2010 Mover & Shaker Ramona Harten, director of Cheshire Public Library, spoke on an ALTAFF panel–Murder in Connecticut vs. Cheshire Public Library–with Cheshire library board president Carol DiPietro, Kent Oliver (executive director, Stark Cty. [OH] District Library), and Candace Morgan (editor and contributing author for ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Manual).
In an effort to help librarians prepare for and deal with challenges and intellectual freedom issues, the panel explained the situations they faced last year after the library purchased a book (Brian McDonald’s In The Middle of the Night) about a recent horrific murder of a local family. Harten and DiPietro expressed relief to be discussing the issue in an environment of librarians after being faced with such anger from people in the town who were opposed to the library’s decision.
In a symbolic vote after much media attention and rowdy, emotional, packed public hearings, the library board voted 5-1 in favor of upholding Harten’s decision to purchase and circulate the book, and, although things have calmed down since February, Harten continued to receive hate mail and push back months after the decision was made.
She stressed the importance of having a clear, publicly available selection policy that delineates a final arbiter who decides what will stay in the collection so challenges cannot be rehashed indefinitely–a major time-suck and productivity killer for the library and board. Morgan recommended keeping information on how the library deals with complaints and how to file them on the library’s website.
Harten feels that one of the worst parts of the whole process was the loss of productivity. The entire staff was briefed on a regular basis, and Morgan reiterated the necessity of communicating the library’s values to everyone on staff and making sure they understand if an intellectual freedom situation arises what is expected of them and how to respond to media. An attendee who’d faced a less intense controversy expressed that for her, despite the lost time, new policies drafted as a result were one positive outcome.
The panel also recommended all libraries develop a code of ethics for the board so that personal beliefs or conflicts of interest cannot skew their decision making. Learning from a difficult situation, the speakers strongly suggested requiring reconsideration request forms be signed by individuals (to avoid illegitimate electronic submission blasts), include reasons why the material shouldn’t be in the collection, and what recourse they want, and that each should be responded to individually.
Visit ALA Annual Conference News for ongoing coverage of the conference by the editors of Library Journaland School Library Journal, and see LJ‘s Flickr page for pictures of various show events.