KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tuesday was the first day for Missourians to weigh in on a new proposal that could impact public libraries.

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft is introducing a new law to require all state-funded libraries to set appropriate age policies for books.

If passed, libraries also would be required to honor a parent’s decision about what materials their child has access to in the library.

It would also give parents the right to challenge a library’s age-appropriate designation for any material.

Libraries that violate the rules would risk losing state funding, which is doled out by the Secretary of State’s Office through the state librarian.

“When state dollars are involved, we want to bring back local control and parental involvement in determining what children are exposed to,” Ashcroft said. “Foremost, we want to protect our children.” 

In a statement last month, the Missouri Library Association called Ashcroft’s rule “an infringement on the professional judgment of librarians, and an effort to further stoke division in the communities that libraries serve.”

The group warned that small and urban libraries, which rely most on state funding, would face the greatest impact from the policy.

“How do we decide which book is acceptable for who?” said Crystal Faris, deputy director of youth and family engagement with the Kansas City Public Library.

Faris feels that decision is up to a child’s parent.

She estimates it would cost the Kansas City Public Library $60,000-$80,000 to put those standards in place.

“Well, if we had to take the staff time necessary, say we had to level books,” Faris said.

Ashcroft previously said he didn’t propose the rule in response to any particular book but hoped it would prevent potential issues.

“I know that a lot of Missouri libraries are doing a good job on this and reflecting the values of the taxpayers that paid for the materials,” Ashcroft said. “But I just think it’s good to have some guidelines to make sure that we’re reinforcing that parents are in control.”

Citizens have 30 days to weigh in. After that, Ashcroft’s office has three months to rewrite the rule based on feedback, submit it as is or rescind it.

“Depending on the comments, we could potentially make a change,” Ashcroft said. “I really hope that the people of the state help us to make the rule as good as possible.”

You can chime in by email to comments@sos.mo.gov. Type the proposed rule number — 15 CSR 30-200.015 — in the subject field. Missourians can also submit comments by mail to Missouri Secretary of State, P.O. Box 1767, Jefferson City, MO 65102.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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