New library bill receives backlash after critics say it amounts to censorship

A Missouri lawmaker filed a new bill aimed at preventing inappropriate content from getting in the hands of minors. Critics, however, argue the bill amounts to censorship.

State Rep. Ben Baker’s Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act would create “parental library review boards.” These boards, elected by community members, would hold public hearings to discuss what books are inappropriate for minors. The five-person panel would have the final say on removing books or other materials deemed “inappropriate” for adolescents. 

The bill defines “age-inappropriate sexual material” as any description or representation of nudity, sexuality, sexual content, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse. 

Under the bill, librarians, who violate the bill could be fined $500 or face up to a year in jail if convicted. 

“The main thing is I want to be able to take my kids to the library and make sure they’re in a safe environment, and that they’re not going to be exposed to something that is objectionable material,” Baker said in an interview with KOAM. “Unfortunately, there are some libraries in the state of Missouri that have done this. And that’s a problem.” 

Jayme Pingrey, library specialist at Battle High School, says that while the bill will not concern public schools, she believes parents are the ones that should decide what is appropriate for their child. 

“I do not think it’s the job of the library, the staff that works there, or an independent board to censor what young people read,” Pingrey said. “I think it is up to parents to work alongside their children when borrowing books and other materials, and have conversations about the things that are being read.” 

If the bill passes, all content would still be available for a parent or guardian to provide for their children. Still, a number of lawmakers, organizations, and citizens have slammed the bill, arguing it amounts to censorship.

“This is a shockingly transparent attempt to legalize book banning in the state of Missouri,” James Tager, deputy director of Free Expression Research and Policy at PEN America, said in the article. “This act is clearly aimed at empowering small groups of parents to appoint themselves as censors over their state’s public libraries. Books wrestling with sexual themes, books uplifting LGBTQIA+ characters, books addressing issues such as sexual assault–all of these books are potentially on the chopping block if this bill is passed.”

Despite the disapproval, Baker argues that the bill is not aimed at censoring books but to protect children from inappropriate sexual content, such as “Drag Queen Story Hours” that have been held at libraries in the state. 

“They’ve had these drag queen story hours, and that’s something that I take object to and I think a lot of parents do,” Baker said in an interview with NBC. “That’s where in a public space, our kids could be exposed to something that’s age-inappropriate. That’s what I’m trying to tackle.”

You can read the full bill at https://house.mo.gov/billtracking/bills201/hlrbillspdf/4634H.01I.pdf.

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