Book banning or not?

book burning

An article caught my eye earlier this morning and I set it aside to read later, after the coffee kicked in. I’ll be honest, I sort of filed it away and forgot about it. Then I saw it mentioned again on The Passive Voice. With some coffee in me, I wandered over to take a look and I’m glad I did. While I understand the “good intentions” behind the bill, the possible consequences worry me both as a writer and as a parent. I don’t want local committees telling libraries what books can be stocked.

House Bill 2044, also known as the Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act, comes to us courtesy of the Missouri state lawmakers.  If passed, it will add provisions to the state’s laws about library funding.

These new provisions establish “parental library review boards” that would evaluate whether any library materials constitute “age-inappropriate sexual material.” Members of these five-member boards, who would be elected at a town meeting by a simple majority of voters, are empowered to determine whether material is appropriate, including by evaluating its literary merit. Public librarians are explicitly barred by the statute from serving on such review boards, even if they are from the community.

If your mental alarm bells haven’t started going off yet, I suggest you go back and reconsider the above quote. What this bill does is basically allow any small group that knows how to mobilize its followers to take control of the stock of MO’s public libraries. We’ve seen more than a decade of parents trying to ban Harry Potter from libraries because it teaches “witchcraft” and “devil worship:. Under this law, if enough of those who believe this is true turn out at the town meeting, they can stack the “parental library review board”. Guess what happens next. Every Harry Potter book, video, etc., and those titles like them will be gone.

But, Amanda, the quote above says “age-inappropriate sexual material”. But the problem with turning over the running of a library to the mobilized few is they will get to interpret what that term means. Even if there is a definition in the law, should it be passed, the only way to insure the board follows it is to take them to court. And how many people actually have the money to do so?

But let’s leave it at just “sexual material”. Any bets on how quickly books like Twilight will come under fire? But it doesn’t end there. How many of the classics will fall because they don’t meet the board’s sniff test? Or what about those communities where religious conservatives take control and any book that isn’t critical of alternate lifestyles is removed from circulation?

Are you starting to see my concern?

Then there’s the fact that librarians, even if they live in the community, aren’t allowed to serve on these boards. That means there will be no input to weigh in during deliberations as to the literary merit of a book. You might as well have a jury of all cats to determine the fate of the local dog who gets its jollies out of chasing cats.

This is another instance where good intentions–giving parents a voice in what their kids read–could have disastrous consequences. What one parent thinks appropriate, another might not.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want someone else deciding what is appropriate for my child to read–or even see on a library bookshelf. Of course, when my son was growing up, I did my best to stay involved in what he was doing. I read his summer reading program books with him. When he started school, I read his summer reading list books before he did.

That was a lesson I learned the hard way when one of the books included a graphic attempted rape scene. My son was in elementary school at the time. Would I have preferred he not read that particular scene? Hell yeah. But he did. I learned my lesson. And we had something to talk about. Yes, it was uncomfortable but it was also a learning opportunity for him about how a “gentleman” treats a “lady”. And, to be honest, there were far more redeeming qualities to the book than negative ones.

Under the act, the boards would hold public hearings to receive suggestions as to possible inappropriate books, and would have the authority to order the library to remove any such material from access by minors. Any public library who allows minors access to such “age-inappropriate materials” would have their funding stripped, and librarians who refuse to comply with the act can be fined and imprisoned for up to one year.

What happened to parental supervision and responsibility?

Say a 16-year-old minor who looks much older comes in with his older brother’s library card to check something out and it falls into the “age-inappropriate” no-man’s land. In our library, you don’t have to go to an actual person to check out a book. (Mind you, I’m not in MO.) We have a bank of self-help checkout terminals. Maybe a library has the money to hire someone to write code that would flag library cards given to minors so they wouldn’t be allowed to check out inappropriate material. But, in the situation I postulated above, those safeguards are out the window. The kid could check out the book or video and waltz out with no one the wiser. But heaven help the library if someone complains about the kid getting the book. Funding would be immediately put at risk and it is possible someone could go to jail.

Can you say “bad law”?

This is a bill we all need to keep an eye on. If it passes in MO and if our own state decides to take it up, read the wording carefully. Speak up and let your reps know how you feel. Raising our kids is best left to us, not the state.

Featured Image by Rafael Juárez from Pixabay


  1. I recall when the PBS station in the region I grew up in had Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the folks didn’t care if I watched it with them (or not). Grandma, however, decided it wasn’t right for a youngster to see female nudes (though NOTHING happened. They were just there.) The result? Now that such was verboten, they were interesting. Before, they merely existed. This was years before puberty, mind. Ma & Pa had the healthier attitude, I’d say.

  2. Also, does anyone REALLY believe *library* restrictions will stop kids from accessing things when there is a whole Internet just lying around? You don’t even need to search out stuff… if you do a search and do NOT find porn (etc.) by the third page of results… there might not BE a third page of that obscure subject.

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