Protect Your Freedom to Read: Speak Up On Proposed State Rule
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 Thursday, December 15, 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.
More information about the rule's potential impact on libraries and patrons is found below. Have more questions? Read this explainer »
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***Public comment period closed on December 15, 2022.***
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.
The Kansas City Public 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:
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 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.
While the secretary of state’s proposed rule does not say the state would remove books and other materials from library shelves, the rule likely would serve as a tool for censorship. The guidelines would invite and empower individuals -- or a private group of individuals -- to instigate action. The state would back them with the threat of withholding funding from noncompliant library systems.
Specifically, the measure would empower “any minor’s parent or guardian to determine what materials and access will be available to a minor” in a public library. That is, any parent could make a determination for children across the community – not merely for his or her own child. Additionally, the language does not specify that it must be a member of the community served by the library or even a resident of Missouri.
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. And yet, one of the most unfortunate, and frankly distasteful, undercurrents of this debate is the suggestion that libraries and librarians are unconcerned with children’s welfare, and that we are exposing them to inappropriate materials.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We take great care in selecting books and other materials for our collections. Using publishers’ recommendations and reviews, as well as their own training and experience, our librarians identify the proper age groups (and with that, appropriate locations) for titles reflecting a range of voices, interests, and experiences.
From there, librarians have a long and successful history of guiding families to interesting – and appropriate – reading matter. They do not, however, push any book on any child. Again (and we can’t say this enough), we encourage parental oversight.
The Library’s policies also spell out a process for handling requests to reconsider materials.
The secretary of state’s office wants parental engagement. It should be pleased that libraries have long made that a central tenet. The Kansas City Public 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 $60,000 to $80,000 at the Kansas City Public 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 KCPL, 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.
A 30-day window for public input on the secretary of state’s proposal opens Tuesday, November 15. It runs through Thursday, December 15. With no full hearing scheduled, we urge everyone in our community and state to respond:
***Public comment period closed on December 15, 2022.***
Or draft an email yourself to firstname.lastname@example.org with the proposed rule number, 15 CSR 30-200.015, in the subject field.
Missouri Secretary of State, P.O. Box 1767
Jefferson City, MO 65102
For more information
Have questions about the impacts of the proposed rule? Read this explainer »
For other questions and inquiries, email us.
Opposition growing to Missouri Secretary of State rules on library materials for children
Missouri Independent, Nov. 16, 2022
Missouri’s Jay Ashcroft aims to ‘hold libraries accountable,’ opening door to book bans
Kansas City Star editorial, November 28, 2022
Librarians say Missouri Secretary of State is overreaching in proposal restricting materials
KCUR-FM, Dec. 8, 2022
Rule would hold Missouri libraries hostage to politics. Tell Jay Ashcroft to stop it.
Kansas City Star opinion, Dec. 11, 2022
Missouri secretary of state to libraries: Take objectionable materials off shelves or risk loss of state funding
Kansas City Beacon, Nov. 22, 2022
Speak Up for Libraries campaign challenges Ashcroft’s proposed media restrictions
The Pitch, Nov. 17, 2022
Comment period opens on Missouri Secretary of State's book ban proposal
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 15, 2022
Missouri Secretary of State proposes withholding library funds over 'inappropriate materials'
KCUR-FM, Oct. 20, 2022
Jay Ashcroft, potential Missouri governor candidate, floats library book ban proposal
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct.18, 2022
Other links and news:
Missouri Library Association Board Statement on Secretary of State Ashcroft’s Proposed Rule
American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri's comment in opposition to the Secretary of State’s proposed censorship rule 15 CSR 30-200.015
PEN America Finds Missouri Schools Banned Nearly 300 Books Since August, in Response to New Law Criminalizing “Explicit Sexual Material”
PEN.org, Nov. 16, 2022
Spiegelman, Atwood Among Signers of PEN America Letter Against Missouri Book Bans
PEN.org, Nov. 16, 2022
Roughly 300 books banned in 11 Missouri school districts since August
Columbia Missourian, Nov 29, 2022
Missouri law bans books, calls for jail time and fines for any educators found in violation
KCTV5, Aug. 22, 2022
New Missouri law makes it a crime for educators to share "explicit" books with students
CBS News, Aug. 24, 2022
Libraries Under Attack
On the Media, Nov. 11, 2022