The Washington Public Library Board of Trustees Monday night discussed a proposed state House bill that would censor content at libraries that receive state funding.
The bill is the result of controversial guest readers at libraries on both sides of the state.
Library board members expressed concerns about the bill and the consequences it would have if it passed.
Library Director Nelson Appell explained that the bill requires a committee to review material which would have the power to determine what is “appropriate” for children.
“The stance of the Washington Public Library is that we oppose censorship for other people’s children,” Appell said. “We encourage our parents to be active in their child’s reading habits and let them determine what is best for them.”
He added that the Washington library has measures in place that help families and children navigate sections that are for suggested age groups.
“The library is divided into sections,” Appell explained. “We have children’s, young adult and adult sections.”
The division of books into sections is not unique to the Washington library and can be found in libraries across the state.
House Bill No. 2044 titled “Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act,” proposed by State Rep. Ben Baker, R–Neosho, has raised concern and ire amongst libraries across the state and in Franklin County.
The bill, filed Wednesday, Jan. 8, proposes that state aid would not be given to libraries which allow minors access to age-inappropriate materials.
Age-inappropriate materials, as defined by the bill’s language, includes “any description or representation, in any form, of nudity, sexuality, sexual conduct, sexual excitement or sadomasochistic abuse.”
The bill also would enact a committee which would determine what should and should not be censored. The committee, according to the bill, would be comprised of five adult residents in the area the library serves.
The committee would be able to determine what it deems as inappropriate and have control over books and programming.
The bill was filed in response to a Drag Queen Story Hour that was taking place at libraries in St. Louis and Kansas City, where drag queens read books that focus on gender identity and same-gender relationships to children. The story hour is intended to encourage children to learn about diversity and acceptance.
Library officials here say the proposed bill is troublesome for both the Washington Public Library and the Scenic Regional Library system, as the bill threatens censorship, the restriction of materials to the public and the consequence of failure to comply would result in a restriction of funding.
Scenic Regional Library Director Steve Campbell explained that the bill was created with the intent to prevent Drag Queen Story Hour from spreading to other libraries.
“It is our (system’s) position to be inclusive and give information on all viewpoints,” Campbell said. “Limiting certain information is contrary to our mission.”
He added that the issue with the bill is that it never once addresses programming, only the restriction of materials.
“For rural libraries, like the ones in Franklin County, this bill would act as a punishment for them,” Campbell said. “The bill is essentially punishing 150 libraries statewide for something only a couple of libraries participated in.”
Campbell’s argument is that it is the job of the library to offer items and programming its public wants, which is what’s taking place with the Drag Queen Story Hour.
Missouri Library Association (MLA) President Cynthia Dudenhoffer responded by stating that the organization “will always stand against censorship and for the freedom to read, and therefore opposes the House Bill 2044.”
In Dudenhoffer’s response she also stated that the association is committed to supporting all types of libraries.
“MLA exists to support the mission, vision, values of those libraries, which connect their communities to vital resources,” she said.
Dudenhoffer stated that MLA supports the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights and Freedom to Read statement which is for public libraries to provide fair and impartial access to information to its users.
The bill had its second reading Thursday, Jan. 9, a day after it was introduced. To date, the bill has not been brought to committee and no further movement on it has been seen.