Some States Want to Legalize Censorship in Libraries

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.

22 thoughts on “Some States Want to Legalize Censorship in Libraries

  1. overstuffedbook says:

    Well said, Krysta! These bills are in complete contrast to what librarians try to do, and with libraries’ pledge to allow access and information to all. I hope they don’t pass and set a precedent for the rest of the country.


    • Krysta says:

      It’s concerning that the TN bill seems to have the same language as the Missouri bill, as if it’s been inspired by the Missouri one. I,too, hope this doesn’t become a trend!


  2. Jennifer says:

    NO NO NO NO NO – yikes. This is the first I’ve heard of this, so thank you for raising it. It hurts to think of this happening.


  3. Christopher says:

    This hits close to home–literally, since I live in Tennessee, and specifically in Nashville. Although I work in the library of a private university I’m also very active in local community libraries.
    There’s a very active literary community here. The Southern Festival of Books is held here annually, and the independent bookstore Parnassus, founded by author Ann Patchett, is here.
    I hope there will be significant pushback against this–and I’ll be taking part in it–but I really appreciate you raising awareness of it.


  4. Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

    Baaaahhhhh. This is so upsetting. I hope the ALA is banning together with the local libraries to help educate the community. I don’t know why we’re seeing this trend in people bullying libraries. Whether it’s blaming them for their poor bottom line (Stupid MacMillan) or calling them a waste of taxpayer funds because they are outdated, or setting up boards to censor books en mass…I feel like libraries are taking a beating right now. I wish I knew how to help.


    • Krysta says:

      I think libraries are taking a beating from people privileged enough that they don’t need to use libraries. They haven’t set foot in one for years, so they have no idea what libraries do and so assume they must be irrelevant. It’s particularly troubling when lawmakers adopt this attitude, as I think they have a responsibility to research the issue and read the library’s annual report and look at the statistics–not just assume their opinions are somehow correct when they aren’t based on anything but personal feeling.

      Even just going to the library and checking out books or going to programs helps because it gives libraries statistics they can take to lawmakers to prove their relevance and ask for funding. Or writing a review on social media or leaving a comment form they can use when applying for grants to show impact. I don’t think people have to do anything fancy. It’s nice if people can devote the time and energy to contacting their lawmakers, writing to the newspaper, etc. But the little things are important, too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

        With so much data at our fingertips, we need to do a better job educating people how to find data, interpret it, and apply what they interpret to form data-driven decisions. I don’t know why this is so hard, honestly. But, then again, it’s a big part of my job. I agree that lawmakers have a responsibility to research the issues. Sadly, most of them just listen to lobbyists. Does the ALA have a lobbying group?

        Thanks for the tips. I haven’t done any reviewing of my local libraries yet online– that’s an easy way I can help!


        • Krysta says:

          I think the ALA is kind of a lobbying group? They’re a nonprofit whose mission is to promote libraries, so part of that is to support/fight against certain legislation. I know they’re spearheading a legal challenge to the Macmillan embargo/digital rights in general.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Sammie @ The Writerly Way says:

    As a “librarian,” this absolutely terrifies me. First, censorship is never a good idea. These people would know that if they ever, you know, picked up a book. I’m sure if they went to their nearest library, a librarian would be more than happy to provide the requisite reading material.

    Second … this is ALWAYS a bad idea, because people, as a whole, especially people who aren’t in the “know,” can’t be trusted to make rules over something. Who gets to decide where the line is drawn? I mean, we’ve had complaints over *cursing* in books. We’ve had someone complain because the Qur’an was on a shelf where her three-year-old could see it (who couldn’t read, either, by the way, adding a new level of ridiculousness to this) and she wanted it moved to a higher shelf *in adult nonfiction*. Depending on who the people are, if they don’t know about libraries, this could basically be a death knell.

    I mean, not every library has this, but we have ways of dealing with this. For example, anything deemed potentially offensive is labeled 16+ and can’t be checked out by younger YA unless the parent signs a slip saying they don’t care what the kid checks out. So, yeah, that *is* a form of censorship, and one we’ve put in place just to keep the highly sexual or violent YA out of the hands of kids who may not be ready for it (and if they are, their parents can give them permission and it’s fine).

    Our state is very similar to Tennessee politically, so it’s disheartening to hear that they’re taking this approach, too. I wouldn’t be surprised if our state attempts something similar in the near future. 😐


    • Krysta says:

      I think it’s pretty scary people are proposing that FIVE community members should be able to prevent EVERYONE from accessing certain materials. If that isn’t censorship, I don’t know what it is.

      But it is insulting on many levels, too. Do lawmakers really think Scholastic, say, publishers works unfit for children, like the editors don’t know what’s age appropriate? Do they think the marketing team doesn’t know what age to put on the cover. Do they think professional reviewers in School Library Journal and VOYA also don’t know what ages to recommend books for? And that collection librarians also don’t know? And that, once a book is on the shelf, the rest of the library staff can’t look at it and say, “Hm, maybe move this from juvenile to YA?” There are SO MANY levels of people looking at a book and evaluating its content for age appropriateness, but apparently all these professionally-trained people are wrong and must be corrected by five random individuals who may or may not have any background or interest in literature or childhood development. It’s, frankly, bizarre.

      Yeah, putting age limits on certain materials can be considered censorship. I know my library was discussing it years ago in regards to what films could be checked out on what cards. I think some libraries just try to move around it by shelving anything not G-rated in adult, so they assume kids won’t go over there unless their adult lets them. My problem with that is, you’re, say, looking for Frozen or the newest Aladdin film, and suddenly your child can see the cover for a horror film or a super sexy film.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sammie @ The Writerly Way says:

        It’s extremely disheartening, for sure, that they don’t think the system is working well enough. Not to mention that they think someone unrelated or unaffiliated to the library and books in general would know better and can make a decision better than the people whose job it is to handle them every day and actually, you know, read them and know their content.

        Ooof, that’s a really hard situation to be in. The way my library dealt with it is that only adults can check out movies, and we just separated them by rating. So G and PG and NR children’s movies are in one section, and PG13, R, and adult NR movies are in another, so there’s a small separation between the two so the kids can go through them without being exposed to adult movies unless their parents are cool with it.

        I mean, to be fair, parenting in general is censorship. At the library, we feel our job is to give the parents enough information to make an informed decision, and if they don’t want to censor anything, there’s an avenue for that. But if they do? That’s also their right, and we facilitate that. Really, what it comes down to for me is informed decisions and empowering people to make them. Completely removing that decision isn’t the way.


Leave a Reply! We'd love to read your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.