Jo Ann Pinder fired from Gwinnett library system in Georgia

I’ve been following the controversial story of Jo Ann Pinder’s firing this week. It’s a chiling story about the director of the Gwinnett County Public Library with 15 years of exceptional service fired by a 3 to 5 board vote, without cause. Her library system had been named Library of the Year by Library Journal in 2000.

Most people point to one board member and her influence over other members as the incentive for this move. Others point to the GCPLwatch website which clearly is concerned with issues like filtering [GCPL does filter], porn, the Boy Scouts and the American Library Association. Their issues page points to a “what’s wrong with ALA” article written by the folks at Family Friendly Libraries (whose website has been down all week for some reason). Their argument about ALA seems to focus on issues like ALA’s support of collections and displays containing information on Gay History (calling the Stonewall Awards “garbage”), books that are “expensive pop culture mind polluters” and the “hypocrisy” of the Intellectual Freedom Manual. The URL is registered to Warren Furlow who has wanted to “harmonize the library system with conservative values” of the community. Other contacts for that group include Judy Craft, a local Family Friendly Library advocate who complained abotu the library providing books in Spanish, among other things.

This firing is bringing to the forefront a larger issue that librarians and library professional organizations have been discussing forever: local control. If you and your library support gay people being treated just like anyone else, but your community doesn’t, what do you do? This came up in a Council meeting last year when Council was discussing what to do about states that were discussing withholding funding for libraries who didn’t restrict books on gay topics to adult collections only. Some chapter Councilors discussed how having ALA come out against this would make their jobs difficult and that they were trying to work from within organizations to change attitudes and hopefully also funding decisions. Another Councilor likened being asked to not speak out on this topic to the Jim Crow laws where racism and segregation were institutionalized in the South. I don’t think this is any different. While I’m willing to listen to anyone explain to me what other reason a library board might have to fire their director without cause, this seems like predjudice and hysteria that the library community should not remain silent on.

More from the blogosphere: Sarah Long, Kathleen de la Peña McCook, Karen Schneider, Annoyed Librarian (with comment from one of the gcpl watch folks), photos of the meeting from Michael Casey, GCPL branch manager. [bugmenot login info]

22 thoughts on “Jo Ann Pinder fired from Gwinnett library system in Georgia

  1. Jessamyn West! That is a completely dishonest post and completely ignores every other significant item listed on the GCPLWatch timeline, including the genealogy records and movie collection. They even gave her credit for the filtering issue and, according to them, it was members of ALA who disapproved of her actions there.

  2. RE: local control — it’s not so much a matter of what you and your library support, as it is a matter of the library’s responsibility to the entire community. Are there gay people in your community? Then you have a responsibility toward them, just as you do to other members of the community. The art is in welcoming everyone, even if they choose to turn away.

  3. My class in “Librarianship and Human rights” have all been recommended to read this post.It is just a superb synthesis of this topic.
    Tonight marks one year that the Tampa-Hillsborough County Commission banned the celebration of Gay Pride at our Public Library. We will mark this event by reading out loud from some of the banned books at a local branch. The difference between Gwinnett and Hillsborough is that Hillsborough complied. A lot of people have been marginalized but it seems in state like Florida where Jeb Bush supports the anti-gay marriage movement that there is little recourse. The good news is that not all Florida libraries lie down for the so-called family friendly. New Port Richey Public Library held gay pride events with no community outcry. Tolerance takes work. Censorship is for the small minded. Gwinnett County is not a palce I’d want to live. Isn’t this the area Newt Gingrich represented?

  4. I am a student in the Human Rights in Librarianship class referenced above. We just covered the issues of regarding the ALA and the code of ethics (and amendments) added recently. On the one hand it seems library professionals are bound by the tenets included in the Library Bill of Rights and ALA code of ethics while having to cater to certain groups and their belief systems or face certain intimidation. In the past,libraries had become the last frontier for free thought and expression of that thought. Libraries have always been the repository of information intended to be apolitical in nature. Libraries seem to have now evolved into the targets of the political right under the code name “Family Friendly”. I was under the impression that public libraries are funded with public revenue collected from all citizens including Gays and Lesbians. At what point do we as citizens (and future librarians)say enough is enough and discrimination on any level in any forum will not be tolerated?


  5. Why is the ALA marketing sex (of any orientation) and promiscuous lifestyles to children?

  6. I really don’t think that ALA markets anything. ALA has a Bill of Rights which basically says that resources should be provided for ALL people (not just some), libraries should provide information that represents all points of view (not just mainstream), and that exhibit spaces and meeting rooms should be made available to all “regardless of beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.”
    Public libraries are just that–PUBLIC.

  7. Yes, and children are children not adults, something ALA is incapable of ackowledging.

  8. It is not up to ALA to monitor what children read or don’t…that is a parent’s responsibility. What ALA does (or tries to do) is allow the flow of information. It is up to the individual to then decide what he or she reads or doesn’t.
    I agree with you without question when you say that children are not adults… that is why they have parents.

  9. Your comment is correct…children are not adults…that is why they have parents. Libraries provide the information, all points of view if possible. It is up to the individual to choose what he/she reads or doesn’t. It is not the responsibility of ALA to monitor what a child reads.

  10. Then libraries should close their doors from when school lets out until parents can get home from work. They should stop advertising their services to kids and stop programming that encourages kids to come to the library.

    To say its the parents responsibility is to ignore just how hard libraries have tried to take on that exact role.

  11. Your comment is correct… soldiers are not civilians… that is why they have sergeants. Arms dealers provide the landmines, all types of triggers if possible. It is up to the individual to choose what he/she steps on or doesn’t. It is not the responsibility of shareholders to monitor where a soldier steps.

  12. I don’t think that libraries have tried to take the role of parents. Maybe I misunderstood your comment? Yes libraries provide services for children, but they are just that. They include storytimes, craft events and the like and in the library where I work parents are encouraged to join their children during the programs. I have never witnessed any problems with childrens programming. On the other hand I have seen when children’s programming is not available and that has led to complaints from parents. That libraries should close their doors till parents get home from work….well, that wouldn’t be fair to those stay at home mothers and fathers would it? or to the rest of the public.I have seen many parents come in our library with children and advise them on what they think is appropriate reading material or not. They take an active role in their children’s lives. Do they agree with everything that is on library shelves? No, but who does? Again a library is a public entity and therefore must serve the public not just certain people.

  13. No, Greg, you should not let your kids go to the library without you, if you think libraries have materials you don’t want your kids to have access to. Because it’s not the library’s job to watch over your kids, nor is it the library’s job to presume that all parents don’t want their children to have access to library materials without parental supervision. As the parent of a precocious and inquisitive girl, I’d be furious if a librarian prevented her from having access to certain materials or information on the grounds that “she’s a child, and we must protect her.” That’s not their call. I don’t get to tell your kids what they can and can’t watch on TV, you don’t get to tell my daughter what information she can and can’t have access to.

  14. In response to Deborah’s question “at what point do we say enough is enough” — the battle is ongoing. ALA (whatever its faults) has been steadfast is its anti-censorship activities. Librarians and concerned citizens deal with these issues every day. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that these freedoms can be definitively won. There will always be pockets of well-meaning citizens who will fight hard to control what information other people can have access to, and who will attempt to ban certain books in the mistaken belief that this is the best way to protect children. Those who believe that this is the wrong direction for a free society have to be vigilant always.

  15. Oh, and I also intended to mention that it would be good for ALA to go on record opposing the ridiculous attempt on the part of a couple of New Jersey Democratic Assemblywomen to ban Ann Coulter’s new book. Individuals can refuse to buy it (and I hope they do), but it should be available in every bookstore and every library. It’s a genuine reflection of a thread of American culture and it needs to be debated and argued with, not banished.

  16. I agree with TScott. The ALA should go on the record against the banning of Ann Coulter’s book. I am the last person on the planet that would buy that book however I don’t agree that any public official should advocate that it be banned. Ann is doing a good job all by herself turning people off especially conservatives.

  17. Whether it’s a Library Board, or a director of a library, bottom line, if someone doesn’t ‘like’ you, they will figure out a way to get rid of you. Or they will make you so miserable, for example, with a transfer to another library in (roundtrip travel might be 35 plus miles) that one would resign.
    Georgia is an ‘at will’ employer/employee, and most folks have no legal avenue once they are terminated. Lucky for Jo Ann to have a hefty severance check, not available to most people, unless it is in their contract. Success is the sweetest revenge, and it won’t be long for Jo Ann to obtain an even better directorship somehwere else, if she so chooses. Crystal.

  18. Mark, Greg, (and anyone else), do you really and truly want the government–even the local government–playing ‘nanny’ to your children?

  19. The children are who are being hurt by the apathy, beaucracy and general lack of knowledge of what managing a library should entail. People need to govern their children. Discipline them and determine what is appropriate reading material for your child. What we should be discussing is your child coming into the library screaming, cursing, kissing, having sex, tearing up books, tearing up computer equipment, stealing anything they can grab and mistreating staff and customers and lastly fighting. Sadly, it is because YOU are so busy veching about “the gays” you are not paying attention to the fact your 13 year old girl has repeatedly been caught having sex in the library. Govern yourself and your child. No, you yimwatwits are spending precious time banning books. That is the purpose of a free access democratic society: It’s called SELECTIVE READING! I am outraged by the mindset of some parents. Your child unfortunately does not want to adhere to easily acceptable appropriate conduct rules. If you spent more time teaching your child manners, how to read a book, how to socialize and get along with others and lastly that the library is a privilege not a right. Instead you spend precious time and resources bickering about gay books. Stop spinning the wheel against the real issues. Gay people could care less about you and your out of control brat. Some of the words, language, racial/gender slurs, ridiculing the homeless it’s truly sick. But the only time we see a parent is when you claim sexuality is being taught to your child. Oh please, your child knew about sex long before he/she came to the library.

    Dropping a child at the library without parental supervision should be banned. That way we won’t have any more discussions about what you don’t want Suzie to read.

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