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A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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‘Right to Read Coalition’ launches during ‘Banned Books Week’


Banned Books Week” was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in libraries, bookstores and schools. Now, 41 years later, “Banned Books Week” is set for October 1-7 as the current landscape of book challenges remains front-page news. In the last 14 days, both the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the  New York Times published stories about recent banning trends based on new statistics from Pen America and the American Library Association.

Missouri was prominently mentioned in both stories because nationwide the state is ranked third based on 333 recorded bans by 11 state school districts.

Now, the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis (JCRC) and the National Council of Jewish Women St. Louis (NCJWSTL) are joining with several Missouri organizations to form a new coalition called “Right to Read.” It’s designed to be proactive and support future challenges to books in libraries, bookstores and schools.

“The Right to Read statewide coalition supports Missouri’s libraries to remain an open, accessible resource for books and other materials available free of charge to the public,” said Lise Bernstein, Right to Read steering committee chair.

| RELATED: St. Louis synagogue’s new ‘Banned Book Club’ is open to all

“The Right to Read Coalition”

According to Bernstein, the idea of a coalition developed after a November 2022 webinar hosted by JCRC featuring Missouri State Senator Jill Schupp, Melissa Corey of the Missouri Association of School Librarians and Margaret Conroy, executive director of Daniel Boone Regional Library System.

“This was just months before Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft issued his Missouri library rules,” said Bernstein. “There were over 300 people on the call, which tried to explain what these new rules would entail. JCRC was on top of this from the beginning, and NCJW has always been about education and access to information.”

Bernstein said the two groups came together this May after seeing new increases in the attempts to censor access to information at schools and public libraries.

“We have confidence in trained, experienced librarians and educators to evaluate and select materials available to the public,” said Bernstein. “They have policies in place through the American Library Association, on appropriate materials for collection and availability to the public. They have been in place for decades.”

What is the ‘Ashcroft Rule’?

The controversial administrative rule from Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office took effect in Missouri on May 30. It requires libraries to change their policies in order to receive state funding.

As stated in the proposal on Ashcroft’s website, libraries would adopt written policies determining what material is age-appropriate. As well, state funds could not be used to purchase or acquire inappropriate materials in any form that appeal to the prurient interest of a minor.

Libraries also would be required to honor a parent’s decision as to what material their child has access to in the library. Parents would have the right to challenge a library’s age-appropriate designation for any material.

“When state dollars are involved, we want to bring back local control and parental involvement in determining what children are exposed to,” said Ashcroft. “Foremost, we want to protect our children.”

Looking ahead 

The Right to Read coalition steering committee includes the Missouri Literacy Association; the International Literacy Association; the Special Interest Group Children’s Literature/Reading; the Missouri Education Equity Partnership; St. Louis University School of Education; Turn the Page KC; the National Council of Jewish Women-St. Louis Section; Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis; and U-Turn in Education, Nixa, Mo.

“The real aim and effect of these policies is to give legislators and state officials the power to prohibit access to books whose content they disagree with.  Libraries already have policies for collection development, under the trained expertise of librarians and educators, including a process for the public to request a review of materials,” said Bernstein.

Membership in the Right to Read Coalition is open to organizations and individuals who support the coalition’s purpose.  There is no financial commitment to joining the coalition.


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About the Contributor
Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer
Jordan worked at KSDK from 1995 to 2020. Jordan is a three-time Emmy award winner who produced every kind of show from news to specials during his tenure, creating Show Me St. Louis, The Cardinal Nation Show. He started ksdk.com in 2001 and won three Edward R. Murrow Awards for journalistic and website excellence in 2010, 2014 and 2020. Jordan has been married for 25 years and is the father of two college students. He is an avid biker, snowboarder, and beer lover. He created the blog drink314.com, focusing on the St. Louis beer community in 2015. Jordan has an incredible and vast knowledge of useless information and is the grandson of a Cleveland bootlegger.