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The latest news from every corner of the state, including policy emerging from Missouri's capitol.

Librarians Lament Censorship in MO

Old books bound by a new shiny chain with an old padlock. Forbidden old works on a wooden table. Dark background.
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Librarians in Missouri are pushing back on a proposed rule that would restrict people younger than 18 from checking books out of school or public libraries without a parent’s permission. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft proposed the rule, which librarians say amounts to censorship.

In what the American Library Association has called an unprecedented year of censorship, libraries in Missouri are fighting a rule proposed by the secretary of state that would require people younger than 18 to have a parent's permission to check out books from public and school libraries.

Librarians say this amounts to government overreach and censorship.

The rule was proposed by Missouri's Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who is widely thought to be running for governor in 2024.

It would require a parent to sign off on a book before their kid could check it out of the library, especially if the book appeals to what the proposed rule calls the "prurient interests" of the minor.

Bob Priddy is a library board member in Jefferson City. He said this is the camel's nose under the tent flap.

"The next thing you know, we're going to have people as government saying there are certain books that nobody should read," said Priddy. "I can see where this is the kind of thing where government wants to, in one way or another, withhold information from people who have a right to have that information."

Ashcroft has also called on libraries to craft written policies deciding what books are appropriate for which age group, and would then allow parents to challenge those decisions.

How each library would be expected to create those lists and how parents could challenge them is not spelled out in the proposed rule and, critics say, has intentionally been left vague.

Joe Kohlburn chairs the intellectual freedom committee for the Missouri Library Association. He said if it's approved, the measure would make less information available to people who need it.

"I mean like this is why we pay tax dollars for libraries to have access to information," said Kohlburn, "and if that information is controlled for political means, then we are sort of undermining the purpose of libraries in general."

Under Missouri law, the secretary of state's office controls its library system.

Ashcroft has said he is not anti-library and that he has no interest in banning books, but wants to let parents decide what their kids read.

The law requires a 30-day public comment period before the proposed rule can be finalized. That period is up Thursday.

The Missouri Public News Service is a partner with KRCU Public Radio.

Mark Moran is a veteran journalist who began his reporting career in Alaska covering the environment, local government and the Oil Industry. He moved south and opened Iowa Public Radio's State capitol bureau where he covered the state legislature, Iowa's presidential caucuses and statewide issues. Heading over to Arizona, Moran was News Director and then VP of News for the NPR station in Phoenix. There, he helped create the Fronteras Desk, a bi-national reporting network covering issues of immigration, demographics, cultural and social issues and opened bureaus in the U.S. Southwest and Mexico. He likes dogs and horses and spends as much time outdoors as possible.