Keep Scrolling for continue reading for more stories

In West Virginia, Librarians at Risk of Felony Charges Over ‘Obscene’ Books

In West Virginia, librarians and museum staff may face potential felony charges for providing access to material to minors deemed”obscene”, a term that is broadly defined by West Virginia law. This legislative action, as reported by USA Today, emerges amidst a wider surge in book-banning efforts across the United States.

The bill, having successfully navigated the House of Delegates on February 16, now faces the scrutiny of the Senate. Its primary aim is to strip public libraries and museums of their current exemptions from criminal liability concerning the distribution of “obscene matter” to minors. This could lead to librarians or museum staff facing fines up to $25,000 and incarceration for up to five years if convicted.

Critics argue that this measure will not only escalate the number of book challenges but also unfairly target librarians for providing access to literature that, while including sexual content, is not pornographic by nature. This includes a range of classical literature, highlighting the bill’s potential to blur the lines between protecting minors and imposing undue censorship.

The definition of “obscene matter” within West Virginia’s state code is notably broad, requiring material to appeal to the prurient interest, describe sexually explicit conduct in an offensive manner, and lack serious value in literature, art, politics, or science. This definition, critics suggest, could be wielded to suppress a wide swath of educational content, from LGBTQ+ topics to comprehensive sex education and discussions on race and politics.

The American Library Association (ALA) underscores the gravity of this situation, noting an alarming 20% increase in attempts to censor library materials in the first eight months of 2023 compared to the previous year. This uptick represents the highest level of book challenges recorded by the ALA in over two decades, pointing to a national trend that the West Virginia bill could significantly amplify.

Proponents, however, defend the bill’s intentions, arguing it aims to shield children from sexually explicit materials in public, taxpayer-funded spaces.