Missouri public libraries survived a legislative fight over state aid but now face a new hurdle to obtain the money -- they must certify to the secretary of state that they have policies in place that put parents in charge of what their children read and see.
The most likely response from libraries, leaders of the Missouri Library Association said Tuesday, is to give parents a choice -- either allow their child to have a library card, with full access to books and other materials, or monitor the selections in person and check out with the parent's card.
"If you are that concerned, you need to be in the library helping them select materials," said Cody Croan, chair of the association's legislative committee.
On Tuesday, a new rule took effect intended to prevent youths under 18 from accessing "obscene" materials at public libraries. Districts must have a written policy defining what materials are "age-appropriate," keep non-appropriate materials and displays out of areas designated for minors and post whether events and presentations are suitable for some or all age groups.
The policy must allow the parent or guardian of a child to challenge the designation of any material or event. The rule, first proposed by Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft in October as he was mulling a bid for governor, would deny state funding to any library that does not submit a written policy by July 31.
There are 160 public library districts in the state.
The rule covers all funds distributed through the State Library, a branch of Ashcroft's office. This year, that would be $4.5 million for direct aid, much of it distributed on a per-capita basis, as well as $3.35 million for computer networks, $3.1 million to support access to materials available online and $4.1 million in anticipated federal library grants.
"As the keeper of the funds, they have to make an application for those grants through our office," said JoDonn Chaney, spokesman for Ashcroft. "They have always had steps to follow."
There is one other rule governing library materials that also deals with obscene materials. Since 2003, libraries have been required to block minors from accessing pornographic material via the internet at public terminals.
The rule doesn't specify any particular structure for any library to follow, Chaney said.
"What Secretary Ashcroft is saying is, 'You guys need a policy, you write that policy, and have it in place for people to see,'" Chaney said. "We are not saying what you have to put in the policy, just that you have to have it accessible, and have a way for parents to challenge the policy."
There have been two significant changes from the original proposal to the final rule. The first was to narrow the definition of what could not be purchased with state funds from obtaining "materials in any form that appeal to the prurient interest of any minor" to materials defined as obscene and forbidden to minors in state law.
The other was to limit those who could challenge the policies from "any person" to "any parent or guardian" of a child who lives in the area served by the library district.
When it was introduced, public comments were mainly negative and denounced the rule as an attempt at censorship.
While libraries vary widely in the share of their total budget from state funding, Croan said he wasn't aware of any districts intending to deliberately challenge the rule. Most districts already had written policies on how to select materials based on the age of the user, he said.
Kimberly Moeller, president-elect of the association, said the big challenge of the rule is making sure no minor obtains material that their parent or guardian has not approved.
Many libraries around the state allow access to their collections -- and the collections of other libraries -- remotely, she said.
"The libraries can't control what a child has access to in their own home," Moeller said.
Library computer check-out systems aren't set up for parents to insert lists of forbidden books or topics, Moeller said. That is why many parents will be receiving revocation notices for their child's library card.
Parents need to explicitly agree to a library's policy governing general access to materials by minors and their rights to challenge the age-appropriate designation for any item. Having them renew their child's card is the simplest way to accomplish it, Moeller said.
"It is unfortunate it is starting just as school ends and summer reading programs are beginning," Moeller said. "It is just an additional barrier, an additional hoop that community members have to go through."
The funding at stake for any district that fails to submit its certification of compliance almost didn't make it into the budget.
House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, cut the $4.5 million line of general aid to zero. Smith was upset because the Missouri Library Association joined the ACLU and the Missouri Association of School Libraries in a suit challenging a new state law limiting the materials available in school libraries.
That lawsuit, in Jackson County, is in its early stages. Schools have removed hundreds of books, PEN America reported. Lee's Summit spent $19,000 through mid-April reviewing about half of 90 challenged books, the Kansas City Star reported.
The law allowing school library books to be challenged and the new rule for public libraries flows from the same source, Moeller said.
"It is weird because there are so many different pieces related to the same idea, that there needs to be protection from libraries, that libraries are providing these explicit materials," Moeller said.
The most difficult part of the new rule is allowing parents to challenge the aged designation of any item in the library. Some libraries are receiving lists of 100 or more books and challenges overall are increasing, Moeller said.
"Most of the items being included in these lists relate to identity, race or sexual orientation," she said. "What we really seeing is the ones that relate to identity are being called 'inappropriate.'"
The Missouri Independent, www.missouriindependent.com, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization covering state government and its impact on Missourians.