New Missouri rule puts library funding at risk

Published: May. 30, 2023 at 8:32 PM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - On Tuesday, a new rule went into effect that puts tighter restrictions on which books children in Missouri can access at libraries.

Essentially, the new rule blocks public funding for libraries that have books on their shelves deemed inappropriate or explicit for minors.

On Tuesday, Missouri libraries also adopted written policies that determine what materials are age-appropriate for children and teenagers.

The rule, which was proposed by Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, also restricts libraries from using state funds to buy inappropriate materials that encourage an excessive interest in sexual matters.

If the policies aren’t followed, libraries risk losing their funding.

However, Crystal Faris with the Kansas City Public Library said how that would work is vague and not very clear.

“There’s no understanding of what it really means to be in compliance,” Faris said. “What happens when we’re not in compliance? Do we automatically lose our funding? Is there a hearing? If we lose our funding, is there a way to appeal?”

Faris said Kansas City Public Library branches already have a process in place where visitors can request items be added or removed from shelves. However, they haven’t seen any complaints regarding what was available or what is currently available.

“The goal being that we want to serve every resident of the community,” said Faris, adding that they seek to create balance.

“What we also seek to do is encourage parents to participate in what kids use at the library,” she said. “I do not know what every parent in Kansas City deems appropriate. That’s the parent rule, not the library rule.”

A couple of parents visiting the library agree that libraries should be a safe place for kids to explore and learn. However, they did not agree on the type of materials that should be available to their kids.

“What do you deem explicit? I mean, that’s a huge range of things,” said Danielle Enriquez-Fowler, a parent of two. “Some people may say, ‘Oh, that’s explicit,’ and put that in the explicit section. And others may go, ’Really? Is that explicit? Not necessarily.’”

“I was just at the library not too long ago and we walked past and they’re literally just propped up,” said Ebony Ashiofu, another parent. “Visible, all out in the open like, ‘Come read me.’ And my son, unfortunately, read the title and I had to have that talk with him. And it shouldn’t be a place I should have do that, in the library.”

KCTV5 reached out to Ashcroft’s office and did not hear back. In a previous written statement Ashcroft said: “When state dollars are involved, we want to bring back local control and parental involvement in determining what children are exposed to… 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.”

Libraries are now required to honor a parent’s decision as to what material their child has access to in the library. Parents could also challenge a library’s age-appropriate designation for any material.

“Library Bill of Rights does include a guarantee of access to library service regardless of age,” said Faris. “There aren’t many places that children and teenagers have that right, but they should have that right at the public library.”