MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WKRN) — Starting Jan. 1, 2024, the Rutherford County Library System will implement a new library card policy that will make it harder for minors to check out books not meant for their age group.

Next year, there will be one library card for children up to the age of 12, another for young adults ages 13-17 and one more for anyone 18 and older. Parents and guardians will be able to sign a form at the library to allow their children to opt out of having a restricted library card.

“The other option is that they can either check the material out for their child if they’d rather do that, or they can give their child their card and say, ‘Go check it out.’ Obviously, we would prefer them either to give permission or they come in and check it out for them,” said Library Director Rita Shacklett.

Shacklett worries about what this policy will mean for kids trying to finish a last minute school report and not being able to access the book they need.

“What’s going to have to happen is when those new profiles are turned on, if you’re say a 15-year-old and you’d have to do a book report on ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ that’s an adult book…when you come in to get the book and you can’t check it out because your card prohibits you from checking out an adult material without your parents permission,” Shacklett explained.

She said they plan to work with children and their parents as much as possible to prevent situations like this from arising, but she is trying to get the word out about this change to prepare the community.

Shacklett explained this new policy stemmed from the so-called decency ordinance Murfreesboro passed over the summer and the state law passed by the General Assembly last session.

“And once that happened, it affected print materials and programming displays…that kind of thing of materials,” she said.

Originally, library staff had advocated for the cards to be something parents could have their children opt-in to rather than opt-out of to make the transition easier. However, she said the library board felt this would not be in line with state and city laws.

When asked how she felt about the ordinance and law, Shacklett didn’t want to comment.

“It is what it is,” she said. “We weren’t asked, we weren’t, it was just handed down to us, and we knew that we had to follow the law. Whether we liked it or not, that piece doesn’t matter anymore…It’s not that we don’t care. It’s not that we’re not passionate about censorship and all of those things, but when it comes down to it, when a law is handed down like that, just like in the school situation, you have to follow the law or you suffer the consequences.”

She said she understands giving parents a say in what their children can and can’t read, but creating that standard for all children in all circumstances is difficult.

“We all are gonna have different opinions on what that means and it’s hard to know, because the law is vague when it comes to those kinds of things,” she said.

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Shacklett has been keeping a close eye on how this debate has been impacting school libraries and has been anticipating it impacting public libraries.

“We just weren’t quite expecting this quickly, but we’ve always felt like in a public library. We don’t make you check out anything you don’t want to check out,” she said.

While the new system is set to go into effect in the new year, Shacklett said her team is still working out a date for when parents can start coming in to opt their children out of a restricted card.