State Watch

Missouri to require libraries to shield young people from ‘inappropriate’ content

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Missouri libraries that receive state funding will be required to develop and implement measures to shield young readers from “non-age-appropriate” content under a new rule submitted this week by the secretary of state.

The rule proposed Monday by Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican, would withhold state dollars from libraries that do not certify in writing that they will adopt policies to address how “appropriate” book selections are made for readers under 18.

Missouri libraries under the proposed rule would also be required to promise that state funds are not used to acquire materials that appeal to the “prurient interest” of minors and “age-inappropriate” content is not displayed in children’s sections. Libraries receiving state funds are not permitted to host or advertise events or presentations deemed inappropriate for children.

“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 many often dictate,” Ashcroft said Monday in a statement.

The proposed rule would also allow parents to determine which library materials their children are able to access and would make challenging certain titles easier by mandating that each library outlines the process for doing so on their websites. The results of each challenge would be disclosed to the public, according to the rule.

“When state dollars are involved, we want to bring back local control and parental involvement in determining what children are exposed to,” Ashcroft said Monday. “Foremost, we want to protect our children.”

Ashcroft’s proposed rule will be formally published in the state register on Nov. 15 and Missouri residents will be able to submit public comment on it for a period of 30 days.

The proposal is the latest in a series of steps taken by the state to restrict access to materials it considers inappropriate for young people.

A Missouri law passed in June bans public school administrators, faculty and staff from providing minor students with “explicit sexual material,” which the measure defines as images or written descriptions of sexual acts or nudity. 

The law, which went into effect in August, does not apply to learning materials with diagrams about human anatomy or content relating to classical works of art.

Adults found to have violated the law face being charged with a Class A misdemeanor – carrying a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

The Missouri Association of School Librarians (MASL) over the summer said the group had received reports of librarians preemptively unshelving materials that could potentially violate the law before it officially took effect.

In February, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Missouri filed a lawsuit against one Missouri school district that removed several books addressing race, gender identity and sexual orientation from its libraries. The school district reversed its decision to ban author Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” later that month, but six other books – most of which center on LGBTQ issues and identities – remain banned.

“The Bluest Eye” was named by the American Library Association as one of the most frequently banned books last year for its depiction of child sexual abuse. Topping the list was Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” which has been challenged in schools across the country for its LGBTQ content and images considered to be sexually explicit.

Nationwide, more than 1,600 unique titles were challenged in schools and libraries during the 2021-2022 academic year, according to a recent PEN America report. Most of them contain LGBTQ characters or characters of color.

Tags Book bans Jay Ashcroft Jay Ashcroft Libraries Missouri Missouri Public Libraries
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