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Lawmakers deliberate bill that would give young Vermonters confidential access to library materials

Tables, chairs and books inside a building.
Sam Jefferson
Vermont Public
The Fletcher Free Library in Burlington. Legislation working its way through the Statehouse would lower the age for children to confidentially access materials in public libraries from 16 to 12.

An effort to lower the age for children to confidentially access information in public libraries is making its way through the Statehouse.

The legislation would lower the age for children to confidentially access materials in public libraries from 16 to 12.

The Vermont Library Association supports the measure, saying it gives kids access to sensitive material they may not otherwise want guardians to see.

Mary Danko, president-elect of the Vermont Library Association, told lawmakers some of the subject matter reflects "big challenges" that some young Vermonters may face.

“Some of these topics are especially important in regards to sexual abuse, incest, puberty, mental health challenges, addiction, eating disorders and sexual assault, just to name a few," Danko said.

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Some parents testified to lawmakers that they oppose the change, worrying children could be exposed to inappropriate material.

Alison Despathy is a parent of three kids from Danville. She spoke against the bill in front of lawmakers.

“It’s all real. This is all life, it’s just when and how are our children introduced to it," Despathy said. "And who’s there to guide and make sure that they’re getting, you know, a good introduction to the world."

Despathy said she strongly supports free speech, but that children as young as 12 should not be able to access library materials without parental consent.

The policy change is part of a bill intended to protect libraries from book banning. The bill passed the House this week and will head back for review in the Senate, where it originated.

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Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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