Last Updated on January 1, 2023 by S Jason Cole
In October, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft proposed several new rules for Missouri’s public libraries that would “establish a certification requirement for libraries receiving state funds and institute measures to protect minors from non-age-appropriate materials.” If adopted, Rule 15 CSR 30-200.015 Library Certification Requirement for the Protection of Minors would allow the State of Missouri to withhold and/or restrict funding to libraries that do not fully comply. Funds to be potentially restricted include not only state and federal grants but also public library funds allocated by the General Assembly. See the full proposed rule below:
Many public libraries and library employees have come out in staunch opposition to the rule. Groups such as the Missouri Library Association (MLA) and the Missouri Association of School Librarians (MASL) have shared their statements of opposition on their websites. In November a group of 12 former Missouri library directors, including Steven Potter, former CEO of the Mid-continent Public Library, submitted a letter opposing the rule and urged citizens to voice their opinions.
The Missouri Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee said, “the proposed rule is a solution in search of a problem.” They went on to state that several of the requirements in the rule are already in place as best practices in libraries across Missouri and that governing bodies such as theirs already recommend libraries to have collection development policies and processes as well as procedures to challenge library materials. “Librarians at all levels and all institutions currently follow collection development policies to select materials based on their community’s needs. Public libraries have diverse collections that represent a variety of age levels, with materials shelved according to age, developmental, and/or reading levels,” said representatives from MASL.
If/when the new rule takes effect it would be enforceable as state law, similar to SB 775 that went into effect this past August. SB 775 (573.550) bans books that contain “explicit sexual materials” from school libraries and classrooms. Ashcroft’s rule for public libraries circumvents the legislature altogether and could be implemented without a vote from the public or state legislators.
MASL says that Ashcroft who called for a return to “local control” in his statements regarding the rule, is being hypocritical. They said, “by imposing a state-level administrative rule regarding what can and cannot be purchased with certain funds, the Secretary is thereby contradicting the very idea of local control. This measure is restrictive and against the ideals that libraries uphold, including intellectual freedom and access to information. It is not in the best interests of Missourians, our library patrons, and our students.”
Opponents of the rule say it is too ambiguous and will be used to remove materials that don’t align with the political objectives of some state leaders. The MLA said they feel the terminology of ‘prurient interests’ as utilized in the proposed rule change, “will be used almost exclusively to remove, label, and restrict access to materials and events that feature the life experiences and stories of LGBTQ+, BIPOC, women and other historically marginalized communities – as has been a hallmark of anti-reader campaigns across the state and nation over the past year.”
In the fall of 2021 several individuals spoke at the Excelsior Springs Board of Education meetings requesting to have books removed from school libraries that depicted homosexual relationships and others that were “anti-police.” One woman shouted, “Save our kids from those books,” as her allotted speaking time expired. (Several of the books that were referenced at the October 2021 BOE meeting were not available from the school library system).
Public libraries however are a different matter than school libraries. Former Mid-Continent Public Library CEO Steven Potter explained his opposition to the rule, “It is critical to find books that reflect the experience of the reader. It is also critical to be able to read about experiences that aren’t yours but help build empathy and understanding. The freedom to read and being informed is central to what it means to live in a democratic republic. I believe this regulation will erode those liberties. Too often, regulations like these occur like a tree falling in the woods. My hope is whether one agrees or disagrees with the proposal, one will let opinions be known. Governing officials need to know that the people care passionately about the freedom to read.”
In a press release on the Missouri Secretary of State website, Mr. Ashcroft defended his rule, “Yes, we want to make sure libraries have the resources and materials they need for their constituents, but we also want our children to be “children” a little longer than a pervasive culture may often dictate.”
The 30-day public comment period for proposed changes to Ashcroft’s rule closed on December 15, 2022. According to the Kansas City Star, Ashcroft’s office received more than 10,000 public comments on the proposed rule, “that would threaten public libraries’ state funding for making ‘age-inappropriate materials’ available to minors.” Now, the secretary of state’s office has up to three months to examine the feedback and make any changes they see fit, based on the comments received, including rescinding the rule completely. However, Ashcroft is not required to make any changes before instituting the new rule.
While the official window for public comments is closed, you can still let Secretary of State Ashcroft know your thoughts on this matter by mailing letters to the Office of the Missouri Secretary of State PO Box 1767, Jefferson City, MO 65109 or emailing email@example.com. Comments should include “15 CSR 30-200.015” in the subject line.
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