Fargo Library Director says clarification needed from state officials following passage of law restricting "explicit sexual materials"

Photo by: WDAY Radio Staff
Photo by: WDAY Radio Staff

(Fargo, ND) -- The Fargo Public Library is speaking on the passage of a law that is causing confusion among library communities across the state. 

House Bill 1205 prohibits libraries from maintaining explicit sexual material, to report they are following the bill, and to enact the policy over any children's book inventory being maintained by a public library after March 31, 2024. The other bill, SB 2360, was vetoed by North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum. The surviving bill attempts to establish library policy at the state level that would ban 'explicit sexual content' from children's sections of publicly funded libraries. The director of the state's largest library has concerns regarding not only the intent of the bill, but the language within that could make the bill difficult to enforce without further clarification.

"This isn't entirely clear, it never mentions local policy. It says you will have this policy... "said Tim Dirks, Fargo Public Library Director, "...One portion of it, it mentions minors [and] another portion it mentions children's collection...Do they mean that anyone under the age of 18 -that any book that is designed or collection area designed under the age of 18- is impacted, or in other portions of the legislation it mentions 'children's collection', which, as a library, is very defined?"

Furthermore, Dirks says the state needs to make clear if the bill is meant to be in addition to their current policies or if it's meant to supersede them. He says the clarification is needed because the Mayor appointed Library Board already has policies for collection and development, if a book needs to be removed, and for access to materials which includes they do not act as Local Parentus, or "in the place of a parent." All of the aforementioned policies are described in the new law, but Dirks says lawmakers will likely expect libraries to act as Local Parentus, a direct contradiction to their current policy.

In previous statements to WDAY Radio, Dirks has mentioned possible legal action could take place if both of the bills would have passed without any amendments. Changes have been made to the surviving law, which no longer calls for the outright ban of explicit sexual content from libraries in general, but Dirks does not rule out legal action as a possibility.

"It is still highly problematic, "says Dirks, "We're really evaluating what the possibilities are. Certainly continue to be in conversation with City Administration, the Mayor's Office, our Liaison Commissioner, and reaching out to the library community in the rest of the state of North Dakota...Obviously more to come on that. I don't have anything definitive at this moment..."

As much as Dirks believes the last legislative session brought libraries into the center of the ongoing culture war, one aspect that Dirks did want to highlight is the amount of local support for the library. He says that a vast majority of the responses they received as the legislative session was ongoing was "tremendously supportive," especially from City leaders and the community at large.

Original Air Date: 
Thursday, May 4, 2023