previously similar legislation suggested. HB710 allows for additional civil penalties and also offers no protection to the librarian themselves. Likely a library could fight each civil penalty and win, but Donnelly cannot afford the legal protections needed to enter into the battle.”

Donnelly Public Library’s decision to close their library to minors isn’t unprecedented nor is it made lightly. In an era of laws meant to hamper library access, libraries are forced to make decisions that actively harm their institutions, as well as their communities. Sumner County Libraries (TN) restricts entire portions of their library to those 18 and older–including collections where classics and nonfiction used for school research and reports are located–while states like Louisiana have just implemented laws requiring each library to offer cards with varying levels of access to materials–this has led to New Orleans Public Library needing every single person under the age of 18 to apply for new cards (or, rather, have their parents/guardians apply for those cards for them). Indeed, book bans are the harbinger of child-free libraries, further marginalizing and hiding from the public some of the most vulnerable people in our culture. Closing libraries to children gives them yet one fewer place where they can go outside the home.

HB 710 is so broad in scope and offers little in the way of what materials are deemd inappropriate that it means libraries have to define “obscene materials” on their own. The only guide appears to be the books being banned nationwide, meaning that perfectly appropriate material for children and adolescents with LGBTQ+ characters are being preemptively moved in libraries statewide. Preston Public Library temporarily restricted access to its collection while they moved LGBTQ+ titles from the YA section elsewhere, and library workers have expressed anger and frustration at having to play the role of censor while trying to protect their libraries from possible financial and legal impact.

Scheline asks those who care about the future of the Donnelly Public Library to both speak out about the consequences of this bill–one passed despite widespread disapproval–and to donate.

“Please continue to write your State Legislators and tell them to protect libraries. Also GIVE BIG to the Donnelly Public Library. CHOOSE for your dollars to go to the building expansion! NOW is the time. Make the decision to support libraries!,” she stated.

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