Saturday, May 7, 2016

Public librarians' Views on Collection Development and Censorship

Hober, Michael

Oltmann, S. M. (2016). Public librarians' views on collection development and censorship. Collection Management41(1), 23-44.

Descriptive Summary:  The article begins with a discussion of censorship – what it is, how it manifests in libraries or with publishers, what the ALA position on censorship is, and gives reasons why most libraries attempt to avoid it. Self-censorship can be a problem among librarians as they might not select works that they think are likely to be challenged or cause too much controversy. The literature review found that a majority of librarians have experienced pressure to remove items from the collection, but that most are still willing to select items that are potentially controversial. 
A survey was conducted that got 108 responses from librarians in Ohio responsible for collection development at their libraries. Some of the results were:

  • 35% of librarians reported having a specific policy in place to ensure that a balanced collection, including various viewpoints, is developed.   
  • Librarians disagreed with a statement that library funding bodies should have a say in collection development (82%).  
  • 73% agreed that community values should be considered.  
  • 81.6% disagreed with the statement that potentially offensive library materials should be labeled.  
  • 98% agreed that a variety of values and positions should be represented.  
  • A majority would not select materials that are already represented well enough in the collection or are factually inaccurate.  
  • Most librarians agreed that whether an item had offensive content or not was not the main concern, rather it first must be considered whether there is literary merit to the item before a judgment can be made.  
  • Nearly all librarians were in agreement with ALA’s code of ethics and statement on intellectual freedom.  

The survey responses included several interesting examples of how pressure is applied to librarians to change the collection in some way – a friend of a staff member publishing a book leads to pressure to add it to the collection; a risqué magazine cover prompts complaints about its appropriateness for display; labeling CDs with warnings about explicit content, pressure to remove movies from the collection that are considered too graphic; pressure to move materials from the children’s section to adolescent or from teen to adult; a member of the board of trustees wanting materials that represent his political views added to the collection; members of the community with extreme views asking for representation.

Evaluation: This survey indicates that most librarians agree with the ALA's values regarding censorship and intellectual freedom.  However, there is some indication from the librarians' responses that they feel pressure from members of their communities, other staff members, publishers, and those who provide funding to their libraries to either include or exclude certain materials based on those people's personal opinions and beliefs.  The desire to avoid that kind of pressure is what leads to the kind of self-censorship mentioned in the article, where librarians intentionally avoid certain materials in order to escape an expected conflict later.  Libraries and their administrations can help to relieve some of this pressure from librarians by ensuring that there are clear policies regarding intellectual freedom that librarians can use when selecting materials or handling complaints and challenges.  

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