“First they ban books, now they go after libraries. What will be next?”
Literacy and civil liberties defenders on Wednesday excoriated Republican state lawmakers in Missouri after they gave their final approval to a budget that would completely defund the state’s public libraries and other essential services.
In addition to cutting the $4.5 million allocated for public libraries in Missouri’s $45.6 billion state budget, the final package approved on Tuesday cuts all government support for diversity initiatives, childcare, and pre-kindergarten programs, Heartland Signal reports.
Rep. Cody Smith (R-163), who heads the House Budget Committee, proposed ending state library funding after the ACLU of Missouri filed a lawsuit earlier this year on behalf of the Missouri Association of School Librarians and the Missouri Library Association challenging a bill barring educators from “providing sexually explicit material” to students.
After being sued by Missouri librarians for banning library books, Missouri House Republicans voted to defund all of the state’s public libraries. Their budget also cuts funding for diversity initiatives, childcare, and pre-kindergarten programs.https://t.co/3y7G27Nqju— Ibram X. Kendi (@DrIbram) April 12, 2023
According to the Riverfront Times, Missouri schools have banned more than 300 books since the law went into effect. These include works about Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, graphic novel adaptations of Shakespeare and Mark Twain, the Gettysburg Address, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus.
“First they ban books, now they go after libraries,” political and digital strategist Nathan Mackenzie Brown tweeted after Tuesday’s vote. “What will be next?”
In 2019 I was keynote speaker for the Missouri Library Association’s annual conference. Hardworking & dedicated librarians sought to find new ways to support communities well beyond the transaction of borrowing books. This is a travesty – & unconstitutional. Strike this down now! https://t.co/kJaafXDrfW— Caroline Sharkey, LCSW, PhD (she/they) (@CSharkey77) April 12, 2023
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage called the library defunding “despicable and dangerous.”
“I learned to dream and think more expansively in libraries,” Nottage tweeted Wednesday. “It was where I went after school while my parents were working.”
In a Missouri Independent opinion article published Monday, James Tager, research director at the free expression group PEN America, wrote that “Missouri’s new effort to punish libraries is vindictive and harmful.”
"Make no mistake: This amendment enables book banning on a statewide scale"— PEN America (@PENamerica) April 10, 2023
In @MO_Independent, PEN America Research Director @JRTtager explains why Missouri's new effort to punish libraries is vindictive and harmful https://t.co/G453lwVS6U #BannedBooks #Libraries #FreeTheBooks
Tager argued the such policies especially harm the “children who lawmakers are claiming to protect by shrinking access to libraries’ educational materials and programs.”
“The budget proposal is about political power—with children as pawns,” he added.
Tager contended that the cuts “will disproportionately hurt economically disadvantaged and rural Missourians,” as “libraries typically provide other essential services, including free access to Wi-Fi and computers.”
“Local libraries in rural areas are particularly dependent on state funding,” he added. “Librarians have already stated that, if this budget passes, they will have to cut back on services, including those that have helped Missouri communities get access to lifesaving health information.”
🧵 There once was a kid who had to take 3 busses to get home from school. His mom was a single parent who had to work, so she couldn’t pick him up after school. He got home after dark, then his long night of homework began. Long day, long night.— Christopher Webb (@cwebbonline) April 12, 2023
As the Missouri Senate takes up the House-approved budget, there are signs that public library funding could be saved. Sen. Lincoln Hough (R-30), the body’s chief budget writer, has said he plans to restore the $4.5 million in the upper chamber’s version of the legislation.
The move by Missouri Republicans to eliminate library funding comes amid a surge in GOP book-banning in schools and libraries across the country.
As Common Dreams reported last month, censorship of books—especially books about the lives and struggles of people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and other marginalized groups—has reached record highs. According to the American Library Association, 2,571 unique titles were challenged in 2022, a 38% increase from the previous year.
Dems put #PeopleOverPolitics and passed a bipartisan infrastructure law.— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) March 24, 2023
What are MAGA Republicans focused on? Destroying our public libraries and replacing them with church libraries. Imagine how boring: no Lord of the Rings; no dinosaur stories; no books about Charles Darwin. https://t.co/ZiXA6E8bAB
At the federal level, congressional Republicans last month introduced the so-called Parents Bill of Rights Act, which would force educators to make classroom curricula publicly available and provide parents with a list of reading materials in school libraries.
“Conservatives have weaponized hate and fear to try to tear our schools apart, with students who just want to learn and thrive turned into pawns in their political games,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said in response to the bill’s introduction.
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