Missouri Secretary of State John R. Ashcroft wants to enact a new policy that libraries believe endangers your freedom to read. Your voice can help stop censorship.
A proposed administrative rule threatens to reduce community access to public library books and other resources. This measure would take choices out of the hands of individuals and families, instead giving inappropriate control to the state and activist groups. It would also put restrictions on the open exchange of ideas, stories, and experiences.
Between Tuesday, November 15 and Wednesday, December 14, 2022, you can speak up for your right to read.
Contact the secretary of state’s office during this public comment period and share why you want to continue to make your own reading choices, push back against efforts to remove books from shelves, and reject policies that target libraries and educators for serving all people in our community.
About the proposed rule
Missouri’s secretary of state, John R. Ashcroft, has proposed a new administrative rule that would require state-funded libraries to create collection development policies and public programming guidelines that “protect minors from non-age-appropriate materials.” Parents could challenge age designations for books and other items, and a library deemed noncompliant could forfeit appropriated funds from the Missouri State Library — an amount reaching in many cases into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Trails Regional Library joins libraries across the state in asking you to look closely at the proposal and take advantage of a 30-day period for public comment that opened Tuesday, November 15. While framed as a protective measure for children and affirmation of parental oversight, it carries consequences that threaten disservice to both:
- Restrictions imposed on the full community by single or a small number of individuals.
- Restraints on children’s access to reading (and thus learning) materials.
- New layers of costly red tape for public institutions with tight budgets and strict controls already in place.
The secretary of state’s proposal follows Missouri’s enactment of SB 775 in August, subjecting educators to jail time and fines for providing books deemed to include sexually explicit images through school libraries.
Why it’s important to speak up
We remain sensitive to any specter of censorship and restriction of equitable access to books and other vital library materials. From our executive team to every librarian and member of our staff, the Trails Regional Library adheres to the Library Bill of Rights, which maintains in part: A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.
That pertains to children as well as adults.
Books open minds to new ideas and experiences. They enrich knowledge and widen perspective. They foster understanding and empathy and remain one of the best tools for building a better citizenry. They should not be stripped from shelves because an individual or small minority, backed by the state, disagrees with their content.
Trust in libraries
Nearly four of every five adult Americans (78%) see libraries as a trusted source of information, according to the most recent survey findings by the Pew Research Center. Almost two of every three (65%) say libraries help them grow as people. Yet the secretary of state’s proposal inaccurately casts libraries and librarians in an untrustworthy, villainous light.
In fact, the public’s confidence is well founded. Libraries are deeply committed to the public good, extending to the materials they place in their collections.
Collection development policies at Trails Regional Library assign the selection of books and other materials for youth to experienced, professional collection development and children’s librarians. They identify the proper age groups for titles reflecting a range of voices, interests, and experiences. From there, our caring librarians have a long and successful history of guiding families to interesting — and appropriate — reading matter.
The Library’s policies also spell out a process for handling requests to reconsider materials.
The proposed state regulation infers that your trust in libraries and librarians has been misplaced. (Know that it has not.) The measure would circumvent library guidelines and local, community-minded management that has long served children and families well. It would impose oversight by the state.
The secretary of state’s office wants parental engagement. It should be pleased that libraries have long made that a central tenet. Trails Regional Library encourages parents and guardians to be interested and involved, to serve as arbiters of what their children — their own children — read, see, and hear.
They shouldn’t be empowered, however, to impose their personal preferences on others, much less on an entire community.
Libraries are unequivocally inclusive, their buildings, resources, and services offered to all across their communities without charge. Their collections should, and do, mirror that wide representation — understanding that what one person might see as objectionable in the pages of a book, others see as a reflection of themselves and their experiences and a reason to feel less alone. A broad collection serves broad interests. Narrowed choices abet exclusion.
The costs of bureaucracy
According to the secretary of state’s office, the proposed administrative rule would cost individual libraries no more than $500. In fact, it would be many, many times that — we estimate $10,000 to $30,000 at Trails Regional Library, in large part arising from hundreds of additional hours of staff work time.
The new guidelines could force libraries to revamp their registration systems, restricting what materials can be checked out by children and teens. At Trails Regional Library, that would be a four- to six-week (or longer) project. Our 800,000-item collection also would have to be reviewed, categorized, and perhaps labeled.
All this, with no improvement of the patron experience. In fact, it would be diminished if patrons are denied access to materials purged from our shelves and the Library’s staff has less time to guide them to the books and other resources and services they need.
Make your voice heard
A 30-day window for public input on the secretary of state’s proposal opens Tuesday, November 15. It runs through Wednesday, December 14. With no full hearing scheduled, we urge everyone in our community and state to respond: