It evidently isn’t well known, except to school librarians, but Arkansas has a state law prohibiting libraries from revealing the names of those who check out books. The law applies to school libraries as well as public libraries, and it does not make an exception for informing parents of what their children are reading. However, the law might not be applicable to the situation at Fayetteville, where policies and proposals would seem to comply with the letter of the law while violating the spirit.
Act 903 of 1989 was sponsored by state Rep. Jim Lendall of Little Rock, at the request of the Arkansas Library Association. Lendall has since left the legislature because of term limits. The law says “Library records which contain names or other personally identifying details regarding the patrons of public, school, academic and special libraries and library systems supported in whole or in part by public funds, shall be confidential and shall not be disclosed except as permitted by this act.”
The exceptions permitted by the act are disclosure to a law enforcement agency or civil court, pursuant to a search warrant; disclosure for the purpose of collecting overdue books, and disclosure “to any person with the informed, written consent of the patron given at the time the disclosure is sought.”
The Arkansas Times was informed of the law by a school librarian who complies with the law by crossing out the names of borrowers on book cards. Kristen Gould, staff attorney for the Arkansas School Boards Association, was unaware of the law until a reporter asked about it. She noted that the law, codified as 13-2-701 through 13-2-706, is found in the general laws of Arkansas, not the school laws section.
At Fayetteville, activist Laurie Taylor wants a parent-led committee to compile a list of books that students couldn’t check out without parental approval. The Fayetteville School District already has a policy that allows a parent to prevent a child from checking out a specific book, by notifying the school of the parent’s objection. Both of these would seem to violate the spirit of Act 903, which has to do with the freedom to read, but since students would be denied access on the front end, the library would not be disclosing the names of borrowers.
As Fayetteville school superintendent Bobby New noted, students find ways of getting around rules, whatever they are. A student blocked by his parents from checking out a book could get a friend to check it out for him.
He could also go to a public library, and find most of the books that are on Taylor’s list of objectionables. Bobby Roberts of Little Rock, director of the Central Arkansas Library System, said there were no age restrictions or parental-approval requirements at CALS. “Anybody can check out anything they want.” That includes “Push,” a controversial novel that Taylor (and others) find highly offensive.