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A Missouri library board limits teens from getting a library card without a parent in tow

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A new St. Charles City-County library policy requires anyone under 18 to have a parent or guardian present to sign up for a library card. The move came in response to new rules from Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft threatening funding for libraries over "age-inappropriate" materials.

St. Charles area teens will now have to go through an extra hurdle to get a library card—their parents.

Teenagers under the age of 18 will now have to bring a parent or guardian with them to a St. Charles City-County Library branch to sign up for a library card. The library’s board approved the policy this month, said Jason Kuhl, the CEO of the St. Charles City-County Library District.

“Most of the things that the rule addresses have been in place in libraries for years,” Kuhl said. “We have always had a way to challenge items. We have always been staunch advocates for parental involvement with their kids library access. We encourage it. We’re on their side. We want to make sure that parents are involved.”

The policy is in response to a new state rule by Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft. It creates a certification process for state-funded public libraries to adopt policies for age-appropriate reading materials. In an interview with St. Louis Public Radio in December, Ashcroft said the state rule is about protecting children.

“It'll help parents know what's going on so they can make whatever decision they see fit about what their children check out,” Ashcroft said. “This is all about transparency and about parent control, which libraries are saying they believe parents should be in charge.”

The new rule has been interpreted differently by each public library, according to Otter Bowman, the president of Missouri Library Association. That’s made it harder to enforce.

“Are they allowed to use our digital services?” Bowman said. “How do we know what they’re doing at home? It’s kind of an impossible feat to regulate what kids are doing away from their families. From our perspective, it’s up to the parents to limit what they want their kids to do. We can’t police every child individually.”

Prior to the new policy, the library allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to apply for a library card without parental approval. Kuhl said it’s already a challenge to get more teens to come to the library. He said this new policy could discourage teens from applying for library cards altogether.

“It’s interesting in today’s environment where pretty much anything is available to anyone on their phone, the idea that we have to sort of put this barrier up for a library, I think is pretty out of touch with what conditions in the real world actually are,” Kuhl said.

Bowman agrees.

“It’s definitely making access tough for some kids in particular, because if they are estranged from their parents, it’s going to be difficult for them to get that signature,” Bowman said. “It’s a challenging time.”

Bowman said some libraries throughout the state have opted to start fresh.

“Some of them have canceled all of the minor cards and rewritten the application, and require parents to come in and sign new card applications that have a checkbox that says whether or not it’s OK for the child to check out books if their parent isn’t present,” Bowman said.

The St. Charles City-County Library has chosen not to do that. Instead, parents have an option to opt out for existing cards and have their child’s card revoked.

Libraries throughout the state have until July 31 to submit their written policies to the state librarian.

Copyright 2023 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Marissanne Lewis-Thompson joined the KRCU team in November 2015 as a feature reporter. She was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri where she grew up watching a lot documentaries on PBS, which inspired her to tell stories. In May 2015, she graduated from the University of Missouri with a Bachelor of Journalism degree in Convergence Journalism. Marissanne comes to KRCU from KBIA, where she worked as a reporter, producer and supervising editor while covering stories on arts and culture, education and diversity.
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