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Intellectual Freedom August 31, 2006

Posted by heyheypaula in Library Stuff.
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I am posting a case study for the class 9410 “Intellectual Freedom and its Discontents”.  I think it is a good piece to spark discussion, which is why I’m posting it here.  There are good points to be made on either side of the debate:

Your library serves an affluent, well-educated, homogeneous, medium-sized suburb of a large Midwestern city. The Library Board has adopted the Library Bill of Rights and the Freedom to Read statement and included them in the library’s Collection Development Policy. In addition, the Board has adopted a challenged book policy based on the ALA Workbook for Selection Policy Writing. (http://www.ala.org/Template.cfm?Section=dealing&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=57020)

In the past, the library confronted few censorship challenges and all were settled to the satisfaction of all parties by using the challenged book policy. Your department, Children’s and Young Adult Services, recently began building a collection of manga and graphic novels in order to appeal to a non-reading, or at least non-library using young adult audience. Most of you hope to reach out to this group and inspire a habit of life-long reading, but most are willing to settle for getting kids into the library and providing them with some new possibilities.

Rather than leaking the books into the collection, you decided to wait until you had a substantially large collection. With some creative shifting of furniture, a few posters, cool lighting, and some face-out shelving, you created an area dedicated to the collection and made it easy for the kids to hang out. You’re in a relatively box like building, but the portable sound buffers seem to work. The collection is a hit, and to your surprise attracts an unexpected audience.

A group of working class kids discovered the place. For awhile you took a hit from losing a lot of items to theft, but that mellowed and your budget allowed you to catch up. One day a couple of kids spoke to one you and said that it would be really cool if the library had computers they could use for video games. You sit down to talk this over and decide to do some research. After checking into the literature on effects and uses of video games and their integration into library services, you decide to give it a try.
You already know there is some discontent from within the library about the manga/graphic novel collection. There is no hostility, and the disagreements are in the open and civilly discussed. The controversy turns on the value of this collection compared to more traditional and classic young adult reading material. Knowing this you approach your director to consult with her about launching the video game initiative.

The Director is cautious. She is aware of the national controversy surrounding the effects of video gaming. Her relationship with the Board is one that allows for easy consultation. At the next Board meeting, she brings up the gaming initiative as new business. An interesting an informed discussion regarding the relative merits of the idea follows. At one point, however, a board member who had earlier questioned the value of video games also questions aloud the purpose and effect of the manga/graphic novel collection. He doesn’t question the effectiveness of the collection’s power to attract young adults to the library, but he gently questions the purpose of that library use. He suggests that a higher civic purpose is at stake, one more closely related to values of education and self-improvement.

A committee is appointed, including Board members, librarians from your’s and other departments, and members of the Friends group. Its task is to investigate and propose recommendation for the role of a wide range of “alternative” young adult material in the library’s collection. You’re allowed to present a justification for your new collection and your gaming proposal and to defend it against specific challenges at regular intervals. These meetings are always civil. The committee meets regularly and holds three public hearings. At the hearings a variety of arguments favoring an educational approach to YA services are offered. Some address the violence and sexuality of the collection in question, but most of the focus is on the value of better material. A few voices make the point that the collection in question reflects a mature aesthetic that requires engagement on the part of the reader and that this too is of value. At one meeting someone stood up and just said, “Why not let the kids have some fun?”

Finally, the committee concludes that while the new collection has value, the library’s mission statement as well as its commitment to reflect the broad aspirations of the community it serves, requires that YA services take a more explicit educational direction. Your Director consults with the Board at a meeting to which you are invited and given time to present your views on the issue. The consensus decision is to accept the committee’s report.

No particular ends or means are specified. Your department is free to be as creative in this direction as it was in what’s come to be called the alternative direction. Likewise, no one expects the alternative collection to be immediately dismantled, nor is the further purchase of manga or graphic novels prohibited. The direction is to find an appropriate place for these materials in a collection that emphasizes the best in children’s and young adult literature, both fiction and non-fiction.

A couple of you are sadden by this outcome and feel that the alternative collection was not given a due chance to pay off; that it was long-term investment that needed more time to reach its goal. Still, no one really questions the values that inform the new direction of the department. And the process used to resolve the issue was open. In the next planning cycle, the designated YA area remains, but its character is changed to reflect a new featured collection. It remains a hang-out, and the look is more that of a bookstore than a library. The sound buffers stay in place. The graphic novels in good enough condition, they are all paperbacks, are sent onto the regular YA fiction shelves.

In a few months, you notice that in-house YA traffic has dropped quite a bit since you made the alternative-educational shift. Circulation is off a little bit, but steady. Every now and then a kid comes in asks about the alt.stuff, but few of them get to the shelves. A little later you notice that the theft rate of items from the old alternative collection is up, or least there aren’t as many them as on the shelves as you know you’re supposed to own.

One day, an older kid with whom you struck up a relationship when the alternative collection was out comes in. You haven’t seen him in awhile. He looks around the fiction collection and picks out three of the manga novels. They’re in pretty bad condition. He sees you working the public desk and comes over to chat. Things go well but when he leaves he says something that still bothers you; “You know, when you took out the alt.stuff you told a lot of kids you didn’t want them in here.”

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Comments»

1. L Wolfe - August 31, 2006

So often our young patrons get that impression from other subtle and not so subtle signals we send. Take your cell phone outside, be quiet, no running, no food or drink. It’s already such an anti-kid place in many ways. We stick by the “if it’s a disturbance” rule. Well, kids are a disturbance. Or at least they could be seen that way-they are different than adults. Kids of all ages are wonderfully enthusiastic, hungry to learn and fun and exasperating at the same time. They are a group of library patrons that have special needs. It is so important to get them to see the value of and enjoy library services while they are young. Discouraging them by ignoring their interests is a mistake. They are next year’s adult patrons

2. heyheypaula - September 1, 2006

Those are great points. I’ve seen some libraries do some neat things like have a beginning web design class and then put all the teens’ projects up on their website. Some people in the class felt that graphic novels/manga have “no educational value”. That’s a hard concept to define, and it also shows that sometimes adults who work in libraries don’t take the time to find out that, hey, there are plenty of these types of books that have educational value. They can be about Shakespeare or the Holocaust or science or relationships. And’ making everything purely educational seems like a double standard considering other parts of the “adult” collection, periodicals, DVDs, romance novels, etc., that we’ve decided do have value to the patrons. Chicago Public Library circulates video games, which is also sort of controversial, but as someone who enjoys video games, I can say that for many develop logical thought, have lessons from history, encourage creative thinking to solve problems, etc. As always there are two ways of looking at this, also.

3. DrumPhil - September 1, 2006

This is a tough situation that requires a nuanced response. If we make the public library look like “school after school” then many kids are not going to want to come in. (Certain kids, of course, do get turned on to history or reading through traditional methods, and would still come in.)
However, if we go to the other end and say, “Let’s get whatever the kids want, so they will come,” then kids will certainly come. But is the tax-funded public library really intended to subsidize kids’ video game and comic book budgets? most taxpayers would probably say, “No.”
A balance is needed, which respects the need to draw YA patrons into the library, while also gently leading them toward growth in reading and intellectual skills. Certain videos, video games, graphic novels, and even some comic books support that direction. Others may not. We don’t buy books for the adult collection simply because they are books. We carefully select how to spend the book budget based upon the value of each item. The same should be true for the YA budget. Each item should bring value to the collection, according to collection guidelines. If it does, then the medium does not matter (much).


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