Proposed Book Banning Bill in Missouri Could Imprison Librarians
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The bill — the Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act or House Bill 2044 — aims to add several provisions to the state’s funding law for public libraries. These new provisions establish “parental library review boards” that would evaluate whether any library materials constitute “age-inappropriate sexual material.” Members of these five-member boards, who would be elected at a town meeting by a simple majority of voters, are empowered to determine whether material is appropriate, including by evaluating its literary merit. Public librarians are explicitly barred by the statute from serving on such review boards, even if they are from the community.
The deputy director of Free Expression Research and Policy at PEN America says, "This act is clearly aimed at empowering small groups of parents to appoint themselves as censors over their state’s public libraries." How is this clear?
Under the act, the boards would hold public hearings to receive suggestions as to possible inappropriate books, and would have the authority to order the library to remove any such material from access by minors. Any public library who allows minors access to such “age-inappropriate materials” would have their funding stripped, and librarians who refuse to comply with the act can be fined and imprisoned for up to one year.
PEN America is a member organization of the National Coalition Against Censorship and is affiliated with Banned Books Week. (Note: that last link is to the 2019 group thread.)
Here is a view of how Missouri librarians currently handle challenges to works in their collections.
A look at "26 books challenged in Missouri since 2014" (to 2018):
"Unavailable due to legal reasons
We recognize you are attempting to access this website from a country belonging to the European Economic Area (EEA) including the EU which enforces the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and therefore access cannot be granted at this time."
So what data are they collecting from the rest of you?
The second one does not say whether the books were challenged for a school or a public library. I tend to agree that How to be Knotty does not belong in a school library. Having it available to adults at the public library might just save lives.
Aren't the people who challenge these things aware of how easy it is to access questionable content online? Both adults and kids who want to have seen much worse, and parents can't stop it.
Here's the relevant section.
As libraries, schools and other public institutions prepare to recognize Banned Books Week, the American Library Association says certain books and other materials are increasingly targeted by censorship attempts for their diverse content.
Gockley, of the Joplin library, said she has noticed the trend in Southwest Missouri as well. For example, the ALA’s No. 1 challenged book of 2018, Alex Gino’s “George,” has raised questions by some Joplin Public Library patrons for its inclusion of a transgender character.
“I take it as an opportunity to hear people out because people are allowed to believe different things,” she said. “I think it’s an opportunity to have open lines of communication and talk about things. I think it’s great that people are looking at our stuff and want to talk about it.”
In cases where patrons challenge a book, library staff will evaluate the material and decide if perhaps it needs to be moved to another section of the building, such as a book that should be relocated from the children’s section to the teen section. But Gockley can’t think of an instance where materials were removed from the shelves because of a challenge.
“The library is part of the social infrastructure in Joplin, and we are promoting access (to information) for people,” she said. “Our mission is to support the public’s right to know. All sides of an issue — it’s important for us to present those. ... We are very homogeneous in this community, and if we can gain understanding of one another, then all the better.”
Amber Carr, assistant director of Spiva Library at Missouri Southern State University, said the mission behind Banned Books Week takes on a special meaning at a college campus. For that reason, the library three years ago launched a contemporary collection that highlighted current topics, such as LGBTQ issues or poverty.
“Part of (students’) purpose is to look at different thoughts and ideas and learn to think for themselves,” she said. “In order to do that, we anticipate them needing different viewpoints, whether that’s political or religious. Especially being a liberal arts institution, we want our students to learn about many different subjects.”
Other librarians working in the Four-State Area say they strive to ensure that their patrons have access to a variety of materials.
“It’s important to recognize that intellectual freedom is just as important as any other kind of freedom,” said Ruth Monnier, a learning outreach librarian at Axe Library at Pittsburg (Kansas) State University. “One of the great things about America is our diversity of voices and points of view, and you can’t really understand somebody else if you don’t have access to their thoughts.”
Jorge León, also a learning outreach librarian at PSU, said Banned Books Week is an opportunity for the library to share content with students and the community that may not already be on their radar.
“For me, the library is that nexus where you should be able to have open conversations, a place where you can discuss different topics in a safe environment,” he said.
Of course it also includes public libraries with self checkout, where either everyone under 18 would need to be closely watched or materials that could be deemed inappropriate would need to not be in the library at all (even in the adult sections).
From what I'm seeing poking through government surveys, several of these censorship boards would each be responsible for service area populations of over half a million people. From my understanding of how libraries work, banning one popular book from a single library, for example, could prevent hundreds of people borrowing that book.
Content that materials may not contain is any description or representation of nudity or sexual excitement. This brings to my mind arguments against cartoon, anthromorphic animals not wearing clothing and mention of same-sex romantic partners.
I used to visit Missouri regularly. Internet content is not as readily available to children and young adults as you might believe. Online filters, threats, punishment, and an uneven distribution of access to high-speed internet are especially restrictive where anything suggestive of LGBT+ or interracial acceptance can be seen as inappropriately sexual.
For many minors, libraries are their safe zones. Librarians are the main protectors of their civil rights. The intention of the statute seems to be to take decision-making power away from libraries and to stir up local protests against books, magazines, and videos that the most conservatives parents dislike.