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Missouri could jail librarians for lending 'age-inappropriate' books | Books


A Missouri bill intended to bar libraries in the US state from stocking “age-inappropriate sexual material” for children has been described by critics as “a shockingly transparent attempt to legalise book banning” that could land librarians who refuse to comply with it in jail.

Under the parental oversight of public libraries bill, which has been proposed by Missouri Republican Ben Baker, panels of parents would be elected to evaluate whether books are appropriate for children. Public hearings would then be held by the boards to ask for suggestions of potentially inappropriate books, with public libraries that allow minors access to such titles to have their funding stripped. Librarians who refuse to comply could be fined and imprisoned for up to one year.

“The main thing is, I want to be able to take my kids to a library and make sure they’re in a safe environment, and that they’re not gonna be exposed to something that is objectionable material,” Baker told a local news station. “Unfortunately, there are some libraries in the state of Missouri that have done this. And that’s a problem.”

Titles including Sherman Alexie’s award-winning The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, a young adult novel about the rape of a teenager, have all come under fire in Missouri over the last decade.

PEN America’s deputy director of free expression research and policy, James Tager, called Baker’s bill a “shockingly transparent attempt to legalise book banning in the state of Missouri”. He said it was “clearly aimed at empowering small groups of parents to appoint themselves as censors over their state’s public libraries” and said that books containing sexual themes, LGBTQ characters and exploring the impact of sexual assault could be “on the chopping block if this bill is passed”.

“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 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.”

The Missouri Library Association said it was opposing the bill, because it “will always stand against censorship and for the freedom to read”.

“Public libraries already have procedures in place to assist patrons in protecting their own children while not infringing on the rights of other patrons or restricting materials,” it added.

Baker told Koam News that he was not trying to ban books. “I just think that there’s a line between what is open and available access for our children. Even the bill specifies it wouldn’t be taken out of the library, it would just be put in a section that’s not for children,” he said. “If the adult wanted to, and said I’m OK with my child reading this or looking at this, then they could check that out and have that available for their child. I just think that we need to be careful about funding something with our taxpayer dollars without parental consent.”

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