Downtown library (copy)

A patron skims a book in the stacks of the St. Joseph Public Library’s Downtown branch. The library is looking at ways to reopen its branches once the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided. Curbside pickup is expected to be put into effect possibly next month.

We agree that a board needs to examine the appropriateness of materials at public libraries.

And we think that these boards already exist. In the case of the St. Joseph Public Library, a nine-member board of trustees has authority to make the ultimate decision on whether to remove inappropriate or sexually oriented materials from the shelves.

In Missouri, a House bill known as the Parental Oversight and Public Libraries Act seeks to establish parental review boards for the sole purpose of removing inappropriate material from public libraries. This proposal is objectionable just from an organizational standpoint, as it would create a parallel board that exists for a narrow purpose.

A new board asked to identify offensive material is likely to scour the collections and do just that. But a process already exists to flag library materials. The Public Library’s Board of Trustees holds open meetings. Anyone can ask the library director to remove an item that’s considered offensive or of questionable judgment.

The full board has the final call if someone disagrees with the library director’s decision. “It’s actually been several years since anything was requested to be moved,” said Mary Beth Revels, director of the St. Joseph Public Library.

An observant reader might be noticing a solution in search of a problem. In addition, that same reader might notice that the real issue isn’t a book that hasn’t been checked out in years, but the high-profile drag queen story hours that swept libraries across the country, including the one in St. Joseph last fall. Library directors should understand that this was a controversial move.

But these readings were one-time events — photo ops, really — with little long-term impact on library collections or services. While objectionable to some, they don’t justify the creation of smut police. They certainly don’t justify a law that criminalizes the actions of library directors who fail to remove items on a parental review board’s orders. The bill in the Missouri House would do that.

In reality, this bill does nothing to address drag queen story hours. If those who are deeply concerned about this trend want to make a change, they could look at requiring the direct election of library board members. Under existing statute, these board members are nominated by a mayor or county official and then approved by a full city council or county commission.

The library bill seems to be going nowhere in the Missouri House, with no committee hearing scheduled at this point. That’s good news.

Two popes might make for interesting TV, but two library boards shouldn’t make it past the pilot.