In a world where information is increasingly digital and accessible, a new law in Mississippi is causing a stir. The law, Mississippi Code 39-3-25, part of House Bill 1315, has effectively banned anyone under the age of 18 from accessing digital materials made available through public and school libraries without explicit parental or guardian permission. This move has sparked a debate about the morality of censorship and the right to access information.
The law, which went into effect on July 1, 2023, has left libraries across the state scrambling to comply. It mandates that vendors providing digital resources must verify that all their materials comply with the state’s definition of “obscenity.” This definition is broad and includes any material that contains representations or descriptions of various sexual acts, cruelty, violence, or anything deemed “likely to be injurious or harmful to a child.”
The implications of this law are far-reaching. Any vendor with materials in their system depicting sexual reproduction, queerness, or even images of nude female breasts – often part of sexual education, reproductive education, and biology and anatomy books for those under 18 – would be out of compliance with the law. As a result, platforms like Hoopla and Overdrive, which are not set up to change access based on age or varying laws by the municipality, may have to shut down access altogether.
This law has been seen by many as a step towards limiting public goods like libraries and creating systems where young people in some states have access to a world of knowledge and resources, while others are shut out entirely. It disproportionately affects those with the least privileges – those in unstable homes, those without regular internet access, and those without active parents or guardians in their lives.
The First Regional Public Library has already posted an announcement on its homepage regarding the changes, and the Vicksburg Public Library is still figuring out how the law will impact its patrons’ access to digital materials. For now, they’ve developed a new system of library card distribution, requiring those under 18 to have parental or guardian consent to access materials.
Mississippi is not the first state to limit access to materials and place the onus of compliance on the vendors. Texas is undergoing similar changes, and it’s likely that this will lead to similar, if not more dire, lockouts of material access for students statewide.
This move by Mississippi and other states highlights the ongoing battle over access to information and the role of libraries in our society. As we continue to navigate the digital age, the question remains: who gets to decide what information is accessible and to whom?
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