It’s what follows that makes everyone in the future pay.
Missouri House Republicans want to defund libraries. Here’s why
Politics Updated on Apr 14, 2023 11:39 AM EDT — Published on Apr 13, 2023 5:11 PM EDT
ST. LOUIS– Missouri’s Republican-led House voted to cut all funding for libraries in its version of the state’s annual budget, an unprecedented move that has angered librarians and patrons across the state who rely on the facilities for everything from books to educational programming and internet access.
The proposal is not yet final; it now sits before the state Senate’s appropriations committee along with the rest of the annual $45.6 billion budget, and Republican chair Sen. Lincoln Hough said it would be his intention to restore library funding.
But for those who manage or use the state’s 160 library districts, especially in rural areas where services are not as robust, the threat feels real, librarians and patrons told the PBS NewsHour.
Tamara King, a parent and resident of St. Charles County, told the NewsHour it feels like the state’s residents should still be concerned even if the budget is not yet final.
“You start by taking away small things, right? And then you do that, you gain your support and then you go for the jugular, right? So that’s what they did. They took away everything. Now, where are these kids supposed to go and learn and have those activities that involve books?” King said. “Books create imagination.”
The right wingnut controlled Missouri General Assembly, go figure.
Jonathan Capehart: Representative Meredith, you’re on the Missouri house budget committee. What was your reaction to this budget proposal that [cross talk] seeks to essentially defund libraries?
Rep. Peter Meridith: I mean, honestly, you can just, [cross talk], that’s right, even just hearing you talk about the facts right now, walk through the circumstances, it’s hard to believe. And that’s how we felt when it was first presented to us, when the budget chair presented his proposal that Library funding be zeroed out. And then when we asked him why he actually went so far to explicitly say it was because of them suing over this book ban and how dare they sue against a bill that the Missouri legislature passed, that they believe is unconstitutional and has created a really big problem.
Jonathan Capehart: And Katie, help us understand why librarians in Missouri wanted to fight this state law creating criminal penalties for workers like yourself, um, criminal penalties for what the law says is distribution of sexually explicit material?
Katie Earnhart, director of the Cape Girardeau Public Library: Yeah, I mean, obviously we are for Americans’, uh, First Amendment freedoms. We want to make sure that people have access to information. That’s, that’s a core tenet of our profession and we rely on that. And right now that’s in jeopardy which puts our jobs in jeopardy and that’s, that’s something that is concerning for, for all people in this profession. And it’s not happening just here in Missouri, it’s across the country.
Jonathan Capehart: And to that point, Representative Meredith, um, this effort to cut the library’s budget isn’t just happening in Missouri. In Llano, Texas this week Republican Commissioners walked back their threat to close three libraries over their opposition to a book ban that residents argued violated First Amendments rights. You know, why do you think, uh, Republican elected officials turn to defunding libraries when there’s pushback over legislation restricting access to certain books?
Rep. Peter Meridith: Honestly, in places like this they have what feels like absolute power to them and they’re appealing to the furthest right in their base. And so, right now they have decided somehow that libraries and teachers and schools are, uh, the bullies they want to call the enemy and talk about brainwashing our kids. And, you know, like this library thing they can’t point to a single example in Missouri of, of something inappropriate and obscene being given to a kid. but they’re gonna manufacture this problem to work up their base. Uh, and then the defunding the libraries just feels like the next step to them and how they exert power and punish them for, uh, exercising their First Amendment rights. It’s, it’s, straight out of a dystopian novel in my opinion.
Jonathan Capehart: Right, you know ,Katie the majority of Missouri’s public libraries are in small and rural communities. Describe how a budget cut like this would impact libraries like your own in Cape Girardeau.
Katie Earnhart, director of the Cape Girardeau Public Library: Yeah, Jonathan, we’re set to lose roughly twenty-six thousand dollars with this cut, um, for our upcoming budget year. That’s money that we use for our collection development, to buy the books that you see behind me. And for us that makes up about twenty percent of our collection development [cross talk], collection development budget. You know, for, for us it, it’s only two percent of our overall budget, but for some libraries it’s a much larger, uh, percentage, a much larger impact that they’re going to have to, uh, withstand. Some libraries are going to have to evaluate whether or not they stay open as, as many hours whether or not they reduce services that they provide, very important services that they provide for their communities. And it’s something that we don’t want to have to, to worry about that. We already have shoestring budgets and when we have that money taken away, even a little bit ,it just makes our jobs that much harder to provide the needed resources and services that our communities rely on.
Missouri, where readin’ isn’t fundamental.