Colorado lawmakers try again to restrict book bans in public libraries.

Colorado lawmakers are pushing forward with a late bill that mandates public libraries to establish guidelines on the evaluation and removal of materials in their collections.
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Colorado legislators are advancing a last-minute bill that would require public libraries to implement guardrails on how they review and remove materials in their catalogs.

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Senate Bill 24-216 mandates public library boards in the state to create written policies governing the acquisition, display, and utilization of library resources, including a procedure for reevaluating materials. State Senator Lisa Cutter, a Democrat from Littleton, who sponsored the bill, emphasized that many libraries already have existing processes that comply with the new requirements.
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Senate Bill 24-216 would require boards for public libraries across the state to establish written policies on how they acquire, display and use library resources, as well as a process for reconsidering materials. State Sen. Lisa Cutter, a Littleton Democrat sponsoring the bill, said many libraries already have these processes in place and will be able to keep them.

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The introduction of this bill coincides with the conclusion of the 2024 legislative session and follows the rejection of a similar bill, Senate Bill 24-049, back in February. Unlike its predecessor, SB 24-216 specifically focuses on public libraries, omitting school libraries from its scope due to opposition from many school districts. Senator Cutter highlighted the similarities between the new bill and its previous version.
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The bill’s introduction comes shortly before the end of the 2024 legislative session, and months after lawmakers killed a similar bill, Senate Bill 24-49, in February. The new version has broader support given its focus solely on public libraries — the previous bill included school libraries as well, but many school districts opposed the policy. Cutter said that otherwise, the provisions in the new bill are almost exactly the same.

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Under the proposed legislation, libraries must adhere to specific procedures when a patron requests the removal of materials from their collection. During the review process, the material in question must remain accessible to the public, and the outcomes of the review must be transparent. The bill covers digital and physical books, displays, and community programs hosted by the libraries.
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The bill would require libraries to adhere to certain procedural standards when a member of the public seeks to remove material from their collections. During the review, the material would have to remain in circulation, and the results of the review must be made available to the public. Library materials covered by the bill include digital and physical book collections, as well as displays and community programs.

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Moreover, individuals challenging a book or any library material must reside within the service area of the library in question. Material reviews can be requested once every five years. Senator Cutter noted that these provisions aim to prevent overwhelming library staff with numerous removal requests.
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The bill would also require that someone challenging a book or other library material lives within the service area of that library. Materials would also be eligible for reevaluation once every five years. Cutter said both of these requirements are intended to protect library staff from “ban bombing” to ensure they aren’t overwhelmed with hundreds of requests.

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Cutter emphasized the importance of preserving access to diverse materials in libraries, as efforts to censor content have increased. The bill prohibits any form of retaliation against library staff who resist removing materials before undergoing due review processes.
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The bill would also require that someone challenging a book or other library material lives within the service area of that library. Materials would also be eligible for reevaluation once every five years. Cutter said both of these requirements are intended to protect library staff from “ban bombing” to ensure they aren’t overwhelmed with hundreds of requests.

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Senator Cutter expressed her determination to establish standards for public libraries despite initial setbacks, as a substantial number of libraries back the legislation. She praised the Senate leadership for recognizing the bill’s significance and introducing it before the session ends.
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While she said she was disappointed after the first bill failed, Cutter still wanted to establish standards for public libraries, many of which strongly supported the legislation. She said Senate leadership knew the bill was a priority for her and she’s grateful to have introduced it before the end of session.

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The bill garnered support from library professionals, such as Mark Fink, the Executive Director of Anythink Libraries. Fink, representing the Colorado Association of Libraries, underscored the bill’s role in defending intellectual freedom, diverse perspectives, and the welfare of library employees.
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Support from librarians

Mark Fink, executive director of Anythink Libraries, the public library system in Adams County, testified in support of the bill on behalf of the Colorado Association of Libraries. He said the bill challenges censorship and protects the right to read freely, as well as library workers.

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He highlighted the importance of accommodating diverse experiences and voices in library collections, emphasizing the community’s evolving composition.
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“Our community is becoming more diverse and our library needs safeguards so we can amplify all the voices and experiences of our residents and include diverse items in our collection that resonate with them,” Fink said. “This bill protects our ability to do this important work.”

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Fink emphasized that while parents have authority over their own children’s reading choices, they should not dictate the reading materials available to others.
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Fink said parents are entitled to determine what they want their children to read, but that right does not extend to other children.

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In recent years, an alarming surge in book bans and censorship has emerged, predominantly targeting LGBTQ+ narratives, Black history, and diverse stories nationwide. The rejection of attempts to ban LGBTQ-themed books by the Douglas County Libraries last year was a notable example.
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In the last few years, an unprecedented wave of book bans and censorship spurred by parents and right-wing groups has targeted books that center on the LGBTQ+ community, Black history and diverse stories across the country. Douglas County Libraries rejected an effort last year to ban four LGBTQ-focused books after months of meetings and public comment.

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State Senator Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a co-sponsor of SB-216, revealed that over 136 book titles faced challenges in Colorado during the initial eight months of 2023, a 143% surge from the prior year. A significant portion of the targeted titles in Colorado encompassed LGBTQ and BIPOC narratives.
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State Sen. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Commerce City Democrat and co-sponsor of SB-216, said at least 136 book titles were challenged across Colorado in the first eight months of 2023 — a 143% increase from 2022, according to the American Library Association. Fink added that materials representing LGBTQ and BIPOC voices made up 47% of the titles targeted in Colorado last year.

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Senator Michaelson Jenet highlighted the necessity of offering diverse materials in libraries to foster informed citizenship and better democracy. She stressed the importance of equitable representation in public spaces like libraries.
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“Regardless of background, zip code or socioeconomic status, we have a right to read a wide range of materials that provide us with the knowledge base and the critical thinking skills that we need to be informed citizens who will contribute positively to our democracy,” Michaelson Jenet said at the committee hearing. “Our communities deserve to be represented in public spaces like public libraries, and codifying those legal standards demonstrates our commitment to protecting all Coloradans.”

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The Senate Education Committee passed the bill with a 4-3 vote along party lines, as some Republican committee members raised concerns about the lengthy five-year review period for materials.
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The Senate Education Committee approved the bill in a 4-3 vote along party lines. Republicans on the committee thought the five year limitation on material review was too long.

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Two amendments were incorporated into the bill, refining definitions and aligning terminology to library standards while also securing support from the Colorado Municipal League.
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The committee approved two amendments to the bill, making changes to some definitions and wording to better align with library terminology and to win support from the Colorado Municipal League.

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The bill now proceeds to the full Senate for further deliberation, as the 2024 legislative session is set to conclude on May 8.
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The bill will now go to the full Senate for consideration. The 2024 legislative session will conclude on May 8.

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