Building A “Right to Know” Environment in the Library and the Community

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1. Craft and maintain a Materials Selection Policy. Good written policies establish credibility, assure consistency, and assign responsibility. The policy should be in written form and crafted with the input of staff and the libraries governing authority. Their involvement will ensure that those who may need to defend library selection understand the principles of intellectual freedom. A materials selection policy should define who is responsible for selecting in what areas and formats, and the criteria used in deciding what to purchase. Criteria for selection usually includes excellence of materials based on reviews (or award winners), diversity of viewpoint, patron demand, appropriateness for a particular age group, and community needs. Be sure your materials selection policy covers all formats including audiovisual materials. It is important to include such documents as The Library Bill of Rights and Freedom to Read Statement, Diversity in Collection Development, and Freedom to View Statement. All of these documents can be found in the appendixes of this manual. Your materials selection policy, like all policies, should be reviewed regularly and revised as needed.

2. Maintain a Materials Complaint Policy and procedures. As with any public service, libraries receive complaints and expressions of concern. One of the librarian’s responsibilities is to handle these complaints in a fair and respectful manner. Often these complaints are not made by a would-be censor but by a concerned patron. Often they just need to be listened to and feel that they can voice their concerns. Handled well, such complaints often serve as an opportunity to discuss with the patron the larger issues involved. It is important that “front line” staff be trained in the art of “active listening”. Should the patron want to file a written complaint against the materials, be sure the staff is clear on the procedure for handling a written complaint. Most libraries have a Request for the Reconsideration of Library Materials for the patron to fill out. Staff need to let the patron know what steps will be followed once the form is submitted and when they can expect to receive a response from the library manager. It is essential that patron complaints be handled in a respectful and timely manner.

3. Prepare the staff. The library staff determines, to a large extent, whether there will be an atmosphere of openness and tolerance needed for intellectual freedom to flourish. It is the Library Director/Manager’s responsibility to keep staff and trustees well informed and well trained in policy, procedure, and any new challenges. Conduct periodic in-service training for staff and the governing authority. Role-play confrontational situations and responses. A confident staff will be less likely to become flustered and defensive. Also, review with your staff issues relating to the USA Patriot Act. Be sure they understand to what authority they must comply and what the procedures are when dealing with a request for patron information. See the USA Patriot Act section of this manual.

4. Build coalitions. Target specific groups in your area who may also be concerned with issues of intellectual freedom and First Amendment rights. Some likely allies may include the press and other media, educational leaders, civil rights groups, arts councils, and Friends of the Library organizations. The Utah Library Advocacy Network formed in 2004 is a group of library supporters representing all kinds of libraries. Groups that use the library’s facilities should be reminded of the value of maintaining an intellectually open atmosphere. Library board and staff participation in local civic organizations such as the area chamber of commerce, and presentations to these organizations should emphasize the library’s selection policy and intellectual freedom principles. It is better to identify and build support with these groups before a serious challenge occurs!

5. Promote patron awareness. Building awareness of the need for and challenges to intellectual openness and diversity is an important library function. It can be as informal as the day-to-day conversations you and your staff have with library patrons. Or it can be more formal as a program or display. The professional library community has worked over the years to create vehicles for raising public awareness. Such occasions as Freedom of Information Day, National Library Week, and Banned Books Week provide perfect opportunities to remind our community of their basic right to information. This can be done through posters, special displays or programs and public service announcements.

6. Keep abreast of any local, municipal, and state legislation effecting intellectual freedom and First Amendment rights. Legislation can slip through quietly and quickly without input from the professional library community.


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