On Nov. 7, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to approve the “Parents Matter Act.”
The act was proposed by Supervisor Steve Brandau, who is in support of removing children’s access to “graphic” content. Brandau has assured the community that the council won’t be banning books, but instead removing potentially offensive books from the children’s section.
The board members claim that this panel will aim to “review age-appropriate children’s books in Fresno County.” The board members will elect the group of people that will be in charge of overseeing the review and removal from the children’s section of books deemed “inappropriate”.
This panel will effectively determine what is fit for every public library’s children section’s shelves.
While they haven’t decided what determines an age-appropriate book from an appropriate one, the board has already submitted a couple of examples of what might be removed from children’s sections, and books with themes about race, sexual education, and sexuality are potentially on the list.
Community members have expressed concern about the “slippery slope” that starts with restricting access to books; many are angry that the county is even attempting to sensor Fresno’s public libraries.
Upon learning of this proposed legislation, the ACLU of Northern California wrote a detailed letter outlining over four different ways that this legislation, if passed, would be unconstitutional and undermine federal and local established law.
The ACLU stands firmly against this resolution, as expressed in their letter to the Board of Supervisors, stating that it undermines the intention and special role that public libraries play in the “free exchange of diverse ideas and information.”
Taken from their letter to the Board of Supervisors, the ACLU claims, “First, the Resolution is an invasive and unconstitutional form of censorship that targets books based on seemingly disfavored speech, namely references to bodily autonomy, ‘sexual content’, and ‘gender identity.’”
Public libraries across Fresno County have outlined their own measures for vetting the books that appear in the children’s section as a result of this legislation being introduced.
Librarians are often required to obtain a master’s degree to qualify for the position, and they sort and examine the books that move through our libraries. Many libraries also already have multiple ways that community members can raise concerns about what appears in the children’s section of libraries.
A community member expressed in public comment, “You shouldn’t decide, I shouldn’t decide – it should be by the experts. Who are these experts? People who have six years of formal education, they have master’s degrees – they’re called librarians.”
The letter from the ACLU expressed a similar sentiment, saying “the Resolution is unnecessary given the library policies currently in place to let parents and guardians decide what is appropriate for minors in their care.”
Members of the community also expressed their concern about creating a lack of representation in public libraries for young people in marginalized communities, and the impact that could have on Fresno County youth.
Jennifer Cruz, with Fresno EOC’s LGBTQ+ Resource Center, said:
“The young people we see in the center often express their relief to have an affirming space but also to see staff that they can see themselves in. It gives them hope to see successful queer people in real life and to see these characters represented in books, movies, and TV… I am grateful that young people today can see themselves in [the] media because representation and visibility absolutely saves young Queer lives.”
Northern California’s ACLU has stated in public comment that the act soon to be put in motion is unconstitutional; they are looking into the next legal steps to take against the Board of Supervisors.
The next Board of Supervisors meeting has this resolution on the agenda to be revised and passed, and many members of the community have planned to attend in protest.
The board has morning meetings that take place at 9:30 a.m. The next meeting will take place on Nov. 28 at the Fresno County Hall of Records.