November 22, 2017

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UPDATE: Teen Library Advocates Get Booted Out of Missouri Governor’s Office

(Updated: April 3, 2015 at 6:49 p.m. ET) Last week, teen services librarian Wick Thomas found himself being involuntarily escorted out of Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s office by a state trooper along with the group of teens he’d traveled with from Kansas City to Jefferson City earlier that day. Thomas, plus a group of approximately 100 teens—and supervising staff members of The Kansas City Public Library (KCPL), including KCPL executive director Crosby Kemper III—had traveled to Jefferson City, MO, on March 18 to meet with legislators to protest the $6 million cuts in library spending in Fiscal Year 2016.

Crosby Kemper tweeted:

Thomas, who is a teen services librarian at KCPL and a 2014 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, started the Save MO (Missouri) Libraries group last month. In a phone call, he relates how he organized the trip to speak to legislators about restoring the state library budget and to show the teens how accessible their state politicians are. “They learned something different,” he says about the teens, following their ejection from Nixon’s office, “but now they’re fired up.” Before attempting to meet with Nixon, members of Save MO Libraries had met other legislators that day to make the case for restoring library funds, including Secretary of State Jason Kander’s chief-of-staff, Missouri State Librarian Barbara Reading, Representatives Judy Morgan and Brandon Ellington, and State Senators Jason Holsman, and S. Kiki Curls, the latter who serves on the Appropriations Committee. “We met about 20 legislators in total,” says Erica Whorton, a longtime employee of KCPL who traveled with the Save MO Libraries group.

WALK IN

Save MO Libraries didn’t have an official appointment with Governor Nixon, says Thomas. In the weeks leading up to the trip to Jefferson City, he’d been trying to schedule a meeting with the governor and left Nixon’s office a series of unanswered voice messages and emails. “I got an email the day before [we went to Jefferson City] from a staffer [telling me] that Nixon was going to be in meetings all day. I responded that we will be stopping by the office the next day at 4:20 p.m. I was told that was fine.”

As Kemper tells it in an email, both he and Thomas waited in the governor’s reception area with approximately 20–25 teens. Adds Thomas, they were given the opportunity to speak to three staff members, who didn’t introduce themselves. “It was the teens speaking and asking questions [about why the governor was defunding libraries], not me,” Thomas says and adds that he believes the staff didn’t like the questions the kids were asking. According to the Save MO Libraries website, the cuts will result in the reduction of “collections, services, and staff,” as well as library branch closures and the loss of free, public access to the Internet.

Save MO Libraries teens sit in on a legislative session in the Missouri state capitol. Photo courtesy of Elena McVicar

Save MO Libraries teens sit in on a legislative session in the Missouri state capitol. Photo courtesy of Elena McVicar

After two or three questions, the group was asked to leave, because they “became loud to the point that it was disruptive to the business of the office,” according to Ansley Channing, Governor Nixon’s head of communications, in an email. 

Save MO Libraries was guided out of the office with the assistance of the state trooper on hand. “When we asked [the staff] if we could meet with them in the hall if it was too loud in his office, they said no and that they wouldn’t take any more questions,” tells Thomas who adds that the trooper said he would call for back up if they didn’t leave. Many of the teens, he says, felt upset and angry. “They tried to convince us to have a sit in.” (They didn’t, and some went on to sit in on a legislative session.)

As for the whereabouts of Governor Nixon, KCPL’s Kemper posted a photo of the governor accompanied by four state troopers exiting his office through an alternative exit soon after the expulsion, which his daughter had captured on her camera phone.

Kemper’s tweet:

“We are not the Taliban, we are Librarians,” commented Amy Johnson Hopkins, the reference librarian at Centralia (MO) Public Library, in an article on an NBC local affiliate site regarding the governor’s avoidance of the protesters.

LIBRARY BUDGET CUTS AFFECT EVERYONE 

It’s not just librarians who will be affected by these cuts, but everyone, says Whorton, including teens, young children, parents, and the elderly. Whorton, who started going to the public library as a teenager, has heard first-hand testimony from the teenagers she works with about the impact of libraries in their lives. “We have several teens who grew up on the street, and they said [the library] is the only place where [they] feel safe. It is the only place that [they] can get away from the situation at home…It’s a safe haven.”

She also brings up how the library fills the needs of the most vulnerable kids, many who do not have access to the Internet at home. “They can use the Internet to find jobs,” she says. “And there are those who can’t afford book prices, so the library is the only place where they can check out a book.”

Looking forward, Thomas says that the Save MO Library petition currently has over 1,700 signatures, and even though he is still upset how his patrons were treated by the governor’s staff, he hopes the governor will realize what a mistake he’s made and release the $6 million in library funding. As for the teenage advocates who learned some adult lessons last week, “they want to continue this [Save MO Libraries] campaign,” says Thomas. “They are incredibly strong.”

And there is a silver lining to this experience, explains Kemper, “The huge cut in library funding in the Governor’s budget is now a live statewide issue.”

Update: On April 3, Governor Nixon announced he was releasing the $6 million funds back to libraries.

To find out more about Save MO Libraries, visit the official website, sign the petition, and join the group on Facebook.

Read more about the future of Missouri libraries on Library Journal:

MO Withheld Library Funds Restored; 2016 Funding in Flux

 

Carolyn Sun About Carolyn Sun

Carolyn Sun was a news editor at School Library Journal. Find her on Twitter @CarolynSSun.

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Comments

  1. Wow. That’s definitely the way to treat future voters (in just a few years) and taxpayers. What is the Governor scared of?