By: Valerie Nye
How is a librarian’s career impacted when they experience a significant material challenge in their library? I decided to ask some librarians about their careers following a challenge. I contacted librarians who experienced a challenge in their library 10 or more years ago, and asked them some questions about their career paths. The following is an interview with Amy Crump, who experienced a challenge to books held in the Marshall (Mo.) Public Library. Amy Crump is currently the administrative librarian at the Homewood (Ill.) Public Library.
VN: Will you briefly describe the incident at the Marshall Public Library?
AC: In September 2006, two graphic novels [Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and Blankets by Craig Thompson] were challenged by a resident of Marshall, Missouri. In accordance with library policy at that time, any challenges were referred to the Library Board of Trustees who would hold a public hearing within 60 days. The hearing date was published in the local paper and the hearing lasted two hours [and] approximately 150 people attended. At the next regular meeting, the Board announced that in light of the absence of a material selection policy, no decision would be made on the challenged books until a material selection policy was in place. The Board did, however, remove the books from the shelves while the policy was developed. That process took four months. The Materials Selection Policy [current policy starts on pg. 34] for the Marshall Public Library was approved by the Board in March 2007 and immediately applied to the challenged materials, resulting in the books being restored to the library collection. One book was moved from the YA shelves to the adult shelves, but no limitations were placed on circulation.
AC: Blankets by Craig Thompson was moved to the adult fiction shelves, based on the Board’s recommendation. The book was listed as teen and adult audiences by the School Library Journal so I didn’t have a real problem with that. In addition, there was no limitation on how could check it out AND the library was so small that all teen fiction shelves were right next to the adult fiction shelves.
VN: Have you experienced other challenges material since the Marshall Public Library incident in 2006?
AC: I have not experience any serious material challenges since the 2006 incident at the Marshall Public Library. While I have experienced patrons who express concerns about certain items, none of them pursued removal of said materials.
VN: Has the incident changed the way you “do business” as a librarian?
AC: I would not describe it as changing the way that I do business, but it has made me aware of the possibility of challenges in a way that I was not privy to before 2006.
I will say that the 2006 incident sometimes affected my collection development tasks. For example, when Craig Thompson’s fourth book, Habibi, came out in 2011, I thought about whether I wanted to risk going through another book challenge by adding it to the Marshall Public Library collection. Fairly quickly, I came to the conclusion that I had already “paid” for the liberty to order it and did so. No one made a peep about it
VN: Thinking about the 2006 incident, how has it impacted your career?
AC: Facing material challenges are part and parcel with a career in library service. I do not believe that the 2006 challenge had an impact, negative or positive, on my decision to continue working in the library field.
I didn’t encounter any further challenges while I was in Marshall. Any subsequent challenges never went beyond the discussion stage with patrons. The subject did not come up while I was interviewing in several different libraries throughout the country in 2012.
VN: The books that were challenged in 2006 at the Marshall Public Library are still frequently challenged in libraries in the United States. Fun Home was on ALA’s Top Ten list of most challenged books in 2015. Are you surprised that these books are still the subject of challenges today?
AC: I’m not surprised that they are challenged because they deal with issues, using images, that have long been controversial topics in our county, despite advances for the LGBTQ communities in the past few years.
VN: Are you involved in any intellectual freedom initiatives at a local or national level?
AC: I’m not deeply involved in that aspect of librarianship, but I have still spoken on the issue since 2006. Just this past year, I gave a talk about censorship for the ATLAS Academy in the south suburbs of Chicago.
VN: Are your presentations to students or adults?
AC: The past workshops were to students at University of Missouri Library School and to the Northeast Kansas Library System. I think I presented six or seven times over a couple of days to different library boards. In 2016 at the ATLAS’ Academy, I spoke to library frontline staff. I spoke about my personal experience in these workshops.
VN: Is there anything else you would like to say about your career and/or the challenge incident you faced?
AC: I may not be the right person to interview because honestly, I don’t feel that the experience had an effect (negative or positive) on my career. It was just something that happened — like it happens to library directors every year. I am now better prepared to handle such a situation if it happens again but otherwise . . .
VN: I disagree. You have provided some great insights. In many respects, it is good to know a very public challenge does not adversely impact a librarian’s career. Thank you for your willingness to be interviewed.
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 co-written or co-edited 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. If you have a story about censorship in your career and you would like to share it, please contact Val at firstname.lastname@example.org