Earlier this year, a Missouri bill proposed the creation of parental oversight boards that would have the final say on which materials libraries are allowed to shelf in certain areas, and who is allowed to check them out. The boards, which are to be comprised of five community members, but not librarians, will decide what materials are sexually “inappropriate” for minors and remove them from areas minors can access them. The bill specifies that librarians who allow minors to check out the books could face a fine up to $500 or imprisonment.
Now, a new Tennessee bill is proposing the same: a parental oversight board will have authority over what materials libraries shelf and where, and librarians can be fined or imprisoned if they are found not to be in compliance with the board’s decisions. The bill is again specifically aimed against depictions of sexuality deemed by the board to be “inappropriate” for minors.
Libraries already have internal processes in place to ensure that materials in each section are age appropriate. These decisions are made by professionals trained in the field. Libraries also already have in place processes for when parents or community members challenge books that are shelved in the library. Adding another review board that has authority over librarians–individuals who are actually trained to develop age appropriate collections–is unnecessary and insulting. It is also a troubling sign that some community members are hoping to limit others’ ability to access certain materials they find personally objectionable.
These new bills are a form of censorship. They seek to prevent individuals in the community from checking out specific books. But a review board should have no authority to tell other people what their children can or cannot read. That is the responsibility of the parents, not of the government.
The Missouri bill alone was troubling, though perhaps individuals who do not live or vote in Missouri overlooked its significance. The new Tennessee bill, which has wording that seems just about identical to the Missouri bill, shows that there are enthusiastic censors in states across the U.S. If these bills prove successful, and if they inspire similar legislation in more states, we may be facing dark days ahead.