By: Valerie Nye
Several months ago, as I was preparing to write for this blog, I sent out emails to listservs asking librarians to tell me about recent intellectual freedom issues they had experienced in their libraries. In response to my general call for information, I heard from a new librarian who has been working as a library director for less than a year. In her initial email she shared with me that she had concerns about the arrangement of the library’s collection. I was intrigued when I learned she was a newly hired librarian in a small rural library. She has never worked in a library before and she is working alone in her current position as library director. She told me she did not have a library degree and this made me want to understand how it occurred to her to make changes to the arrangement of the library’s collection and what information she was using to make her decisions.
When the librarian contacted me she had been in her position for less than six months. While she feels confident she is making the right decisions and she has not been disciplined for making changes to the collection, she was still under probation at the time of this interview and asked to remain anonymous.
VN: Can you describe your community and library?
LD: The readers that use the community library largely want general fiction or Christian fiction. The library patrons live in town or drive 10 to 45 miles to get into town. It is a farm and ranching community and a prison also employs many people from our community. The library has been at this location since the 1970s.
VN: Tell me about your intellectual freedom experience.
LD: I am taking advantage of my role as library director to move a book from the Opposing Viewpoints Series, Abortion edited by David Haugen, Susan Musser, and Kacy Lovelace from the Greenhaven Press.
I understand why the book is in the location with all other issues in social sciences [in the 363 Dewey classification area], but this book is out of place even if it is dealing with law. It is in the right place and yet it is so far out of place at the same time because this book about abortion is placed beside books about crime. Maybe in a larger library the book wouldn’t be so out of place at 363.46. I’m moving it to 610.1 right before books on nursing career and after healthcare history.
For whatever it’s worth, that’s my confession about relocating an informational book on the viewpoints of abortion so that browsers might associate the issue with the body rather than criminals and so that I don’t cringe thinking of the possible associations others might have if they find the book among books on crime. I chose to move the book because in its original location the book on abortion and the titles surrounding it created a biased association.
VN: Were all the Viewpoint Series books together? Are you re-cataloging all of them?
LD: I do not find that the library has any other of the Opposing Viewpoints titles in its collection. We have no other titles on abortion in the collection.
VN: Without a professional background as a librarian, how did you know this was an issue and something you could/should change?
LD: I am preparing to take the [state] exam to become a certified librarian. As I read the handbook of the basics, I found that it was an acceptable move to relocated books to suit the library patronage. I use the OCLC cataloging site online to compare locations of books in the collection here, to the same title’s location in other libraries. I see the differences in location, for example, most frequently with biographies. There is often a choice to be made as to the location of the book.
I thought for a while on what to do about this title on abortion. I thought about what I was thinking as I thought about its location. What is ethical for me to do? I have the right as the library director to relocate the book. Or do I? Why am I? If I had other political views would I feel the same?
I do think I applied an assumption of ethics to my choice. If it was any other topic, it would have only been an issue of relocating the book to place it more logically for browsing patrons. This title afforded the opportunity to interpret the surrounding topics and their representations with a political lens.
VN: Are you nervous about having made this decision? Do you anticipate having to make other similar decisions?
LD: I don’t think anyone will notice. Shortly after I started the job, it was Banned Books Week. I wrote an article for the local newspaper about the challenged titles for the previous year. The only criticism I received was that I was writing over the communities head or that no one knew the titles I referenced.
VN: Thank you for sharing your story and taking the time to answer my questions.
Valerie Nye is the library director at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. She has been active in local and national library organizations; recently serving on ALA Council, the New Mexico Library Association, and the New Mexico Consortium of Academic Libraries. Val has cowritten or coedited four books including: True Stories of Censorship Battles in America’s Libraries published by ALA Editions in 2012. True Stories is a compilation of essays written by librarians who have experienced challenges to remove material held in their libraries’ collections. She has an MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In her time away from the library she enjoys road trips in convertibles and kayaking on lakes. firstname.lastname@example.org