Idahoans show up in defense of libraries for a “Freedom to Read-In”

Illustration by Sydney Smith

Over 200 Idahoans gathered in the Capitol rotunda for a “Freedom to Read-In,” in defiance of HB 384 on Jan. 13. Some held signs with phrases such as “Ban Hate Not Books” or held up physical copies of recently banned books.

HB 384, or The Children’s School and Library Protection Act, is a bill that redefines “obscene materials” in reference to library books, and requires schools to pay a fine of up to $250 dollars if a minor checks out a book that meets the qualifications outlined in the definitions. 

Protesting restrictions on library materials is nothing new to Idaho’s libraries. A similar bill was proposed in 2023, but the House was unsuccessful in overriding Governor Brad Little’s veto. 

The “Freedom to Read-In” was organized by the Idaho Library Association, Meridian Library Alliance, North Central Idaho Alliance, Community Library Network Alliance and Rediscovered Books. 

A 2024 candidate for district one’s representative seat, Kaylee Peterson, is passionate about children’s access to books. She said she attended the read-in because “Immediately, you hear our libraries are under attack … and it becomes a top priority”.  

“I have never once met a child harmed by a book or a library … [books are] a literal lifeline to give support and resources … that is what these ‘graphic and obscene materials’ really are,” Peterson said in her testimony.

Peterson shared that libraries were one of the only places she felt safe as a child. She now travels across the state to ensure people understand books are not as harmful as some may say. 

One of the attendees of the read-in was Amy Armstrong. Armstrong is a Teacher Librarian at Heritage Middle School in the West Ada district. 

“I am passionate about reading and protecting the rights of readers … I’ve seen the library as a safe space for all students. No-one should be able to tell you what you can and can’t read,” Armstrong said. 

“The administration [recently] took a list of forty-two books … and they are in administrative review to see if they will be removed,” Amrstong said. 

In December 2023, West Ada removed 10 books from their libraries. Since the news of these initial removals was published in local newspapers, librarians have yet to hear about the status of the other 32 books. 

While librarians may not have access to the West Ada’s book review meetings, they are involved with the students who come through their libraries. 

“In my fifteen years of being a librarian I’ve had two parent complaints and both were resolved with just not letting that child check out books about romance,” Armstrong said. “It’s really easy to resolve it if it is a parent who has an issue, but when it is someone in the district that doesn’t have children attending schools, the resolution is removing the books. And they won’t be happy until that’s done.” 

Boise State students also attended the “Freedom to Read-In”. 

“The library has been such a safe haven for me … books are such a critical resource,” Cat Merrill, a senior studying biology at Boise State said. 

Tristan Pinkerton, a sophomore studying physics at Boise State, is concerned about the bill’s restriction of homosexual content. 

“The idea that you can’t have any sexual representation, which is as little as two men holding hands … I wanted to come out here and sort of rally against that,” Pinkerton said.

On Jan. 18, HB 384 was returned to the State Affairs Committee.

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