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Mississippi Kids Booted from Online Reading Resources by New Book Ban Laws

The Vicksburg Public Library now restricts under-18 visitors from online reading resources because of a new draconian law banning certain reading materials.

A new Mississippi law passed as part of the state’s war on LGBTQ+ and “woke” writers will be costing Mississippi children access to public library e-books.

The new law, formerly House Bill 1315, claims to restrict porn availability to minors by demanding schools offer digital or online resources or databases to students in kindergarten through 12th grade only if the vendor offering the resources verifies that its entire online library adheres to new Mississippi restrictions. The problem is that many online resources won’t bother to follow the demands of a tiny, rural state with less than 3 million people, however.

Other, smarter legislators passing a similar law in states like Louisiana allowed for their own state to verify age for certain monitored websites. But Mississippi legislators took the lazy route and demanded the websites do their work for them and collect visitors’ driver's license information. Places like Pornhub reacted by telling Mississippi legislators to get lost and barred access to Mississippi IP addresses to their site rather than verify visitors’ info. Now, if a Mississippi resident clicks a Pornhub link (we’re not going to include the link. Sorry) they’ll get re-routed to a video of adult film star Cherie Deville telling them that “your elected officials have required us to verify your age before allowing you access to our website.” She adds that “giving your ID card every time you want to visit an adult platform is not the most effective solution for protecting our users, and … will put children and your privacy at risk.”

“Until a real solution is offered, we’ve made the difficult decision to completely disable access to our website in your region.” Deville says.

However, Mississippians are also losing access to highly educational online book platforms like Hoopla and Overdrive. Neither of these platforms, which are frequently used by public libraries, will alter their sites to restrict access based on age, or weird bible belt laws. Mississippi library staff, who are already an underfunded skeleton crew in many counties, are unable to preview and rate every item within the platforms, so they will instead shut down youth access to these book suppliers altogether.

First Regional Library, which serves the Mississippi counties of Desoto, Lafayette, Panola, Tate and Tunica, recently announced its plan to pull availability of the platforms.

“Due to a new law, Mississippi Statute 39-3-25, people under the age of 18 will no longer have access to Overdrive (Libby) or Hoopla e-resources. Please contact your local branch for more information,” the officials wrote.

The Vicksburg Public Library, meanwhile, is now restricting children’s access to public library cards.

“Effective immediately, the public library is raising the minimum age to receive a library card without a parent/legal guardian’s permission from 16 to 18,” wrote the Vicksberg Post. “Additionally, all patrons, ages 16 and 17, who are current registered library users, must bring a parent/legal guardian to sign responsibility for their library accounts. Until such time, the library will place these accounts on hold.”

The library added that it will be “working with vendors” of its digital platforms, which contain eBooks, digital audiobooks “to restrict all patrons under 18 years of age” to online materials.

Freedom of speech advocate organization PEN America reacted with outrage to MS lawmakers’ ban and linked it to a rising wave of illiteracy and religious motivated attacks on freedom.

“This new law follows a pattern of efforts across the country to stretch the definition of obscenity to intimidate librarians and private vendors, and to deny people access to books,” wrote Jonathan Friedman, director of Free Expression and Education at PEN America. “The law’s language is impossibly vague, including the phrase “depicting or dealing with matters of sex, cruelty and violence.”

“Existing law,” he said, “already prohibits obscene material from being distributed to minors, and it’s unclear why this new law was necessary, if not to effect this kind of censorship. It is shameful that legislators would allow the children of Mississippi to go without library or e-book access to solve a problem that does not exist.”

The maneuver comes at a time when Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves is trying to sell the message of Mississippi 4th Graders reading gains under his leadership, just in time for the upcoming gubernatorial election. Critics say what Reeves actually did was “game” the system by invoking new rules to hold back underperforming 3rd graders from the 4th grade for additional training. This, of course, removes underperforming students from the 4th grade pool, and automatically raises test reading scores.


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