So the other day I was catching up on a bit of podcast listening. After zipping through all the self-promotional material at the start of the podcast, I finally got to the meat of the Sell More Books Show during which they present a few tips and then five news items related to writing, reading, and publishing.
Normally these “news” items don’t catch my interest. This time though, I was floored by news that a parent group in Missouri wants to ban books from their libraries and, AND, if any librarian dared to allow those banned books to fall into the hands of young readers, that librarian could be jailed for up to a year.
Wait. What? Did this podcast just start relating dystopian fiction?
Nope. It’s real. And it’s really scary.
The bill hasn’t passed (yet), but it proposes that a board of people (not librarians, mind you) will have the say over what books the young readers of Missouri should and shouldn’t be allowed to read.
Now, I get you may not want your kid picking up the Madonna book Sex. But isn’t that up to you as a parent to monitor what YOUR kid is checking out? Maybe some other parent sees that book as a perfectly viable way for their kid to learn anatomy, photography, and the levels of human flexibility.
The people behind the bill complain that at libraries in their state, their children (who I guess never turn on TV or the internet?) are being exposed to objectionable material in an unsafe environment.
Let me repeat that…they think of libraries as unsafe environments.
I can’t wrap my head around this. I started going to libraries before I can ever remember. I had no desire to venture into the adult section (which was not physically separated from the kiddie section) because the kids books were way fun.
My mom was there the whole time and she’d see what I picked out. I don’t recall her ever telling me to put anything back because it was inappropriate, but if she had done so she would have been perfectly right to tell HER kid what to do.
But it was not her job to regulate what someone else’s kid chose to read and definitely not in her rights to regulate the reading choices of a whole state.
And we’re not just talking about young readers being affected. The panel lists books such as those by Sherman Alexie and Kurt Vonnegut as books that should not be allowed in the libraries because some kid’s delicate eyes might land on it.
So, if this bill passes and you want to read about the modern culture of an American Indian or the World War II tragedies of a pacifist/socialist, you might be out of luck because I don’t understand how you would keep kids from seeing it otherwise. Those books would have to be completely removed from the library altogether.
After all, as with the local library of my childhood, not every library has the space or the means to put up a solid wall between the children’s and adult sections.
Should any library try to go against the rulings of one of these Uptight Big Brother panels, that library risks losing all its funding and the troublemaking librarian can end up receiving a 12-month jail term.
…all for allowing Kurt Vonnegut’s entertaining and wise words to loiter on the library shelves within view of some kid.
As James Tager of PEN America (from a press release put out by PEN) puts it:
“Every reader and writer in the country should be horrified, absolutely horrified, at this bill. The fact that a librarian could actually be imprisoned under this act for following his or her conscience and refusing to block minors from access to a book, tells you all you need to know about the suitability of this act within a democratic society.”
Thankfully, Missouri libraries are absolutely against this. The Missouri Library Association (in an article on The Guardian) said it was opposing the bill, because it “will always stand against censorship and for the freedom to read” and added…
“Public libraries already have procedures in place to assist patrons in protecting their own children while not infringing on the rights of other patrons or restricting materials.”
As you know, I love libraries. I love books. I love reading. News like this disgusts me in a way that I thought only a public toilet overflowing with poo could.
If you live in Missouri, I hope you have time to get a call or email into your representative** to stop this. If you live anywhere else, watch out, because if this passes, it may spread with coronavirus efficiency to a library near you.
**If you live in Missouri THIS LINK will take you to a list of members in your state’s House of Representatives. The listing includes phone numbers and, if you click on the name, will show you the rep’s email address.