The Executive Director of Springfield’s library system has concerns about the Secretary of State’s proposal for minors’ access to books

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) – The Executive Director of the Springfield-Greene County Library system recently met with Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft about his controversial proposal that would stop state funding for libraries that allow minors access to age-inappropriate material.

Regina Greer Cooper is the Executive Director of the Springfield-Greene County Library system and has joined the state’s library association in expressing her concerns about Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s proposed rules that would require Missouri’s 160 public libraries to adopt policies on dealing with literature that might appeal to the sexual interest of minors.

“They’ll have to take responsibility for those policies,” Ashcroft said. “They have to make them public so that the parents and taxpayers can see them.”

“He wants to protect minors and children and I get that,” Cooper said. “I’m just not sure this is the correct way to go about it.”

Ashcroft, a Republican who is planning on running for governor in 2024, has admitted he did not bring up the proposal because of any particular book and the new rule does not include a detailed definition or examples of what specific books could be considered sexually appealing to children or teenagers. Ashcroft announced the proposal in October and has made available a 30-day comment period ending December 14 in which the public can express its feelings before he makes a final draft of the proposal and submits it to lawmakers.

You can do that by writing to: Office of the Secretary of State

PO Box 1767

Jefferson City, Mo.

65102

or by e-mail to: comments@sos.mo.gov

Cooper let her feelings be known in an in-person meeting with Ashcroft recently in Springfield and described the meeting as “cordial”, telling the Secretary of State that many libraries already have such policies in place and that his rules were short on specifics when it comes to how his goals were to be carried out.

“It’s pretty vague which is a problem in itself,” she explained. “Because we don’t know what the ramifications are going to be. When I had a conversation with him, he said he wasn’t going to send somebody to police our library. And we already have policies in place in order to get state funding. Policies about how we select books, how we put them in age-appropriate places and how we have ways that parents can challenge any books. There are available on most of our websites.”

However, another part of Ashcroft’s wish list is a major part of the concern.

“There were some things we had to agree to disagree on,” Cooper said with a smile. “And one of those is that we have a separate department for teenagers, but they are also free to check-out books from the adult department without their parents with them. And I don’t see how it’s really feasible for us to shut off that part of the library and not allow the teens to walk through it. Besides that’s where we keep most of the non-fiction the kids need to do a school project or homework.”

But that is a point of contention for Ashcroft, who’s threatening to take away state funding if libraries let minors check out books that parents or guardians don’t want them to have.

And if their parents aren’t there when the minor checks them out?

“That’s not really practical,” Cooper answered as far as the library being able to censor teenager’s book choices. “Our policy says that parents and legal guardians are the ones responsible for taking care of what their kids read and that is absolutely what we believe. The only way we could do that is to put a note in the child’s record, but we don’t have enough staff to go through every record as they’re checking out. We also have self-check-out so we couldn’t do it there. If we were to try it that way we’d have to buy additional software which would be more expensive than the $500 the rules say is the maximum we can spend.”

Ashcroft’s proposal would also require libraries to post on their websites when somebody has challenged a book and what the outcome was.

“We have a committee that looks at every challenge and makes a recommendation to me and then I write the boss and let them know,” Cooper said. “Occasionally we will do what they ask in moving it out of the children’s section, but most of the time we don’t remove books because we serve everybody. With everyone’s different ideologies and every family’s different values, we have to have a wide variety of different materials. I’m concerned that if we have to post this on our website that suddenly somebody who hasn’t been paying attention will start asking for bans. We shouldn’t be getting rid of materials and the state of Missouri shouldn’t be telling us what we should have. It’s the families and the people who use the library that should be giving the input. I’m sure we have a lot of things that would offend a lot of people. But it’s a simple choice. Just don’t check that book out.”

While the American Library Association says that book challenges nationwide are the highest they’ve been in decades with more record-setting years on the horizon, Cooper pointed out that was not the case in Springfield’s system as they average less-than-five book challenges annually and only have one challenge this year.

And many public libraries, including Springfield, put up displays of books that have been banned or challenged.

“It’s very interesting to see the different books that have been challenged,” Cooper said. “Some of them are very popular classic books. Even the Bible has been challenged.”

And just as Cooper has expressed her views to Ashcroft, she encourages others to do the same.

“We’re not going to tell you whether your comment should be in support or opposition,” she said. “But on our website we do have facts about the way the library operates and the way we think the rule would affect the library and the families that check-out materials.”

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