In his own words, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft is a champion of public libraries. “Supporting the efforts of libraries across our state has been a priority of mine since Day One,” Ashcroft said last week.
Book bans are all the rage in Republican politics right now. Never mind that in the online age, taking physical books off the shelves of your school library is an exercise in futility. Young patrons carry the entirety of the unfettered and uncensored internet on their smartphones in their pockets.
The real issue here is the war on ideas. The same party that touts its belief in an unregulated marketplace wants to censor ideas that they don’t like. And they don’t believe that such decisions should be left up to local residents. This is what should concern any freedom-loving, democracy-believing Missourian. For book banning by a state government is, quite simply, antidemocratic.
As secretary of state, the state’s library budget goes through Ashcroft’s office. Next fiscal year, Ashcroft wants to distribute $4.5 million to libraries. Because local property taxes mostly fund public libraries, book collections should remain a local issue.
Last week, his office submitted a proposed rule change that would prohibit libraries from using state funds to purchase or acquire inappropriate materials in any form that “appeal to the prurient interest of a minor,” according to the proposal.
And who is defining what “prurient” means in this case?
Under the plan, public libraries that receive state funding would be required to adopt written policies to determine which materials are age-appropriate. The proposal is a non-starter. Most libraries have a collection policy already in place, local librarians told us.
“When state dollars are involved, we want to bring back local control and parental involvement in determining what children are exposed to,” Ashcroft said in a written statement. “Above all, we want to protect our children.”
Also, parents would have the right to challenge a library’s age-appropriate designation for any material, a process already in place in most systems across the state, according to library officials we spoke with.
Ashcroft, a Republican, has been coy about his political ambitions. We asked him during a recent visit with the editorial board if he intended to run for governor. He was non-committal. But we have to call this what it is: political theatre. Otherwise, Ashcroft really believes children are in danger at the library. They aren’t.
Ashcroft sees a political opportunity and he’s taking it. Missourians should push back and reject this proposed rule, which is clearly not needed.
Of the 159 library districts in Missouri, all have different needs that fit their respective communities. These different requirements proposed by Ashcroft would restrict access to some materials for library patrons.
As has worked for a long time, highly-trained and skilled librarians determine what is age appropriate and what category each book belongs to. Proposing a rule that tells libraries receiving state funding what they can and cannot do is a bad one.
On the merits, there may be times where a book needs to be removed. There are some books that only adults should read. But there is already a process at most libraries to address that. Why make it miserable for public librarians to do their jobs? The last people to do this should be a statewide official.
Politicians such as Ashcroft are not qualified to decide what books children should read. Parents are more than capable of helping their children decide what to consume. Mom and Dad do not need input from the government.
The proposed administrative rule will be published in the Missouri Register on Nov. 15, followed by a 30-day comment period. Missourians can voice their concerns about the proposed rule by mailing the Office of the Missouri Secretary of State, PO Box 1767, Jefferson City, MO, 65102 or by email to [email protected]