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Defunding Libraries in Missouri: Otter Bowman’s Unwavering Fight Against Censorship

July-June 2023​

Headshot of Otter Bowman
Otter Bowman, President of the Missouri Library Association and Library Associate at the Daniel Boone Regional Library

4 Questions with Otter Bowman

In the heart of Missouri, Otter Bowman, President of the Missouri Library Association, is leading a valiant effort to defend libraries from the threat of defunding. As a library associate at the Daniel Boone Regional Library, Bowman knows firsthand the significance of libraries, particularly in rural communities. She is resolute in her mission to protect these vital resources from potential closures and service cuts due to reduced state funding.

The Missouri Library Association has been at the forefront of a pressing battle against the introduction of strict new regulations that took effect on May 30. These regulations could endanger state funding for libraries that offer books deemed inappropriate for young readers. This move is indicative of a growing trend where government funding is being used as a weapon in the contentious dispute over the availability of certain books.

The issue has reached a critical point, with libraries experiencing an alarming surge in book bans, a phenomenon not witnessed in decades. A significant proportion of these bans revolve around LGBTQ themes and discussions on race and racism. While proponents argue for safeguarding young minds from sensitive topics, critics emphasize the importance of intellectual freedom, diversity, and inclusivity in a democratic society.

Bowman’s concerns lie not only in the potential loss of funding for libraries but also in the implications these regulations could have on the availability of diverse literature for young readers. For rural communities, libraries are often the primary source of information, education, and enrichment, making the threat of service cuts even more troubling.

Bowman has argued that library professionals have a duty to uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and the First Amendment. She is adamant that books should not be banned or removed from libraries based on subjective opinions or discomfort. Instead, we should encourage dialogue, understanding, and critical thinking.

Bowman’s has been actively working with local communities, educators, and advocacy groups to promote awareness of the potential consequences of these regulations. She and her colleagues have been urging citizens to engage in conversations about the value of libraries in the digital age and the importance of access to diverse literary works for all patrons.

The Missouri Library Association’s advocacy efforts have drawn attention from both supporters and opponents of the new regulations. While some applaud their dedication to protecting intellectual freedom, others argue that certain books may not be appropriate for all age groups. The ongoing debate is a reflection of broader national discussions on the role of libraries and the limits of freedom of expression.

In this audio Q&A, Bowman discusses some fundamental principles that lie at the heart of every library: access to knowledge, intellectual freedom, and the right to explore diverse perspectives within the pages of a book. The battle over books in Missouri and other states has become emblematic of a larger cultural struggle, and Bowman’s dedication has made her a symbol of resistance in this critical chapter of library history.

Q: Could you provide an overview of the right-wing efforts to ban books and defund libraries in Missouri and beyond and why have they gained such traction?


Q: What are some of the key arguments and justifications put forth by those supporting these efforts, and how do they respond to criticism of censorship and limited access to information?


Q: Would you please talk about the work you've been doing to fight against these initiatives.


Q: In your opinion, what are the potential long-term consequences of these book banning and library defunding efforts on education, intellectual freedom, and public access to information, both in Missouri and in a broader national context?


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