radical books in libraries – problem or solution?

One of the largest challenges with serving “the public” is that you’re answerable to the public for your decisions. So when a conservative think tank issues a report that says your libraries are full of extremist literature and you reply that you’re trying to achieve a balanced collection, how do you think people are going to respond? This news story reminds me of this post to the library_mofo group on LiveJournal (sorry, if you’re not a member of the group you won’t be able to read it, but membership is free) where a newly minted MLIS grad starts a job in a Catholic school library and has to figure out what to do with the well-meaning but seemingly inappropriate donations (hate speech, graphic anti-abortion flyers) she receives from library patrons. If you’re seeing that the connection is having a good collection development policy and effective communication with the media and your library administration, you’re most of the way there. In the work I do over at MetaFilter, our last resort to people unhappy with policies is to tell them “well perhaps this isn’t the right community for you, you are welcome to leave at any time” but this is a much stickier issue in a public library, even though we do see libraries doing this from time to time. [thanks eoin]

4 thoughts on “radical books in libraries – problem or solution?

  1. Oops, I was interrupted by patrons in my first try at a response so here is a corrected version. (A weak excuse for my mistakes)

    I noticed that you said “and you reply that you’re trying to achieve a balanced collection.” I have been saying as loud as I can for many years that using the word balanced in describing what we are trying to do with our library collections is not a good idea. We will never achieve “balance.” What we are really trying to do, I believe, is have diverse library collections that reflect the many view points out in the world on issues.

    I find that balance often implies, though not always, that there are just two points of view. Yes, I know that one can achieve balance with more than two points of view but I just don’t think that is the usual perception. To achieve balance a collection would need an equal number of items repesenting each view. Of course, even when people view things in a similar way they don’t usually have exactly the same ideas on a subject. So, I am promoting the use of the term “diverse” to allow for the many differences over the word “balance.”

  2. I think that’s a good point Dee. I have a tendency to use balance when what I mean is diversity. I think the American model of “balance” is one of the things that makes our news shows so terrible. They do that two sides thing and make it seem like every issue has two valid (and equally weighted) sides to it when it’s often not the case at all.

  3. I am a librarian, but equally consider myself to be an avid USER of libraries. The study of religions and religious history is a passion of mine, and I couldn’t pursue it without libraries. So I say libraries MUST have material such as this; how can I truly understand the religious viewpoints of others if I cannot actually read them first-hand?

  4. i really wish we could just say:

    “if you don’t like it, don’t read it. you do not get to decide access policy for the following groups:

    1. people who are not you or your minor children.

    regarding access control for the minor children of people who are not you, see #1.”

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