Saturday, February 21, 2009

Our last assignment in my Intellectual Freedom class was to report on an actual Intellectual Freedom challenge in a library. I chose a well-known incident, the unanimous decision by the Jackson-George Regional Library board to ban the bestseller, Jon Stewart's America, the Book: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction: With a Foreword by Thomas Jefferson.

This was quite an unusual incident in that the challenge to the book was not initiated by a patron but by the director of the library. The Director was powerfully offended by an apparent nude photograph of the nine Supreme Court justices with punch out judicial robes to "restore the dignity of the Court". The Director stated that he believed the book should be removed from the library so that young people would not inadvertently see it.

The Library Board agreed with the Director and the book was removed because they all found it offensive and did not want teens or children to have access to it. They made no reference to policy at all! This library seemed not to consider collection development policy or to have followed any established procedure for dealing with challenged materials.

Within 48 hours of the first newspaper story the ban was lifted and the book returned to the collection without restriction because of the unpleasant glare of national publicity. I am not guessing the Board's reason for returning the book to the collection; several Board members made statements to the local paper in which they said flatly that they had rescinded the ban because of public pressure generated by publicity. Again, they made no mention of policy or procedure!

A case like this really show how important it is to have policies in place and procedures which are followed in every instance. Not to mention training in Intellectual Freedom for the Board (and the Director).

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