Proposed rule seeks to protect Missouri children from explicit material without book banning

A top Missouri official has proposed a new rule to protect children and youth from inappropriate materials in state-funded libraries. 

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s rule would require libraries to create policies regarding the age-appropriateness of selections for minors and to cooperate with parents or guardians who do not want certain materials available to their children. It also would ban the use of state funds to purchase sexually explicit material geared toward minors. 

“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 press release. “Foremost, we want to protect our children.”  

The Missouri Library Association was critical of the proposal, claiming it would place “undue burden on small and urban libraries” and infringe “on the professional judgement of librarians.”  

Ashcroft’s proposed new rule comes on the heels of a new Missouri law prohibiting sexually explicit images in school libraries. Under the law, any person affiliated with an elementary or secondary school who supplies a student with sexually explicit material can be charged with a class A misdemeanor, the highest level of misdemeanor. 

The Missouri Library Association also opposed this attempt to restrict access to objectional content, calling the law an “oppressive legislative effort to undermine the public good.” 

In defense of his proposal, Ashcroft pointed out that his rule doesn’t seek to ban books.  

“We don’t ban any books from being in the library. We do ban the use of the funds that we give to libraries for books that just appeal to the prurient interest of children.” 

Ashcroft has been an advocate for the importance of funding Missouri Libraries. “If we’re not providing money for libraries, we’re not really fully funding education,” he said in 2018, while touring Carthage Public Library in Carthage, Missouri.