It seems I’m not going to get away from politics as soon as I thought. As I’ve mentioned before, librarianship is inherently political because libraries rely on funding and support from governmental agencies and as such we have no option to be apolitical when it comes to our survival. Further, the ALA Code of Ethics, once a neutral statement about the inherent worth of all persons and their right to access materials, may now be seen as politically charged as many of their tenets would now be seen as “liberal values.” It was never the intention of the ALA to be anything but neutral but in our increasingly divisive society there seems to be no neutrality any more.
I was reading a classmate’s blog today about the Politics of Book Buying and Weeding. In the post, Pamela discusses the conflicts that can arise in the process of collection development. If your community is deeply “red” should you include books that would appeal to the other side of the aisle or do you cater to the majority of your patrons? As Pamela indicates, by not including a balanced collection you aren’t upholding the ALA Code of Ethics. Pamela references Potentially Partisan Weeding by the Annoyed Librarian. In this post, the Annoyed Librarian discusses the concept of weeding solely based on circulation and how that can lead to partisan collections. Weeding based on circulation (sometimes known as Patron Driven Acquisition) is fundamentally at odds with policies directed at curating a balanced collection. What results, suggests the Annoyed Librarian is a critical question: Do you want a well-balanced collection or high circulation?
But let me approach the issue differently. You’re the librarian in the Youth Services area. Do you buy books about LGBTQI issues even though you don’t know if there are any patrons who might want them? Or books about divorce in a Catholic School? Examples abound, so I won’t list them all here. LGBTQI patrons don’t wear hats that say “HEY LOOK AT ME I’M GAY” and they sure don’t in rural Kentucky. Just because you haven’t seen a patron “type” doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Further, maybe they don’t exist in your library because your collection doesn’t reflect them and their values. What patron driven acquisition ignores is silent circulation. The teen who browses the stacks and reads about something that may not be “acceptable” where they live. The woman who needs to know about how to leave her abusive spouse/family but can’t risk checking out the item. The person who is embarrassed about a medical or psychological condition and is looking for answers. All of these patrons have needs that will assuredly be ignored in a circulation-based collection development policy.
Andrew Hart’s piece in Public Libraries Online, Political Ethics: Keeping your Library Neutral approaches the issue of neutrality not from a place of collection development, but one of implicit bias, especially in election years. Hart writes “it is imperative that public libraries do not…steer the public toward a particular party or candidate.” I agree. But circulation based collection development does just that. Libraries in deeply biased areas cannot adopt circulation based weeding policies if they wish to uphold the ALA Code of Ethics. Further, Hart’s piece was written in October 2016, before the election and before we entered the particular political climate in which we find ourselves.
The IFLA Code of Ethics also addresses neutrality. It states: “librarians and other information workers are strictly committed to neutrality and an unbiased stance regarding collection, access and service.” As I read that statement I once again thought about our current political climate in the US as I think about access. Accessibility is paramount to my librarianship philosophy. The concept of access affects all patrons. Access to knowledge, physical access. Currently, the Trump administration wants to limit our access to knowledge by silencing the media and removing information from government websites. There have been threats to educational access and confirmation from the administration of intent to deconstruct our government. The administration may threaten physical access with respect to the Americans with Disabilities Act. The federal website for disability education disappeared, leaving parents and educators without information. Some of this information has returned, some of these plans may never come to fruition, but the very fact that this information was removed in the first place, that plans to dismantle whole information providing departments is a phenomenon librarians will need to remain aware of.
I agree that libraries should be balanced. I agree that they should be neutral. I’m just not sure that in the current political climate we can be. Librarians are keepers of knowledge. We are teachers and researchers. If information and knowledge becomes politicized (which it has) in order to provide access to information and to support our patrons, we will not be able to be impartial. Collections can strive for neutrality and balance but library advocacy, for our patrons, for information itself, is not neutral in this political climate.
ALA (2008). Code of ethics. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/proethics/codeofethics/codeethics
Schneider, K. G. (Annoyed Librarian) (2017 February 9) Potentially partisan weeding. [Weblog post] Library Journal. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/blogs/annoyedlibrarian/2017/02/09/potentially-partisan-weeding/
Diament, M. (2017 February 8) Federal special education website goes dark. Disability Scoop. Retrieved from https://www.disabilityscoop.com/2017/02/08/federal-special-ed-website-dark/23295/
Hart, A. (2016 October 19). Political ethics: Keeping your library neutral. [Weblog post] Public Libraries Online. Retrieved from http://publiclibrariesonline.org/2016/10/political-ethics-keeping-your-library-neutral/
IFLA (2016). Code of ethics for librarians and other information workers (short version). Retrieved from http://www.ifla.org/publications/ifla-code-of-ethics-for-librarians-and-other-information-workers–short-version-?og=30
Ingraham, N. (2017 January 20). Trump’s White House website deletes climate change, LGBT pages. Endgadget. Retrieved from https://www.engadget.com/2017/01/20/trumps-white-house-website-deletes-climate-change-lgbt-pages/
Kamenetz, A. (2017 February 9) About that bill abolishing The department of education. NPR. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/02/09/514148945/about-that-bill-abolishing-the-department-of-education
Rozsa, M. (2017 February 24). Steve Bannon says Trump’s cabinet of billionaires has been “selected for a reason . . . deconstruction”. Salon. Retrieved from https://www.salon.com/2017/02/24/steve-bannon-says-trumps-cabinet-of-billionaires-is-selected-for-a-reason-deconstruction/
Van Halsma, P. (2017). The politics of book buying and weeding. [Weblog post] Retrieved from https://givemesometruthblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/14/the-politics-of-book-buying-and-weeding/
Vu, M. (2016 November 10). How will a trump administration change the ADA Title III landscape? [Weblog post] Retrieved from http://www.adatitleiii.com/2016/11/how-will-a-trump-administration-change-the-ada-title-iii-landscape/
Wikipedia (2017). Patron driven acquisition. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patron-driven_acquisition
Fischer, K. S., Wright, M., Clatanoff, K., Barton, H., & Shreeves, E. (2012). Give’em what they want: A one-year study of unmediated patron-driven acquisition of e-books. College & Research Libraries, 73(5), 469-492.