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Drake Law Review





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Libraries are often idealized as one of the few remaining safe, public spaces. Beyond providing books and internet access, they are a source of shelter, warmth, restrooms, and a place to stay without a reason for society's most vulnerable. But libraries are also at the core of a network of criminal laws that punish a wide array of library-related conduct. Steal a book? Write in or otherwise damage materials? Fail to return an item? Hide a book in a manner that looks like you are about to steal it? Many states criminalize these activities, often punishing them with potential jail time or even lengthy prison sentences if the materials at issue are valuable enough.

This Article is the first to survey and analyze library crime criminal laws pertaining to libraries and library materials. Dozens of states criminalize the theft, destruction, failure to return, or mere concealment of library materials, sometimes punishing this conduct with mandatory jail sentences and potential prison sentences. Many states also prohibit certain people, such as certain sex offenders, from entering libraries. Still others have criminal regimes punishing librarians themselves for an array of privacy and discrimination offenses.

Beyond this Article's descriptive contribution, I argue that many library crimes are fundamentally inconsistent with the role of libraries. As places of shelter and refuge for those who are most at risk, state library crime regimes undermine the goals of libraries and are one of many facets of the U.S system of mass incarceration. I also analyze the constitutional implications of library crimes, including recent measures seeking to ban books and potentially punish librarians for distributing or displaying disapproved materials.

Recommended Citation

Michael L. Smith, Library Crime, 71 Drake L. Rev. 65 (2024).



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