KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A new Missouri rule went into effect earlier this year impacting public libraries. The administrative rule was put forth by the Secretary of State and requires libraries to change their policies to protect children so they can continue receiving state funds.
Libraries across the state say this new rule is open for interpretation, so KSHB is opening the book on this new rule and talking to the authors behind this new rule, the libraries tasked with following this new rule, and the readers and writers impacted.
Library Certification Requirement for Protection of Minors
Let’s start by looking at the rule — the "Library Certification Requirement for Protection of Minors" was introduced last year and went into effect this spring.
Under this new rule, libraries had to submit to the Secretary of State by July 31 their own policies when it comes to selecting material for children; designate age appropriateness for displays, presentations, or events held at their libraries; and submit policies on how parents can challenge the age appropriateness set by the library.
The rule also states libraries are banned from purchasing materials deemed obscene or containing child pornography and cannot display age inappropriate materials in the children or teen section.
The author of the rule
Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft says following the enforcement of this new rule, the majority of libraries have complied, none have lost funding and no books have been removed.
"I believe that we should be cautious about the materials that we put in front of kids," Ashcroft said. "We we don't need to be putting age inappropriate material in front of kids."
When drafting this rule, Ashcroft said theMissouri State Library, which his office oversees, helped draft the rule and was created in response to complaints his office received by library patrons who found inappropriate materials on library shelves.
During the rules proposal period, more than 20,000 comments were submitted to Ashcfot's office for and against the new rule.
Organizations and advocacy groups also weighed in on the rule, including the Missouri Library Association, who called the rule "disappointing and vague."
"There were a couple of librarians, library directors across the state that reached out to me, probably three or four of them," Ashcroft said. "Unfortunately, I wish that more had been open to discussion, or worked with the state librarian."
According to Ashcroft's office, funding for public libraries has increased by more than $1 million over the last fiscal year, and despite the rule's controversy, Ashcroft wants the rule to be implemented into state law.
"I believe that as a child, you neither have all the responsibilities nor do you have all the rights that you have and as an adult, and frankly, I think we ought to let kids be kids a little bit longer and not put all the rights and responsibilities of an adult on them when they're little kids," Ashcroft said.
Kansas City Public Library
Libraries across Kansas City, including the Kansas City Public Library, say the rule creates several plot twists for patrons wanting to access materials
"Yes, there may be something here that you don't want to read or you may not want your child to read, but somebody else wants to read that, and I don't have a right to say, 'No, you can't have access to that material,'" said Joel Jones, the deputy director of Library Services at KCPL.
The Kansas City Public Library District is funded primarily by property tax, and according to Jones, the district gets between $150,000 to $300,000 annually in state aid.
In response to the rule, KCPL now allows parents to deactivate their child’s library account and has created forms for parents to challenge age appropriateness of materials. Jones estimates the rules has cost their district $10,000 to implement.
"We want to make sure that we still provide access to all materials in our library system to all of our our patrons and people in our community regardless of their age, while also giving tools for parents to engage with the library and engage with their child about what they read and what they access," Jones said. "Our views may be different from others, but that doesn't mean that we don't open and accept all political views and all materials."
Since adopting their latest policy, Jones says there hasn't been a parent who has sought of the deactivation of their child's library account, and books that are challenged are reviewed by an internal library group, but are rarely removed in an effort to provide access to all readers.
Cass County Public Library
Across the Kansas City area, the Cass County Public Library decided to take a different approach than KCPL in response to this new rule.
CCPL's reading of the rule called for the suspension of library accounts of all patrons under the age of 18 and are now requiring parents to physically come into their libraries if they want their child to hold a library account.
According to CCPL, 86% of suspended accounts have been reactivated.
"There were some parents that were not happy with it, and there were some parents who directed their anger at the library, but we explained to the parents that we just were trying to comply to this rule that the Secretary State put out, and as it turned out, a lot of people didn't know about," said Dan Brower, library director at the Cass County Public Library.
Just like KCPL, Cass County Public Library is also primarily funded through property tax and receives $180,000 in state aid, which funds the library's materials budget.
Brower says throughout the year, several patrons have challenged books, with the majority of books delving in sex education and LGBTQ story lines, but contested books are rarely removed from their collection and are placed in a different section.
"Our youth services coordinator, they look at a lot of factors, but it revolves around what the audience is based on their physical, mental and developmental needs, developmental appropriateness, because age appropriateness can be interpreted a lot of different ways," Brower said.
Brower estimates the rule has cost his library thousands of dollars to implement, including printing out new library cards explaining their new policy.
"Having the information available, it's paramount to a free society. If we had books only from one point of view in the library, everyone would think the same way — I don't think anyone wants that, we should all be free thinkers," Brower said.
Adib Khorram, a Kansas City-based children books author, is the voice behind "Darius the Great," a young adult series that has been challenged across the country.
The story line follows an Iranian teen who navigates his queer identity and deals with the pressures of society and mental health.
According to Khorram, the book has won several awards and was optioned for film by Universal Studios.
"People act as if authors are out here writing pornography for five year olds and we're not," Khorram said. "I don't know a single author who doesn't give a great deal of attention and care on how they're approaching any given topic so that it's digestible and understandable to their target audience."
Khorram says rules like the one being enforced in Missouri hurt his bottom line, with libraries and parents less likely to purchase his series and impacting any potential monies made while promoting his books.
"I think there's a segment of the population that forgets that children are human beings with their own thoughts, desires and questions about the world around them and that historically, books have been one of the best ways for children to explore that in a safe and kind of contextually guided way," Khorram said.
Khorram says Darius was based on his upbringing, and despite the push back, he will continue to write stories similar to his.
"All identities need to be represented and accessible; young people and old people need to be able to read about people that are different from them — and people that are similar to them — without being told that their very existence or that the existence of the people that they care about and love is inappropriate or obscene," Khorram said. "I fundamentally believe that there is not a single human being on the face of the planet whose existence in and of itself is inappropriate or obscene."
Families like the Johnson family who frequent KCPL say they’re neutral to the new rule and have conversations as a family on what materials are allowed to be check out.
"There is a reason why I come to the library with my children — because I know that I would like to educate my children on certain things before they pick up a book and read it randomly," MySherai Johnson said.
The mother of four says each of her children gravitate towards different types of books, but ultimately believes libraries should carry all types of materials.
"In these times, we can restrict our children as much as we'd like, [as] we could, but of course, they're going to go to school, there might be someone at school that identifies as something different than them, so these conversations are still needed to be had," Johnson said.
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