Fahrenheit451

Proposed Missouri House Bill Threatens Libraries

By Lucy Soyinka
Washington University School of Law
Juris Doctor Candidate, 2021

From the novel Fahrenheit 451 or even from the movie Footloose, we are aware of the dangers of censorship. If you were to say that we as a society in the US, have moved passed trying to ban books; you would be wrong. Missouri House Bill 2044 proposes the creation of a five-member parental library review boards to identify “age-inappropriate” public library materials and restrict access to those materials.[1] Moreover, the Bill goes so far as to punish librarians for not complying with the bill. The bill proposes criminal prosecution for librarians who make those materials available to minors and would deny funding to librarians that do not employ library review boards to restrict access to their materials.[2]

Think about all the possible books that could be banned from this bill: books dealing with themes of racism, sexism, LGBTQ, etc. I guess it needs to be said again that the idea of a review board of parents who decide what books are too inappropriate for minors to check out from the library is wrong and most importantly, scary. One can only guess what types of books would be considered “inappropriate” for children: Most likely books that deal with real life issues that are uncomfortable to a lot of people. I would argue that what children can learn from uncomfortable subjects like racism and sexism (which usually obtain “inappropriate language” such as Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye) outweigh the fear of “inappropriate language and graphic scenes.” It should not be up to the state to govern and regulate what children should or should not be able to read. That is the parent’s job. If a parent does not think a book is appropriate for their children, then they should talk to their children and explain to them why they think they are not ready to read that book. Moreover, the responsibility should not fall on a librarian to ensure such censorship.

Should it not be up to each’s child’s parent to decide what books their child reads as opposed to a review board of parents? Speaking of this “review board,” who decides who is in the review board and what are the qualifications to join? Can any parent be in the review board or only parents that have a background in literature and education? Things can get messy very fast.

While the bill comes from a good place of wanting to protect children from themes that are “deemed” inappropriate, libraries are not just for children and their parents. A certain group should not get to dictate and control libraries and books that are meant for the community. Public librarians are paid for by everyone in the community, not only by parents. Therefore, a certain group of people should not be able to dictate what books are acceptable to check out. If a parent is so concerned about what books that their child is checking out, they should go with their child to the library and oversee what books that their children are reading and checking out. This job should not be forced on a librarian and the community should not be punished by censorship. There are other ways to ensure a safe environment for children at the library without encroaching on the rights of other people and banning books.

[1] OIF responds to Missouri legislation that proposes policies and procedures that threaten access to information, American Library Association, January 16, 2020

[2] Id.

photo: Still from the film Fahrenheit 451