Missouri House Bill 2044 is all the talk in the library community. There are talks about outrageous censorship and book banning. If I didn’t know any better, I would think that we were living in the world of Fahrenheit 451 by the headlines and comments being made about this bill. Let’s take a closer look at Bill 2044, shall we?
Bill 2044 was introduced on January 8, 2020. It is a bill that essentially looks to keep age inappropriate material out of the hands of minors. As the bill clearly states: “No public library shall receive any state aid under this section if such library allows minors to access age-inappropriate sexual materials in violation of section 182.821.” The bill goes on further to state that the community are to elect five board members that have no employment with the library, state, or local government. These board members who are elected by a majority vote would then decide what books are considered to be age inappropriate for minors serving no serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors (as the bill states). There is, of course, no mention of book banning as numerous articles falsely claimed.
Perhaps the most controversial part of the bill is the line that reads: “Any public library personnel who willfully neglects or refuses to perform any duty imposed on a public library under this section, or who willfully violates any provision of this section, is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction shall be punished by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars or by imprisonment in the county jail not to exceed one year.” Now, one year imprisonment does seem a bit extreme to me, but I also have a feeling that most judges are going to go with a simple fine and slap on the wrist with any first time offenders.
So what’s the big deal, I ask? Plot twist: it’s not a big a deal. This is just a typical case of a bunch of librarians catastrophizing a law that in all honesty should have been put into place years ago. Don’t get me wrong, as a writer, I find myself hating censorship. In fact, I loathe it. I always have an ear out for any potential censorship slipping into our country. Is this a form of censorship? It sure is. But is it really any different from age restricting movies, music, or video games? For some reason literature has been able to thrive without having a ratings commission. Maybe we should consider keeping such material out of the hands of youngsters, but that’s just my personal opinion.