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Copyright (c) 2009 Ginny Maziarka. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Area resident wants to know who is responsible

..and so do we.

While reading about the library controversy, it occurred to me that the real point has been lost. Someone has to be responsible for the materials in question ending up in our community library.

The controversy started when certain books (that are objectionable to many) were featured as recommended reading on the YA page of the Web site. Someone chose to select and feature them – supposedly the youth librarian, who answers to the director, who answers to the Library Board.

Since our library does not hold every book ever printed, the board presumably has to set parameters for what materials to acquire and hold. Those parameters should reflect the character of our community – what is considered acceptable in New York or San Francisco does not necessarily belong here. By that standard, the Board failed in its responsibility and the Common Council was right in sending that message and denying reappointments.

11 comments:

Libby said...

The author of that letter fundamentally misunderstands the responsibilities of a library board vs. the responsibilities of librarians.

Yes, the library board sets policy, and can change policies as they see fit, but they have nothing to do with the actual acquisition of materials. Nor should the board be allowed or encouraged to police the acquisitions process. Librarians are trained to get to know the collection, fill gaps to serve the underserved, purchase more in areas of high interest and so on. It is their job to provide a collection that reflects a wide variety of viewpoints.

Some people may not ever like it that it is the librarians doing the purchasing without direct community oversight, but to be blunt, too bad. That's their job, they're trained to do it, and everyone in a community could probably find something in a library they disagree with, no matter if they are conservative or liberal. In my work, I've bought plenty of materials that I wouldn't personally read, but I can't have my young adult section reflect only my personal interests or worldview.

The board serves the community, true, but in a very different way than librarians serve the community. Most members of library boards, unless they include retired librarians, would not have the first CLUE how to actually run a library, make purchasing decisions, cataloging decisions, construct a proper search strategy for researchers, or any one of the million things librarians are trained to do. A fire district board makes policies, too, but don't ask them to actually put out a fire!

And as for "Just because someone has served for 20-plus years...does not make him or her any more or less qualified to make these judgments than a concerned mother." Um...in this case, it kind of does. Board members are hopefully familiar with library policy, library law, and community needs. Now, not every trustee takes the job seriously, nor is every board trained as well as it ought to be, but hopefully they will at least be familiar with the reasoning behind policy decisions.

I'm not saying that a "concerned mother" or anyone else couldn't be a perfectly fine trustee, EVENTUALLY. However, expecting ANY brand new trustee to come onto a board knowing basically nothing about the pertinent policies and procedures and make an INFORMED decision for the good of the entire community, not an emotional decision based on their own personal beliefs, would be an unfair expectation of that board member.

Amanda said...

Those parameters should reflect the character of our community – what is considered acceptable in New York or San Francisco does not necessarily belong here.I think you're misunderstanding something really basic: Not everyone agrees with you. You got what, a few hundred people out of the 30,000 residents of West Bend to sign some petition - so what? How on earth are you qualified to speak for "the character of our community"?

In fact, no one is qualified to speak to that, because West Bend - like any community of more than couple hundred people - is a diverse place. That's why libraries' buying decisions are based on a lot of different factors: what the patrons request, of course, but also what is critically acclaimed and what is popular. A public library has an obligation to serve all members of its community, not just the relatively small subset you've managed to rally.

In any case, as a librarian, I'd find it interesting to see the circulation stats for the books in question. If they're checked out with some frequency, I'd say they reflect the character of West Bend quite well. If, as you seem to think, no one in West Bend is the kind of person who would like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, surely it will never have gone out, so the library can weed it without any problem.

West Bend Citizen Advocate said...

A few thoughts...

First, Amanda. I don't believe I said "everyone" agreed with me, or with anyone else in our group. One does not need qualifying factors to speak to a situation. A firm belief in what one believes to be right and true is the foundation of the issue. Then one acts accordingly.

Secondly, I did not say librarians are terrible people, don't have a clue, can't make good decisions, or do not do an overall decent job. So let's not put words into my mouth.

We do not care what the stats are for Perks or any other book. That simply just does not apply or matter to us. Do you know if it was youth or adults checking it out? Does checking it out make it a "good" book? We think not. Therefore, we do not care.

Libby, I rather assumed I would see you here. :-) Our librarians rather count on you, you know!

You stated, "Some people may not ever like it that it is the librarians doing the purchasing without direct community oversight, but to be blunt, too bad." Direct community oversight is really not what is being sought here. However, community input is invaluable, and needs to be treated as such. The library policy directly states that our community library will uphold our community standards. We expect it.

Serving 20+ years is both an advantage and a DISadvantage. Learning policy, law, etc. takes time and experience. That is not debated. The disadvantage is that when we have anyone in place on any board at any given time, the community can become lax and, perhaps, too trusting, as long-term board members either become prey to the wiles of such organizations as the ALA and/or submit their own agenda through the back door. I do not agree with you that a new member could not intelligently do his/her research and go the extra mile in making an informed decision based on his/her own community.

Amanda said...

We do not care what the stats are for Perks or any other book. That simply just does not apply or matter to us. Do you know if it was youth or adults checking it out? Does checking it out make it a "good" book? We think not. Therefore, we do not care.Um, but you're not saying it's not a "good" book. Your argument (sorry, that other guy's argument that's the same as yours) is that the collection needs to "reflect the character" your community. It obviously does if it's being checked out. If people are reading it, the COMMUNITY has a need for it. Nobody cares what you want. The library cares a lot about what the community as a whole wants. And you're clearly not reflective of that.

And of course you don't care if people are checking it out. I wouldn't expect you to care, because you're clearly not interested in preserving the library's mandate to serve the community. You'd rather they babysit people's children.

One does not need qualifying factors to speak to a situationBut you're not just talking about it. You're trying to act based on the idea that the "community" doesn't like something. You can't appeal to the idea that the "community" agrees with you unless they actually do. Two paragraphs down in this last comment, you talk about "community standards". Who's qualified to lay out those standards, Ginny?

Aurick said...

Actually, I think you may be missing a very important point Amanda.

Now I dont claim to speak for, well, anyone but myself but I think the point that was trying to be made was that when certain things are brought into question, the acts of the community can be seen as somewhat irrelevent.

It would be foolish to think that the vast majority of children these days do not get their hands on pornographic material before the legal age of 18, yet this "community majority" does not make selling pornography to a minor any less illegal. The same goes for those who experiement (or more) with marijuana.

As much as it may sting our sensitive American sensabilities, it is important to recognize that sometimes the will of the community is bad for the community.

Living in excess and doing everything that feels good with no use of common sense, judgement, or self discipline has always lead to disaster in any situation where it is used, and yet this is the type of lifestyle that it appears you are championing.

As much as we may like our choices, leadership if it be in the family, the job, or the government, is sometimes there to protect us from ourselves.

When I was a child I realized that I did not always know what was best for myself, that is why I had parents. Technically one of the purposes of government is to fill a similar role once we become adults.

Amanda said...

When I was a child I realized that I did not always know what was best for myself, that is why I had parents. Technically one of the purposes of government is to fill a similar role once we become adults.Wait...what?? (Also, what do you mean "technically"? That word implies that what you're saying has some basis in law, which...it doesn't.)

No, no, my friend. That is absolutely not a purpose of the government. You would hate a country where the government filled that role. Think for a minute about what parents do, and about what our country would be like if the government acted as our parents:

* Tobacco and alcohol would be illegal, because they are not healthy and cause lots of public health problems.

* Stores would not be allowed to sell junk food, like cookies and chips, because it's unhealthy and leads to obesity, heart disease, and lots of other social ills.

* There would be a mandatory curfew for all adults - say, 1 a.m. - because a lot more crime happens in the middle of the night.

* You would have to get the government's permission to date or even befriend other people. The government would have to meet your friend's parents and approve of them.

* Adults would not be able to buy pornography. Or even things that are not pornographic at all, like grocery store romance novels or books about puberty.

Now, I don't know about you, but I happen to really like being an American and getting to make my own decisions. The government has no right to act as my parent, and it doesn't try.


Living in excess and doing everything that feels good with no use of common sense, judgement, or self discipline has always lead to disaster in any situation where it is used, and yet this is the type of lifestyle that it appears you are championing.I'm assuming you have read Perks of Being a Wallflower, because of course it would be irresponsible to demand its removal if you didn't know its content. So, given that: I think you misunderstood the book. It in no way champions "living in excess" and "doing everything that feels good". Neither do I. I do, however, champion the library's right - mandate, really - to serve the entirety of its community, rather than whatever small minority yells the loudest.

Neil said...

I think I understand now.

If my opinion = Majority opinion = "Sacred will of the people"

If my opinion = Minority opinion = "What's RIGHT isn't always popular"

Aurick said...

Amanda-

Of course I have researched and read excerpts from "Perks of Being a Wallflower." and I agree that it would be somewhat irresponsible to comment on it without having done so, as I constructively criticize others who have commented on this blog while supporting an uninformed argument.

I will pause here long enough to remind you that the library is not being asked to remove any books, simply change their location and add a sticker. Though I do think I read somewhere that Ginny herself would like "Wallflower" removed. That really isn’t my argument to make.

I can’t really help but feel somewhat patronized in your response Amanda. Yes, I made the comment that to some degree the government's purpose is to protect us from ourselves once we become adults, and I stand by that comment. Please realize that I did not say that they were to parent us, but simply protect us, which I referenced was similar to what parents do in some respects.

Parents and Government are not the same thing.

As a conservative I am not a true fan of "big government" and I can see how the point I made earlier can be misconstrued to be seen that way, so I'll try to clarify a bit.

When I state that the one of the roles of government is to protect us from ourselves I didn’t really expect it to be argued, as the purpose of laws are to set boundaries that otherwise man, when let loose to their own whims would probably end up doing something stupid that the majority would have seen as "common sense"

Unfortunately common sense is not so common.

Should there have to be a law that says "Hey you, don’t let your three year old play with a loaded gun" Probably not... you'd think.

Should there have to be a law that says "Don't wear a blindfold while driving down the street."

Should there have to be a law that says "Don't suggest a ten year old to read a book that explicitly describes in detail how to orally pleasure a man"

Hmmm...

And on the wacky off chance that someone reads this out of context. To the best of my knowledge the library issue isn't a "law" thing and is more of a "common sense thing."

West Bend Citizen Advocate said...

Every few weeks I have to do some clarification for those who jump on the bandwagon screaming without really knowing the issues at hand.

Our original request asked for a balance of books on homosexuality and requested that a few books be removed or banned from the YA Zone. Our verbage was unfortunate, and we readily admit that. However, since the library has requested be begin the process all over again, we have learned from our mistakes. The current petition gives very specific requests using what we feel is appropriate language to get the message across without having the issue misconstrued.

Those who oppose our stance continue to take the earlier complaint we filed and beat it with a stick. Can we do anything about that? Of course not. It is a tactic that people use when they do not have real facts to back up their reason for opposing on an issue. Misinformation, slander, name-calling, hate-mongering...all tactics used when one cannot converse in an appropriate manner with facts that speak to the issues at hand. We understand this; therefore, we simply ignore the opposition and/or we do not publish these types of complaints on this blog.

I have said this before, and I will repeat it here. We are the average taxpayers/parents/grandparents filing a complaint at our local library. We expected to get direction from those who claim to be professionals in their field. We do not feel that happened in our case. Mistakes were made (on everyone's part) and so we begin again.

Those who continue to live in the past can play that game. We have moved forward with the petition that currently is posted on this website.

Amanda said...

Of course I have researched and read excerpts from "Perks of Being a Wallflower."So you HAVEN'T read the book. Reading "excerpts" (maybe the one on that charming website Ginny links to) and "researching" a novel is not the same thing as reading it. That's like saying high-school kids should only read the Cliffs Notes for Crime and Punishment, or the Wikipedia page for Romeo and Juliet. It's incredibly irresponsible to criticize a book - and actually demand its reshelving - without having read it in its entirety.

I think we're having a semantic debate about the government's role. You say it's "to protect us from ourselves" - I say it's "to protect us from hurting others." That's why we can buy Coke and Doritos, or buy porn and cigarettes, but why we can't hit our children or leave loaded weapons lying around.

As far as I know, no one in this case has suggested that a ten-year-old read The Perks of Being a Wallflower. (For the record, I read it when I was twelve, and I am a happy and healthy adult - as are nearly all the other folks who read it in their young teens, and there have been an awful lot of us over the years - so I suspect it's not quite as damaging as you seem to think.)

And even if they WERE suggesting that kids read the book, that's clearly not on par with the other things you list - "don't let your toddler kill themselves" and "don't drive so dangerously that you kill an innocent bystander". This is more along the lines of "Don't let a ten-year-old watch PG-13 movies." Will watching those movies do them permanent harm? No, of course not. Is it a good idea to let them watch those movies? No, probably not. Is it CRIMINAL to let them watch them? Of course not.

And that's why it needs to be up to individual parents, rather than an overzealous community group or the law, to make that decision. I'd much rather decide what my children can read - and trust older teens to make their own decisions, because I've raised them to be responsible - than let someone I've never met make those decisions. If your kids are too young to make responsible reading decisions, they're too young to be at the library alone anyway.

You guys can censor your own kids - I trust mine to know what's right, and I can sleep well knowing that the content of these particular books (which I've actually read, thanks) won't permanently scar any teen I've ever met.

West Bend Citizen Advocate said...

"It's incredibly irresponsible to criticize a book - and actually demand its reshelving - without having read it in its entirety."

Though I have read many of these books, I can't agree with that statement. If I read an excerpt that gives kids a sampling of how to give a b-job or hand-job, or suggests placing ejaculatory secretions on breakfast cereal, that is enough. Do I need to open a Hustler magazine and read the entire thing to know it is inappropriate for kids? Um, NO.

"I'd much rather decide what my children can read - and trust older teens to make their own decisions, because I've raised them to be responsible - than let someone I've never met make those decisions."

I would rather not let someone else make decisions to have sexually-based books with explicit language and pictures in them shotgunned out to the entire community of kids; my kids and grandkids for that matter.

"I trust mine to know what's right, and I can sleep well knowing that the content of these particular books (which I've actually read, thanks) won't permanently scar any teen I've ever met."

Huh? Did you say what I think you just said? I am, first of all, glad you can trust your kids so completely. Great parenting!

None of these books with the sex. exp. stuff in them will permanently scar ANY teen? Wow! That is one heckuva broad statement. I could bore you with some stats now, but I'll spare you the time.

This is simply not true.