The Missouri Library Association (MLA) is extremely disappointed in the recommendation by Representative Cody Smith, Chairman of the Missouri House of Representatives Budget Committee, to remove all State Aid funding to libraries in Missouri.
Representative Smith expressed in the House Budget Committee hearing his concern that State Aid dollars sent to the 160 library districts in Missouri were being spent to fund a lawsuit in which MLA has been named as a plaintiff.
To clarify, MLA is not providing any funding for the lawsuit in which it has been named as a plaintiff; the ACLU is providing services to MASL and MLA pro bono. Additionally, MLA is a representative organization of libraries and library workers working to protect the profession and professionals working in the library field. We are a volunteer organization, and no state aid is used to fund MLA's work.
State Aid helps libraries provide relevant collections, literacy based programming, and technology resources to their communities. Our rural libraries rely the most heavily on this funding to serve their communities, and they will be crippled by this drastic budget cut.
The Missouri Library Association continues to oppose 15 CSR 30-200.015 Library Certification Requirement for the Protection of Minors and now opposes the HB 1159 filed in the House of Representatives on 2/15/2023. While the final version of the Secretary of State’s proposed rule reduces potential for frivolous challenges to library collections from any individual, it remains vague and continues to engender strife between the library and its community. The newly filed HB1159, however, makes no such distinction on who may challenge the library’s collection. It goes beyond the rule to institute punitive damages against libraries and librarians for merely doing the work of the library, providing access to information resources.
Both the rule and HB 1159 assume that librarians are currently providing materials to minors or their communities that constitute “child pornography,” are “pornographic for minors,” and are “obscene.” Providing materials to minors that constitute the legal definition of pornography as such is already illegal, and libraries already comply. The proposed rule as codified in HB 1159 forces librarians to be complicit in undermining their own institutions if they want access to state funding and creates the fear of prosecution for libraries and librarians. These provisions are short-sighted, unnecessary and disingenuous. During the comment period for the rule, 20,000 comments were submitted, and it was evident that most Missourians are opposed to such shackling of their libraries as a majority of the comments have been reported to be in opposition to the rule. If HB 1159 were to receive a public hearing, it is certain to face the same public opposition as the proposed rule. As both the proposed rule and this bill would reduce access based on the decisions of individuals, and as libraries are created to enable free and equal access to information for all, MLA is clearly opposed to this bill.
Ashcroft’s proposed changes also place undue burden on small and urban libraries by undermining not only their sense of agency but their ability to access information. The libraries who are most in need of state funding and assistance are also the most at risk under the proposed change.
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?
MLA-Intellectual Freedom Chair 2022
MLA-Intellectual Freedom, Social Media and Communications
MLA-Intellectual Freedom Chair 2023
MLA-Intellectual Freedom Past Chair
We support MASL’s statement from October 19, 2022 on this subject