Missouri’s Proposed Rule’s Impact on You and Your Library, Explained

Tuesday, November 29, 2022
A proposed administrative rule from Missouri Secretary of State John R. Ashcroft 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.

Have questions about how this rule might impact how you or other community members use the library? Read below for answers and additional details. 
Contact the secretary of state’s office during this public comment period and speak up for your right to read. 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.


Learn More » | Take Action Now »

Speak Up for Libraries

What would change with this proposed rule?

Most notably, it would empower individuals or special interest groups – in or outside the state of Missouri – to make decisions on materials for the full community, overriding what are now individual and very personal decisions by parents and guardians. The proposed rule also would negate the oversight of experienced librarians.

How would it affect me as a library user?

Reading and programming options likely would be reduced. Our collection would not be as broad, and some members of the community could find themselves, and their interests, excluded.

The new guidelines could force libraries to revamp their registration systems, restricting what available materials can be checked out by children and teens. In effect, librarians would be tasked with telling parents and guardians what their children are permitted to read, watch, and participate in.

How does the Kansas City Public Library currently define “age appropriateness,” what books to offer, and where to place them?

The Library’s collection development policies assign the selection of books and other materials for youth to skilled, professional collection development and children’s librarians. Using publishers’ recommendations and reviews, as well as their own training and experience, those librarians identify the proper age groups (and with that, appropriate locations) for titles reflecting a range of voices, interests, and experiences. As a public library committed to serving all in the community, we strive to cover all views and walks of life. From there, our librarians have a long and successful history of guiding families to interesting – and appropriate – reading matter. Parental oversight is invited and encouraged.  

How would the state of Missouri define "age appropriateness” for books, resources, and programs?

“Age appropriateness” is not defined in the secretary of state’s proposal. If the proposed rule goes into effect, a determination of what is appropriate or not appropriate could be made in specific cases by a single individual or a small minority with the state’s backing.

Can young children currently check out materials that aren’t “age-appropriate”?

All materials in the Library are available to all cardholders, with youth librarians and other Library staff members available to assist children and families in locating materials of interest. 

We encourage parents and caregivers to discuss materials their children check out from the Library and guide them in their selections.

Is privacy an issue?

It is. We encourage parents and guardians to have conversations with their children about their reading interests, which invariably reflect their life interests and inclinations. We also are sensitive to the need to leave the door open for a child to seek information on something they’re not yet ready to discuss with their parents. Libraries should be an avenue for them. In some cases, they may be the only avenue.

How do you respond to a patron who feels the Library shouldn’t carry a particular book?

First, the Library’s policies spell out a process for handling requests to reconsider materials. 

Ahead of that, we would advise the patron that decisions on checking out and reading books are personal, especially when it comes to parents assisting their children. The patron can choose not to read the book. Others may agree or choose differently. The Library supports them all, 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.

How does this rule relate to Missouri Senate Bill 775, which went into effect in August?

SB775, passed by the state legislature, bans “explicit sexual” images in materials available through school libraries, though it does not spell out what qualifies as such. The secretary of state’s proposed rule, as mentioned, is similarly vague about what constitutes “inappropriate” content, leaving both SB775 and the new proposal vulnerable to a wide variety of interpretations, librarians vulnerable to fines and jail time, and patrons vulnerable to restrictions created by the state and private interest groups.

What’s the difference between an administrative rule and state law?

Laws, or statues, are introduced by elected lawmakers in the state house or senate. They go through committee review and hearing. They’re subject to amendment. They go to a vote in each legislative chamber and, if approved, must be signed by the governor.

Administrative rules are submitted by state agencies, in this case the office of Missouri’s secretary of state. While there is some legislative oversight, including review by the General Assembly, the guidelines take shape outside the legislative process. Chapter 536 of the Missouri statutes states: “Any state agency shall propose rules based upon substantial evidence on the record and a finding by the agency that the rule is necessary to carry out the purposes of the statute that granted such rulemaking authority.”

What are the potential costs of implementing the secretary of state’s proposed rule?

The proposal says the implementation won’t cost individual public libraries more than $500. However, the Kansas City Public Library estimates it would cost $60,000-80,000 in materials and work time, with a revised registration system and other setup taking a minimum of two months.

What would be the cost of not complying?

A library could forfeit state funds distributed through the Missouri State Library, which operates under the umbrella of the secretary of state. In many cases, amounts would run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some small libraries and library systems derive a substantial percentage of their funding from state distributions.

Who can submit a comment during this 30-day period?  

Anyone can, Missouri residents and nonresidents alike, by the December 15 deadline.
  •     Email: comments@sos.mo.gov with the proposed rule number, 15 CSR 30-200.015, in the subject field.
  •     Mail: Missouri Secretary of State, P.O. Box 1767, Jefferson City, MO 65102

What happens after December 15?

The secretary of state’s office must file a “final order of rulemaking” within 90 days of the expiration of the comment period – by March 15, 2023. Both the initial proposal and the final order are subject to review by the state’s joint committee on administrative rules, composed of 10 state senators and representatives, which can conduct one or more hearings. The process could conclude, and the rule go into effect, as early as February 2023, though it more likely would be March.

What are libraries’ primary concerns about the proposed rule?   

The proposed rule raises the specter of censorship, of reducing equitable access to books and other materials. The Kansas City Public 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 faction, sanctioned by the state, disagrees with their content.


Learn More » | Take Action Now »