I am angry. Quite angry. It is unusual for me to feel strong emotions, especially anger. But, apparently, politicians in my adopted home state of Missouri can get my blood boiling. Missouri State Representative Ben Baker recently filed a “Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act” that “would require all Missouri public libraries to establish parental review boards, with members elected by voters, that would approve library display material and events”. The bill, which is seemingly wide in scope, has apparently been drafted, in large part, to target Drag Queen Storytime events. These are events held at public libraries where Drag Queens, in full drag regalia, conduct a storytime for early learners. Often the stories selected focus on “outsiders” and why inclusion is a good thing.
I am angry not only that this bill is targeting Drag Queen Storytime events, but also that it is targeting librarians across the state. One of the provisions of the bill states that librarians that do not acquiesce to the decision of Parental Oversight boards face up to a year in jail! This is, simply, ludicrous. There are enough pressures on public libraries and those who staff them already. Threats of jail time do nothing to relieve these pressures.
I am angry that the attacks are not only coming from the outside, but also from the inside. The copious amount of Facebook comments I have encountered are enough to convince me that there is a sizable contingency of librarians who believe that the profession has brought this upon itself. That libraries should stay out of politics and remain neutral. However, in my conception of the profession and of the field, libraries are never neutral. There are always choices being made about which information to include and which to exclude. Libraries are spaces that should feel open and welcoming to all, but especially to those in marginalized communities. They should never feel cold, clinical, and “neutral”. After all, as theologian Desmond Tutu remarked, “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
I am angry that this is what librarians (current and future) are having to deal with. We should be focused on celebrating literacy and the fact that children are being exposed to quality literature. We should be championing inclusion and making space for marginalized populations. Instead we are mired in a political conversation that seeks, as its end goal, censorship and exclusion. These aren’t the battles we should be fighting in 2020, but this is the fight that has found our field.
I am angry, but the story is far from over. We can fight. We should fight. Here in the state of Missouri, drag queens are at the forefront of fighting State Representative Baker’s odious bill. Indeed, a protest is planned at the Missouri State Capital for March 07, 2020. I have every intention of being there, championing literacy, diversity, and inclusion. Join me, if you can.
Nick Dean is a second-year master’s student in the School of Library and Information Management (SLIM) at Emporia State University. Nick currently works full-time as an academic advisor at a medical school and as a part-time employee at a medical library, both in the Kansas City metro.