It's not exactly a rare occasion that I come across legislation that makes me scratch my head in confusion.
This time, it's Missouri.
I'm baffled by ideas proposed by some state lawmakers that apparently allow librarians to be jailed for doing their job.
Apparently the bill would penalize librarians for lending "age inappropriate" books. As a book nerd, and rational human being, this raises a thousand red flags in my mind.
One news story describes the legislation as "a transparent, shameful attempt to legalize book banning in public libraries."
It's the Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act, House Bill 2044, and it would cut off state funding to any public library that allows minors access to "age-inappropriate sexual material." Librarians who don't comply, apparently could face a $500 fine or one year in jail.
As I read more, I realized I needed help. I needed someone to help me research and navigate the information I was finding—so I called a librarian. Because they're rockstars at this.
The librarian I spoke with explained the issue well.
She said, "As a librarian, I'm offended that this lawmaker thinks he knows how to do my job, but as a parent I'm raging that this guy thinks he has any say in how I parent my children."
All humans, children included, grow and learn and develop at different speeds. What's appropriate for one child, may not be appropriate for another child of the same age.
Sweeping generalizations and censorship can only do harm in this case.
Libraries are a necessary escape. They're formative. They're crucial to social, emotional, and intellectual development.
Fiction and non-fiction—there's no shortage of examples of what happens when education is banned.
(Want to read a book that shows what happens when governments restrict books from the populace or enforces censorship? Ask a librarian.)
While censorship is infuriating, and the notion that a piece of legislation could determine exactly what books are appropriate for any one child is outlandish, the librarian I asked said the ridiculousness may be positive for libraries.
Silly laws like this one are frustratingly good PR for libraries, she said.
"For the most part, libraries and librarians are highly regarded. They are generally seen as beneficial to society with lots and lots and lots of stories from the average American about how libraries help them. So, people feel protective of the services that make their lives easier," she said. "And for people that don't know how hardcore librarians are as a species, they feel protective of the little bespectacled ladies who quietly attend to the books in the library."
She continued, "So, bills like this, especially ones that want to throw the prim and proper book worms in the pokey are a good way to get people fired up in defense of libraries and their staff."
(Did I mention that librarians are rockstars?)
Another news article I read had a quote from the deputy director of Free Expressions Research and Policy at PEN America. He said, “This act is clearly aimed at empowering small groups of parents to appoint themselves censors over their state’s public libraries. Books wrestling with sexual themes, books uplifting LGBTQ+ characters, books addressing issues such as sexual assault—all of these books are potentially on the chopping block if this bill is passed.”
In books, as in life, representation is important. Giving children the characters and stories and language to explore their life experiences is important. Remembering that parents/guardians already have a say in what their child checks out from the library and probably knows their child better than some random lawmaker, is important.
Bottom line, let parents do what they do, let librarians do what they do.
Cydney Baron is the editor of the Claremore Daily Progress.