Intellectual Freedom is Central to a Library’s Mission

Recent events, in various locations, have underscored that some Public Libraries are not structured to meet the public’s expectation about the breadth of materials included in their non-fiction circulating collection.  This means that they are unable to satisfy the requirements of the policies that they have in place.

Northampton’s Forbes Library is no exception. This highlights an institutional problem that needs to be corrected by first asking the public to insist on adherence to established policies and secondly by improving compliance by introducing revised policies and procedures.

What prompted this observation was that the offer to donate a well researched and technically sound documentary, “9/11: Explosive Evidence – Experts Speak Out,” for inclusion in their circulating collection, was refused.  Currently, this item is not in any of the local libraries covered by the Massachusetts C/W MARS inter-library catalog. However, in the CW MARS library catalog there are 12 copies of a documentary “Why the Towers Fell” (including one at the Forbes Library) that has been shown to be erroneous and does not agree with the official explanation.  Under the Forbes Library weeding policy where “incorrect content” is a criterion for removal, it is a candidate for removal.

Even though “Experts Speak Out“ is not listed anywhere in the C/W MARS catalog, this documentary is widely available.  The item is available on Amazon (note the bipolar viewpoints: there are 138 five-star (positive) reviews, 16 one-star (negative) reviews and virtually nothing in-between).  There are shorter versions that are widely available on the internet.  Furthermore, this documentary was the #1 most viewed and #1 most shared for nearly a month on national PBS for several weeks during the Fall of 2012.

The official Forbes Library administration response to this donation was:

“[…] it did not seem a good use of shelf space, processing materials, or staff processing time to add your items to the collection [...]”

The American Library Association provides a discussion on selection in their article “Not Censorship But Selection,”

“Selection, then, begins with a presumption in favor of liberty of thought; censorship, with a presumption in favor of thought control. Selection’s approach to the book is positive, seeking its values in the book as a book, and in the book as a whole. Censorship’s approach is negative, seeking for vulnerable characteristics wherever they can be found—anywhere within the book, or even outside it. Selection seeks to protect the right of the reader to read; censorship seeks to protect—not the right—but the reader himself from the fancied effects of his reading. The selector has faith in the intelligence of the reader; the censor has faith only in his own.”

This article includes the words like “limited shelf space” as one of the few criterion that would be the basis for not accepting donated materials.  While shelf space and processing time is a concern, a library selection process, like the one in place at the Forbes Library in Northampton, MA is not open and transparent enough.  What is needed is a revised process that removes the sole responsibility from the Administration and makes these decisions collaborative with library’s patron community.        where N.E.T. means  Non-fiction Educates and Transforms