By: James LaRue, Director, Office for Intellectual Freedom
(This blog was written at the end of last year. We’ve been waiting for an “umbrella” article to come out. You can find that here.)
Elections can rile people up, and it might take a while for them to settle down again. It’s smart for librarians to take a deep breath and a good look around before there’s trouble.
Where should you start? With our fundamental values and the policy infrastructure of our institutions.
The core value of librarianship is intellectual freedom (IF) — the belief, rooted in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, that the government will not establish or prohibit the free exercise of religion, infringe the people’s freedom of speech and right to peaceably assemble, or to prohibit the petitioning for governmental redress of grievances.
In library terms, that means that the thoughtful institution has adopted — or will adopt — a solid framework for assuring access to the intellectual content of our culture. Policies matter, and setting in place a series of best practices will head off a lot of conflict. They let both governing authorities and the public know just what the library stands for.
- The Library Bill of Rights: Since 1939, this is the core statement of our profession. (And download the free pamphlet here.)
- Interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights: These are the updates to the Library Bill of Rights, keeping them current.
- The Freedom to Read Statement: This noble and ringing endorsement calls us to the highest commitment to intellectual freedom.
- Libraries: an American Value: Libraries serve everyone.
- The Intellectual Freedom Manual, 9th edition: This is the definitive guide to all things IF. The link goes to the ALA Store.
And here’s the second checklist, the essential list of library policies (and where there are no links, see the Intellectual Freedom Manual for solid samples):
- Code of Ethics: This calls out the minimum acceptable behavior for library staff.
- Collection Development: This defines the purpose and scope of library collections.
- Request for Reconsideration: This articulates the protocol for responding to public challenges — and don’t forget to report all challenges, including new challenge of hate crimes, to the Office for Intellectual Freedom (firstname.lastname@example.org, 312-280-4220 or 800-545-2433, ext. 4222).
- Internet Use: This policy says what is and is not permitted with public internet use. (No link here, but examples abound.)
- Use of Meeting Rooms and Exhibit Spaces: These policies assure equitable access to library spaces.
- Privacy and Confidentiality: These policies defend what is often under attack these days, and often surreptitiously: patrons’ right to keep their information to themselves. (See also Privacy Toolkit.)
- User Behavior and Library Use: This policy defines not just the rights, but the responsibilities of library patrons. It’s not about who you are, but how you behave. (Again, there are many examples in the field.)
Don’t be caught without these essentials of library rules. Review them today. (And for those items without links, look around on the internet for similar policies for libraries like yours.)