Many ALSC members have questioned whether children’s librarians should purchase, use, or even keep books by authors implicated in #MeToo situations (or who have been accused of other “bad” behaviors). The ALSC IF Committee and the ALSC Collection Management Discussion Group collaborated with the hope of starting a conversation. Feel free to chime in here and to follow up at ALA Annual Meeting, details below.
Question: Many librarians are social justice advocates who don’t want to financially support people who have victimized others. How should children’s librarians treat materials of accused authors, illustrators, or publishers with regard to purchasing, displaying, and weeding?
Mary: I was at ALA Midwinter when the #MeToo spotlight turned to youth publishing. To say the very least, I was disheartened to learn that authors and illustrators whose books I liked and ones my kids, teens, librarians, and teachers loved were being named for sexual harassment and assault behaviors. As someone who has dealt with being sexually harassed, I choose to believe those coming forward and telling their stories. Personally, I cannot support the works of these authors and illustrators with my individual book purchases.
Having said that, I work for a public library, Cuyahoga County Public Library (CCPL), selecting materials for 28 branches that serve 47 diverse communities. My job is to pick materials to meet the needs of this wide group of customers. With #MeToo there is now the question of how libraries should respond to things like books in the collection by the accused and what should be purchased in the future.
Since CCPL is a public library, we will not be asking the Children’s and Teen Librarians to remove titles by authors and illustrators who have been identified. As librarians we might not always like it, but customers have the right to access books we personally don’t like or agree with, by people we don’t like or agree with. However, that doesn’t mean that I won’t encourage librarians and teachers to choose another author or book to display, to read as a class, or to invite to visit the library.
And future book purchases? Well, many publishers are taking the allegations very seriously and they are choosing to cancel book contracts as well as adding morality clauses to new contracts. So, that may make the decision for libraries a moot point. If the books aren’t published, we can’t buy them. The more challenging piece for me is whether to replace a popular title by an author that you, as an individual, don’t want to support. The decision to purchase new titles or replace copies by these persons for CCPL’s branches will continue to be based on customer interest. If a customer requests a title, then I will purchase or replace with a couple of copies as long it is available through our book vendor and budget allows.
While it can be difficult, I feel the public librarian and materials selector roles are there to inform but not dictate or judge another’s book choices.
Question: Is it o.k. for storytime providers to stop using certain books in storytimes and other programs because of actions by the authors or #MeToo accusations against the authors?” Or conversely, perhaps, the question might be, “Is it still o.k. to read certain books in storytime when accusations have been made against the author?”
Betsy: From a purely IF standpoint, it is clearly not the job of librarians to judge the personal lives, actions or beliefs of authors. The work should be evaluated, not the author. The ALA’s Freedom to Read Statement says, “It is contrary to the public interest for publishers or librarians to bar access to writing on the basis of the personal history or political affiliations of the author. ” This language might well be included in your own local library’s policies. Librarians should judge items based on their merit according to their collection development policy and the item’s ability to meet program outcomes. Practically, it is certainly not possible to be consistent either, as many of the authors of materials in our libraries could well have done something outside of the #MeToo purview that we each, individually, find objectionable.
Question: But can taking books out of the storytime lineup be considered “barring access”?
Betsy and Mariah: We don’t think so. Many wonderful books are suitable for storytime usage and choices are subjective. If the reader is not comfortable with promoting a particular book, a lack of enthusiasm will be reflected in the storytime. That’s not a good experience for anyone! In choosing books for programmatic use, it seems reasonable to let librarians choose the books they they feel good about and that will best serve the needs of their groups. But it should be clear that this leeway does not extend to decisions that involve access – choosing, purchasing, weeding and displaying books in the public library.
Question: What should I tell a patron who wants to know why we still have books written by Author X in our collection?
Mariah: This is your chance to educate your community about intellectual freedom! This is my elevator speech: “I understand and appreciate your concerns. It is so important to have engaged community members like you! In this case, the library does not censor materials based on the personal history or political affiliations of authors in order to allow all library users the right of choosing what they want to read.” If the patron has more questions I typically refer them to our collection development policy which supports First Amendment rights.
Did you spot some gray areas? What are your opinions on this subject? Feel free to weigh in here. Then plan to join Mary Schreiber and co-convener Anna Taylor at the ALSC Collection Management Discussion Group meeting at ALA Annual on Sunday, June 24 from 1:00-2:30 pm in room 213 of the Morial Convention Center where we will continue the #MeToo discussion.
Mary Schreiber is the Youth Collection Development Specialist for Cuyahoga County Public Library, OH. She is participating in this post on behalf of the ALSC Collection Management Discussion Group. You can reach her with your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Betsy Brainerd, is the Co-Chair of the ALSC IF Committee. She is an Early Literacy Librarian for the Arapahoe Library District in Centennial, CO. You can reach her at email@example.com.
Mariah Manley is a member of the ALSC IF Committee. She is a Children’s Librarian for the Day-Riverside Branch of the Salt Lake City Public Library. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org