New state law establishes rules for library books


A new law approved by the Indiana House and Senate and signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb establishes a set of rules regarding school library materials that will allow any community member to ask for specific items to be removed from the shelves. 

House Bill 1447 states that by Jan. 1, 2024, school governing bodies shall establish:

  • Procedures for each school to prepare a catalog of materials available in the school library.
  • Procedures for each school to allow a parent or guardian, or any member of the community to submit a request to remove material from the school library that is obscene or harmful to minors.
  • A response and appeal procedure for each school to respond to such requests.

The procedures must require that the governing body review a request at its next public meeting.

The governing bodies also must publish the catalogs and policies on the website of each school, and make hard copies available, according to the bill. Schools may not make material available that contains obscene matter or matter harmful to minors within a school library. 

“Obscene” is defined in state statute. Matter or performances are considered obscene if:

  • The average person, applying contemporary community standards, finds that the dominant theme of the matter or performance, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest in sex;
  • The matter or performance depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct; and
  • The matter or performance, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

“Harmful to minors” also is defined in state statute. Matter or performances are considered harmful to minors if:

  • It describes or represents, in any form, nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sado-masochistic abuse;
  • Considered as a whole, it appeals to the prurient interest in sex of minors;
  • It is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable matter for or performance before minors; and
  • Considered as a whole, it lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.

In response to the bill, the Indiana Library Federation issued a statement. The ILF said it supports policies that require publicly available policies that create more transparency. 

“At the same time, we maintain that eroding the defenses from prosecution in state law will have an extremely chilling effect on librarians’ efforts to make diverse, age-appropriate materials available to students without government interference,” the ILF said in the statement. 

Chad Heck with the ILF explained that the bill removes the educational defense to prosecution. The law has allowed a defense to prosecution for providing content harmful to minors if materials have an educational purpose. 

“For example, if a library provided sex-ed materials, those would clearly have an educational purpose and so a librarian could not be charged with the crime of providing content harmful to minors,” Heck wrote in an email responding to a request for comment. “Fortunately, 1447 preserved the defense that librarians cannot be charged if they are acting within the scope of their employment. While librarians can still escape charges, other youth-serving professionals may not with the removal of the educational defense.”

Existing Indiana law makes it a felony to expose minors to “harmful” material. 

ACLU Indiana opposes the newly passed law. In a statement, the civil liberties organization states that the bill opens up the possibility for educators to be criminally prosecuted. 

What local school districts had to say

  • Carmel Clay Schools Supt. Michael Beresford said the district already has many components of the new law in place.

    “We are fortunate that parents can monitor what books their students check out through digital resources,” he stated. “Until the details of the bill are unpacked and evaluated by our school counsel, we’re unsure what measures are needed. While we hope there will be no unintended consequences, we have concerns the new laws may have a negative impact on the growing teacher shortage.”

  • Hamilton Southeastern School District Director of School and Community Relations Emily Pace Abbotts said in an email that the district “will examine the change, and update policies and procedures if needed, to remain in accordance with law.”
  • Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township Director of Communications Dana Altemeyer responded to a request for comment. 

    “The MSD of Lawrence Township is in process of reviewing the new law and will ensure that board policy is in alignment prior to it taking effect,” she wrote in an email. “We are proud to partner with the Indianapolis Public Library through our shared system, in place for almost 10 years.”

  • Noblesville Schools already maintains a collection development process that explains to the public how we choose materials for our school libraries and outlines how any questions or concerns will be handled, said Marnie Cooke, spokeswoman for Noblesville Schools. The policy can be found on the district’s website.

    “Having said that, we are aware of this legislation and are awaiting further guidance from the Indiana Department of Education before we can evaluate whether any changes to our procedures may be required,” she said.

  • Westfield Washington Schools Supt. Paul Kaiser said the district already has a policy in place.

    “Since it’s a state mandate, I would encourage the state of Indiana to tell us what books to put in our library instead of the burden being put on us,” Kaiser said. “It’s a state mandate and we’ll follow the guidelines on that.”

  • Zionsville Community Schools Supt. Rebecca Coffman said the district will be in full compliance with the new law, which goes into effect July 1.

    “Zionsville Community Schools is working diligently to review all components of the recently enacted legislation,” Coffman said. “In total, there are 48 new K-12 education policies, school governance or child-related laws. ZCS currently maintains a digital catalog of library materials on the school website and has long had an established procedure for parents to request removal of books from a school’s library.  We will continue to refine and adjust our practices to ensure full compliance with these new requirements.”