A standing room only crowd packs the Lassen District Library during the Thursday, April 20, 2023, board meeting. Now the issue of what books should be available at a public library has reignited as the Hunting Beach City Council considers an ordinance establishing a community group that will decide which books should be on the library's shelves..

Another library system in California is facing an unconstitutional book ban

Publisher’s note: It’s a sign of the times — a similar issue arose here in Susanville regarding what materials should be available at our library. Now the people of Fresno have entered the fray and have a decision to make. The item is on the agenda for today’s meeting.

The Fresno County Board of Supervisors considers a “Resolution Establishing a ‘Parents Matter’ Approach to Reviewing Age-Appropriate Children’s Books in Fresno County Libraries.”

Yesterday, with the ACLU of Northern California, Freedom to Read Foundation, and PEN America, FAC sent a letter to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors urging them to reject this resolution. As the letter states, the resolution “transforms the government into both nanny and censor while perverting the public’s civil liberties. The government has no business interfering with the decisions of young people and their families about what library books to read.”

The resolution would make children’s books and other materials with allegedly “age-inappropriate content” off-limits to anyone under 18 without “parental or guardian consent.”

You may wonder: what’s “age-inappropriate?” If this resolution passes, that would not be for Fresno County residents to decide for themselves or for their children. Instead, library staff or a “Community Parent and Guardian Review Committee,” with members appointed by the board of supervisors, would make those decisions, although any decisions by staff would be subject to review by the committee.

That’s right, a committee of political appointees.

Not parents for their own children, not a trained librarian. Some other residents, who may not share the same beliefs and values as the rest of the community, would have the power to restrict which books kids have access to. So, despite the name of the resolution, when it comes to deciding what children read in Fresno County libraries, parents don’t matter, because the resolution would strip them of the right to make that decision for themselves. Indeed, only some parents would matter — those who might be appointed to the committee with the power to impose their views on everyone else.

This isn’t the first time a local government body has attempted to control the right to read.

Just a few weeks ago, the Huntington Beach City Council passed a similar resolution despite passionate objections by residents and even former mayors and council members, as well as opposition from FAC, ACLU of Southern California, and Freedom to Read Foundation.

Book bans are nothing new, but this latest attempt by local politicians to restrict what books children have access to is unacceptable. As the Los Angeles Timeseditorial opposing the Huntington Beach book ban stated, “Giving residents censorship rights over librarians and the public crosses a clear line that should never be breached.”

Thank you for your interest in our work.

Resolution before the Fresno Board of Supervisors today

WHEREAS, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors has observed that there are some children’s books and other materials in the children’s section of County’s libraries that contain sexual writings, sexual references, sexual images, gender-identity content, and other sexual content or content deemed age-inappropriate (Age-Inappropriate Content); and

WHEREAS, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors is concerned that some of the children’s books and other materials (Books and Other Materials) in the County’s libraries contain sexual content that is viewed by the community as obscene and/or age inappropriate; and

WHEREAS, those books and other materials containing Age-Inappropriate Content are presently readily available to children without any parental or guardian involvement or requirement for parental or guardian requirement; and

WHEREAS, it is critical that parents or guardians of younger children, rather than the government or any other entity, are able to make decisions of the type of content that their children are exposed to; and

WHEREAS, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors seeks to protect our community’s children by necessarily involving parental and guardian oversight and participation regarding children’s access to Age-Inappropriate Content in books and other materials at or from the County’s libraries; and

WHEREAS, the County’s libraries are funded by taxpayers from the community and children’s books and other materials are generally judged by “community standards” per Miller v. California (1973) 413 U.S. 15.

NOW THEREFORE, THE FRESNO COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS RESOLVES AS FOLLOWS:
Accessibility to Library books

Nothing in this Resolution shall require or authorize the removal of any book or other material from a Fresno County Library.

Adult Consent or Approval for Access to Age-Inappropriate Content
No Fresno County Library or other County facility shall allow ready access to minors of books and other materials that contain Age-Inappropriate Content contained within designated children’s sections or areas.

Parental or guardian consent will be required before accessing or checking out of books and other materials that contain Age-Inappropriate Content.

The Fresno County Library shall establish efficient procedures for the removal of access from minors, obtaining access to, or checking out of books and other materials that contain Age-Inappropriate Content. The procedures shall establish the process by which parental or guardian consent is obtained or given to accessing or checking out books and other materials restricted by this Resolution.

The County Librarian may make determinations regarding any books and other materials subject to the parental or guardian consent procedures as required by this Resolution or may allow the community parent and guardian review committee established by this Resolution to make all such determinations. Any determination by the County Librarian under the standards in this Resolution shall be reviewed by the community parent/review committee at the next occurring meeting.

Establishment of a Community Parent and Guardian Review Committee
A community parent and guardian review committee (Committee) shall be established to review all current, proposed, or new Children’s books and other materials procured for County Libraries by the County Librarian or staff that may contain Age-Inappropriate Content before the books or other materials are placed in the County Libraries or facilities.

The Committee shall be comprised of fifteen (15) community members over 18 years of age, and each County Supervisor member shall appoint three (3) individuals who reside within that Board Member’s district within Fresno County. The term for each member shall be two (2) years.

The Committee shall meet four (4) times a year and more as necessary (as determined by the County Librarian or Committee members) to review children’s books or other materials recommended for procurement and currently available for County’s libraries. The meetings of the Committee shall be conducted pursuant to the requirements of the Ralph M. Brown Act (Government Code § 54950, et seq.).

The initial meeting of the Committee shall take place as soon as possible after a quorum of at least 8 members has been appointed by the Board of Supervisors and all requirements for creation of a committee are complete. The initial meeting shall include approval of Committee bylaws, prepared in advance by County staff, and the nomination and election of Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, and a Community Standards Policy.

Procurement of New books and other materials Required to Meet Community
Standards and Review of books Currently in Circulation
The Committee shall review proposed new books and other materials for placement in the children’s section as requested by the County Librarian for procurement to library branches. The Committee shall determine by majority vote of the quorum present if the books and other materials presented meet the community standards of acceptance for Fresno County or whether they should be subject to the parental or guardian consent provisions of this Resolution.

The Committee may also review books and other materials currently in circulation at County libraries and subject them to the same process on a case-by-case basis.

If the Committee decides any of the recommended books or other materials do not meet the community standards of acceptance, the Committee may vote to make said books or other materials subject to the parental or guardian consent provisions of this Resolution and the procedures established to comply with this Resolution by the Fresno County Library.

Once the committee has been established with approved bylaws and community standards policies, at the next possible meeting the Committee shall conduct a review of books or materials currently in circulation that have been brought to the attention of the review board by members of the public and/or Library staff and which may be subject to the provisions of this Resolution.

General Provisions
This Resolution provides the direction of the Board of Supervisors to the County Administrative Officer and the County Librarian to carry out the provisions of this Resolution.

Following adoption of this Resolution by the Board of Supervisors, the Clerk of the Board shall list the available provisions for appointment to the review board as required by law, accept and process applications for the vacancies, and forward qualifying individuals to the Board of Supervisors for consideration of appointment.

This Resolution shall take effect upon passage by a majority of the Board of Supervisors. The rules and procedures required by this resolution shall be effective upon the appointment of a quorum of at least eight members of the community parent/guardian review board and the holding of the first meeting of the review board.