Librarians behaving badly
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.