A bill has been proposed in Missouri this month that attempts to legalise book banning in public libraries within the state.
The Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act or House Bill 2044 will add provisions to the state’s funding law for public libraries. The new provisions set up “parental library review boards” that would examine and decide whether any library materials offer “age-inappropriate sexual material.”
The boards would consist of five members elected at a town meeting by a majority vote, and would have the power to determine whether material is appropriate, including by evaluating each by their literary merit.
The real scandal is that public librarians themselves, even if they are members of the community, are explicitly barred by the statute from appearing on review boards.
According to James Tager, deputy director of Free Expression Research and Policy at PEN America:
“This is a shockingly transparent attempt to legalise book banning in the state of Missouri. This act is clearly aimed at empowering small groups of parents to appoint themselves as censors over their state’s public libraries. Books wrestling with sexual themes, books uplifting LGBTQIA+ characters, books addressing issues such as sexual assault—all of these books are potentially on the chopping block if this bill is passed.”
The boards would also have the power to hold public hearings where they would hear suggestions of likely inappropriate books, and would be able to order the library to not allow minors to access the material. Public libraries who give minors access to any books deemed “age-inappropriate materials” would have their funding stripped, and librarians who do not comply will be fined and can be imprisoned for up to one year.
“Every reader and writer in the country should be horrified, absolutely horrified, at this bill,” said Tager. “The fact that a librarian could actually be imprisoned under this act for following his or her conscience and refusing to block minors from access to a book, that tells you all you need to know about the suitability of this act within a democratic society.”
On the surface it seems like a perfectly logical thing to keep minors away from inappropriate material but issues arise when there are no strict rules on what is deemed ‘inappropriate’.
Is it sensible to allow folk to ban books they personally do not agree with, books that perhaps go against their religious beliefs, and issues that make them uncomfortable?