Commenting begins on proposed rules seeking to protect minors at Missouri public libraries

(The Center Square) – Missourians have 30 days beginning today to comment on a proposed rule requiring state-funded libraries to have written policies describing what materials are appropriate for minors.

Republican Secretary of State John Ashcroft announced the proposed rule last month. The Missouri State Library is within the secretary of state’s office.

The Missouri Library Association and the Missouri Association of School Librarians are urging citizens to respond with comments against the proposed rule.

Earlier this year, the Missouri legislature passed Senate Bill 775, an omnibus judicial proceedings law with a section prohibiting a teacher or librarian of a public or private school from providing, assigning, supplying, distributing, loaning or coercing acceptance of explicit sexual material to a student. A violation is punishable by a fine of up to $200,000 and up to a year in prison.

Ashcroft’s proposed rule has six elements:

  • a written, publicly accessible policy on how materials are selected with regard to appropriateness for age and maturity level of a minor;
  • no state funding shall be used to purchase or acquire materials appealing to the “prurient interest” of any minor;
  • a written, publicly accessible policy allowing any minor’s parent or guardian to determine what materials and access will be available to a minor and no person employed or acting on behalf of a library shall knowingly grant access to material not approved by the minor’s parent or guardian;
  • no age-inappropriate materials, defined by library policy, shall be displayed in areas designated for predominantly for minors;
  • no library event or presentation shall be held without age-appropriate designation;
  • a written, publicly accessible policy where any person may dispute or challenge the library’s age-appropriate designation and the results of any dispute or challenge be disclosed to the public and on the library’s website.

A media release from Ashcroft’s office said he “welcomes and encourages comment submission” by U.S. Mail or email. The proposed rule number, 15 CSR 30-200.015 must be in the subject line. No public hearing is scheduled.

statement from the Missouri Association of School Librarians said a state-level administrative rule contradicts the local control of citizens. The organization also said public school libraries already have collection development policies and follow policies set by school boards.

“Restricting funding based on misguided information regarding access to materials is prohibitive of every library’s mission – to support the needs of our communities across the state of Missouri,” the Missouri Association of School Librarians said in a statement.

When announcing the proposed rule, Ashcroft stated a desire to protect children from the current culture.

“Yes, we want to make sure libraries have the resources and materials they need for their constituents, but we also want our children to be ‘children’ a little longer than a pervasive culture many often dictate,” Ashcroft said in a statement.

The Missouri Library Association’s statement questioned the timing of the proposed rule.

“In our present state of political unrest, we need access not restriction, we need community not conflict,” the organization’s statement said. “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?”