Skip to content

Librarians behaving badly

June 19, 2010

I don’t write posts like this often, but some of what I’ve read this week left me disgusted and upset.

One of the reasons I got into librarianship was because I believe in things like intellectual freedom and equality of access to information. These are some of the basic tenets of our profession, and yet I’ve read about three separate incidents this week in which libraries/librarians are denying their community access to certain books or types of books. And, in some cases, not even following proper procedures to do so.

1. A gay teen on the importance of GLBT books and who is therefore understandably angry by the lack of in his school library and public library.

When I set out to find more LGBT titles, I turned to my school’s library. Honestly? It was pathetic. There was not one single LGBT novel. … When I asked her about it, she replied, “This is a school library. If you are looking to read inappropriate titles, go to a book store.” Uhm, how in the hell is LGBT YA lit “inappropriate”?

2. Liz B. on the removal of Revolutionary Voices from a public library’s adult non-fiction collection because “children could find it.” Seriously? It was in the *adult* collection. Books in the adult collection were selected for *adult* readers, not children. There are kids who are mature enough and read at a high enough level that they may find books of interest to them in the adult collection, but I don’t think the librarian in charge of collection development for the adult materials should select books based on what’s appropriate for children. The priority should be meeting the needs of the population they serve, e.g. adults.

ETA: Julie points out in the comments that Revolutionary Voices is a YA book.

3. The first story in Librarified’s discussion of two different challenges to Get Well Soon by Julie Halpern. The second challenge was resolved according to procedure. In the first incident described, however, letting the library board basically determine the collection development policy? What?! And if that’s not bad enough, just wait until the next part.

At APL, the book was immediately taken to the director, who looked at the first page, decided the book was inappropriate, and had it removed it from the collection. The book itself didn’t even go to the pile of general library discards that’s sold by the Friends of the Library as a fundraiser: it went into the dumpster. This all happened within an hour of the mom’s initial challenge to the book.

And the craziest part of this story is that while this was happening, the teen librarian was on vacation, and when she returned, no one from management told her it’d happened. In her absence, the book just disappeared. She only found out later when the checkout clerk who was the mom’s first point of contact told the teen librarian, which she wasn’t supposed to have done.

This particular story just left me speechless.

If one of your job duties is collection development, then part of being a good librarian is putting aside your personal preferences and including among your purchases books you may dislike or flat out disagree with. You’re not selecting books for yourself, but for the community, regardless of whether the community is a school or a neighborhood. And the community includes people of different ages, racial/ethnic backgrounds, genders, education levels, and incomes, with different needs, interests, tastes, and life experiences, to highlight just a few areas of diversity. Once a book is part of the collection, if a challenge occurs, then it should be handled according to the library’s materials reconsideration policy. So reading the stories above, in which librarians deliberately put their preferences ahead of their patrons’, or allowed a group of individuals to dictate to the *entire* community what is or is not available in the library, was troubling. Such incidents are wrong and unethical and they bother me. To put it mildly.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. June 19, 2010 4:38 pm

    These make me so angry!!! I can’t believe that there are librarians-people in this profession-who would ban a book or not include it on their shelves. Makes me angry as well.

  2. June 19, 2010 4:49 pm

    OMG, they threw the book in the dumpster. WTF, that is crazy and wrong on so many levels.

  3. June 20, 2010 3:29 am

    Librarians and library staff are afraid. Flat out. Libraries are in jeopardy, either from flat-out closing or from such reductions in money (or threatened reduction) as to make libraries little more than a building with old books.

    In the Revolutionary Voices/Burlington County Public Library case, the reason I know about is is library staff telling me, complete with documentation, off the record.

    What I continue to be surprised about is, for a GLBT book to be removed from an adult nonfiction collection, and it not be more widely reported. The NJ GLBT organizations haven’t spoke up (except for one comment that appeared to support the removal of the book from the high school library); the press isn’t reporting it; it’s mainly a few of us, in the book blogosphere.

  4. June 21, 2010 5:02 am

    I am always shocked to hear these kinds of stories. What library system does not have a Request for Reconsideration policy firmly in place?

    What I find particularly shocking is that in your last example it sounds as though they were deliberately trying to conceal this action from her. How unprofessional. In fact, it is abhorrent.

  5. June 22, 2010 9:55 am

    I write this kind of post all the time. Because I like to complain, and rouse the rabble, and call people out on their bullshit. I agree with Liz–it is scary to be ethically courageous, but someone has to do it.

  6. missjulie permalink
    June 22, 2010 9:59 am

    Also, Revolutionary Voices is published for Young Adults, so hiding it away in the adult collection is a smaller, but no less vile, way of denying access to the intended audience–teens.

  7. October 12, 2010 8:47 am

    I’m in my second year of library school, and I just started working in a public library.

    This behavior always shocks me. It’s not as common in my library branch, but I’ve heard of similar situations in other branches. It really just boggles my mind.

    I also think it comes down to libraries being afraid to piss of their community by leaving a book in their library. It sucks, but I think that’s whats happening right now.


  1. BBAW — First Treasure « Challenging the Bookworm Blog

join the discussion

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: