ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – St. Louis County Public Libraries are clashing with Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft over his proposed rule change for libraries and their inclusion of age-appropriate materials in their collections.

Ashcroft, a Republican considering running for governor in 2024, wants libraries to adopt written policies establishing age-appropriate guidelines for adding books or hosting events, allowing parents or guardians to determine which materials will be available to minors. The proposal forbids state library funding for materials that “appeal to the prurient interest of any minor.”

“That means erotic,” Ashcroft said. “That means salacious. That means pornographic. That’s the dictionary definition.”

The proposal also calls for libraries to have procedures for the public to challenge a library district’s determination of what is age-appropriate. Still, it does not take away a library’s authority over its collections, Ashcroft said.

This rule doesn’t ban any books,” he said.

The St. Louis County Public Library’s Board of Trustees just approved a resolution calling for the proposal to be rejected, citing concerns about “censorship and equitable access” and saying that policies already exist supporting the best interests of children and families, reflecting the diversity of race, culture, socio-economics, and lifestyle.

“It does smell like book banning. It’s a slippery slope,” said library patron Paige Crowley, who’s studying for a master’s degree in child development.

She didn’t think Ashcroft’s proposal was necessary.

“Parents can choose if they don’t want certain topics covered by their children. It’s definitely not anybody’s role to remove the availability of any topic in the library,” she said.

“It’s kind of like a child, whining and screaming,” Ashcroft said of the resolution. “If (StL County Public Libraries) really have a problem with the rule, I would expect librarians above all to read the rule and say, ‘Hey, this is how it should be better.’ There are materials that should not be at the train table where a 5-6-year-old are playing with ‘Thomas the Train,’ but maybe they’re fine in the ‘teenage’ section. The library’s going to make that call.”

Ashcroft would not mention specific book titles but says constituents have brought the issue to him repeatedly.

A 30-day public comment period began on Nov. 15. He said his office received thousands of comments. He urged everyone to weigh in and to be specific with their ideas for changes.

Read the proposed rule change.
Read the St. Louis County Public Library resolution here.

Anyone may file comments in support or opposition to the proposal by mail:

Missouri Secretary of State
P.O. Box 1767
Jefferson City, Mo. 65102

Or via email: comments@sos.mo.gov
Include the proposed rule number “15 CSR 30-200.015” in the subject line.