MLA IFC Statement on Proposed Rule 15 CSR 30 – 200.015

MLA Intellectual Freedom Committee Statement on Proposed Rule 15 CSR 30 – 200.015

The latest proposed rule is a solution in search of a problem. A few of the requirements in the proposed rule are already best practices in libraries. The ALA and MLA already recommend that libraries have written collection development policies (A) and challenge processes and procedures (F). Indeed, many of our latest qualms about school board and library board meetings would be assuaged if people actually followed the procedures in place for challenges rather than circumventing them and going straight to the board to complain.

That said, this set of new rules for the most part represents an obtuse political effort to catch librarians in the act of being librarians, and to recast that spotlight in a malicious and libelous hue. This is nothing new. Librarians, educators, and public servants of various types, many who have devoted decades of their lives to serving their communities, are under attack from the politicians elected to support their institutions. During the social upheaval of the sixties and seventies, a children’s consultant for the Missouri State Library named Joan Bodger suffered a similar series of indiginities for the “crime” of writing a letter of support for a censored student newspaper. She was called a “communist pornographer” for supporting the intellectual freedom of students, and was fired from her job at the state library. In fact, the first major action by the Freedom to Read Foundation was to launch a fact finding mission to clear Bodger’s name and to condemn the actions of the state library.

What’s old is new again. Once again, the state library of Missouri is being leveraged to control and punish Missouri librarians. This time, funding overseen by the State Library and Secretary of State is being used to extract elaborate concessions from librarians that are against both the interests of their libraries and their communities. Chiefly this nebulous concept of “prurient interests” is noteworthy for the lack of creativity with which it is deployed. Though we hate to make prognostications as careful and pragmatic professionals, this time we will venture two:

First, ‘prurient interests’ as it pertains to the proposed rule change will be used almost exclusively to remove, label, and restrict access to materials and events that feature the life experiences and stories of LGBTQ+, BIPOC, women and other historically marginalized communities – as has been a hallmark of anti-reader campaigns across the state and nation over the past year;

Second, given the present political climate of Missouri, we anticipate librarians fleeing in droves. We anticipate rural libraries closing, or remaining open with diminished collections, event offerings, and floundering under oppressive labeling systems devised by hamfisted partisans who know nothing about libraries, and care nothing for their own communities beyond their ability to yield votes.

While we’re at it, here’s a third idea, not a prediction but a question for voters to ponder. Why make this an issue? Why cast librarians and libraries in this negative light when, as institutions, libraries have been and continue to be cultural, social, and economic hubs for all communities in Missouri? Why do politicians pick scapegoats from among loyal public servants when elections roll around? What do lawmakers and political officials in Jefferson City have against libraries? Why are libraries being targeted? The “problem” being addressed by the proposed rule change is no moral problem, in fact, it is part of a moral panic.

Libraries have operated on their current set of access values for decades, and only in times of political turmoil and upheaval do we typically see libraries being subject to moral inquisitions of this type, just as the fabric of our social and cultural world seems to be particularly threadbare. In our present state of political unrest, we need access not restriction, we need community not conflict. Libraries represent a place for us to come together, which begs the question, who benefits from the conflict and ignorance engendered by this proposed rule? Who benefits from pulling us apart?

Signed,

Joe Kohlburn
MLA-Intellectual Freedom Chair 2022

Casey Phillips
MLA-Intellectual Freedom, Social Media and Communications

Colleen Norman
MLA-Intellectual Freedom Chair 2023

Tiffany Mautino
MLA-Intellectual Freedom Past Chair

We support MASL’s statement from October 19, 2022 on this subject

https://maslonline.org/2022/10/19/masl-statement-on-missouri-secretary-of-states-proposed-rule-change/