Senate bill to protect librarians would make ‘request for reconsideration’ forms open records under CORA

Update: The House adopted an amended version of SB 24-216 on a 43-18 vote on Tuesday, May 7, sending the bill back to the Senate.

By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director

People who want library books removed from circulation or reclassified on library shelves could no longer remain anonymous under a bill garnering support in the Colorado legislature.

Senate Bill 24-216, which passed the Senate Education Committee on Monday evening, would make public library “request for reconsideration” forms subject to disclosure under the Colorado Open Records Act rather than records protected by Colorado’s library-user privacy statute.

In a case involving the Crested Butte News, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled last year that the forms are a “service” under the plain language of the privacy law, which prohibits libraries from disclosing records or information that identify a person “as having requested or obtained specific materials or service or as otherwise having used the library.”

banned books

In addition to making a request-for-reconsideration form an “open record” under CORA, SB 24-216 would require any person who fills out a form to “reside in the legal service area for the library in which the request is made.” A library could not reconsider the same library resource more than once every five years.

The bill is aimed at protecting Colorado librarians from “culture war extremists” who are “attacking them and accusing them of distributing things that may not be appropriate and trying to deny other library goers of materials and programming,” said the prime sponsor, Sen. Lisa Cutter, D-Littleton.

Another provision in the measure requires public library boards to create written policies for the acquisition, retention, display and use of library resources and facilities. And it prohibits public libraries from excluding resources “because of the ethnic origin, ethnic background, views, or gender identity of those contributing to the creation of the library resource or because of the topic addressed by the library resource or the views or opinions expressed in the library resource.”

A library could remove a resource from its permanent collection only if it has been reviewed in accordance with an established policy as required by the bill. Further, a resource couldn’t be removed or restricted because of a request for reconsideration until a library board’s determination on the matter is made public.

The bill also prohibits retaliation against librarians for refusing to remove a library resource before it has been reviewed or for making displays or programming that a librarian “believes, in good faith, are in accordance” with library standards. The committee heard testimony from Brooky Parks, a former Weld County librarian who was fired in 2021 after she objected to the cancelation of anti-racism and LGBTQ history programs for teens.   

The case decided by the Court of Appeals in 2023 stems from CORA requests made by Crested Butte News editor Mark Reaman for unredacted request-for-reconsideration forms submitted to the Gunnison County Library District. The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Reaman, and the library district later argued in an appellate brief that “a person simply does not, and should not, have anonymity protections when they are trying to influence public policy and the decisions and resources that may be offered to the public at large by a tax funded entity, like a public library.”

Reaman has asked the Colorado Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeals opinion.

Sen. Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican who voted against SB 24-216 in committee, said the bill’s provision making request-for-reconsideration forms subject to CORA “opens the door to potentially shame the individuals who want to be part of the conversation … and not part of the public dialogue more broadly. It’s a change in the law to make that individual now publicly visible.”

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