Missouri House Bill resurfaces ideas about literary censorship


The Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act entered the Missouri House of Representatives on Jan. 8 as part of Missouri House Bill 2044. The Bill pushed for the creation of a parent board who would, according to the bill, “determine whether any sexual material provided to the public by the public library is age-inappropriate sexual material”. Every public library in Missouri would be required to have an advisory board under this bill, and offenders that go against the act would face either a $500 fine or up to a year in jail. This applies to events that the library would host and new books that would possibly enter the system.

“I want to say [that books are banned because of] ignorance, but that may be painting it with too broad of a brush. It seems to me that a lot of times when I hear about books being banned, it’s because someone has read something out of context,” LMC director Amy Madzinski said.

Representative Ben Baker is the main force behind the act. According to an interview with NBC, Baker created the law because “they’ve [the public library system] had these drag queen story hours, and that’s something that I take objection to and I think a lot of parents do. 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.”

The concept of banning books is something that is very familiar to the United States. The American Library Association continues to post yearly reports of the most widely banned books nationwide and promotes a week in late September that is meant to celebrate all past and present banned books. The reasoning behind the bans varies from the inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters to sexual content. The ALA continues to promote these books because of the ideas they have inside them. However, legislation like the Parental Oversight of Public Libraries act can be seen as government action taken against opposing opinions, in a similar way that people ban books.

While this does move the target of the act more toward events and less so toward books, the suppression of ideas is clearly present behind the law.

Libraries, although assumed as obsolete, continue to house ideas and provide them to the public in numerous, mostly free, ways. The bill can be seen as a form of silencing like book bannings before it. Events similar to what Baker describes allow the community to form a meaningful connection with people who are seen as different. If this bill were to pass, it would remove the library’s ability to connect with the community in a large way and continue to provide a neutral ground for ideas, one of the few things that the library still has in the technological age.

“I can’t really picture it actually happening. If [the law] were to pass, I would be extremely worried. I would be on the streets protesting it because the bill goes completely against all tenants of public librarianship,” Aurora Public Library Eola Branch Teen Librarian Flannery Crump said.

Outside of a few books being questioned in the past, District 204 has had little interference regarding curriculum. In the case that a book absolutely needs to be questioned, a committee is formed with students, administrators, librarians, and teachers to review the book. The committee reads it, and then the charge is discussed. Luckily, the district has only had to do this a few times at the high school level. The most notable claim is when a parent challenged the district’s teaching of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, because of numerous references to drugs and alcohol.

As this bill is from Illinois, the act it contains perpetuates the fear of ideas that seems to fuel most of today’s politics. If more legislative acts like this are passed, more ideas will inevitably be suppressed. Today’s society is nowhere near the level of book banning and idea oppressing as seen in dystopias like “1984” and “Fahrenheit 451” and the real-life instances of book burning that have been singed into history. While the act is nothing close to the scale of the Nazi book burnings, legislative acts like this show that society is still as scared of alternative ideas as Orwell and Bradbury present in their banned books.

“One of the things you do when you go to library school is go through a collection development class that teaches you how to procure appropriate books for your setting,” Madzinski said. “I always felt like if I do my best and something slips through, oops. I can’t be perfect