This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, October 4, 1995

October 4, 1995 - libraries are anti-family

I subscribe to Citizen, a magazine produced by Focus on the Family, a Christian ministry and political advocacy group in Colorado Springs. The cover article of the latest issue (Volume 9, Number 9, also available at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock) was entitled, "What Lurks in the Library?" The subtitle: "The American Library Association believes children should have access to all material, no matter how violent or obscene."

The thesis of the article is pretty straightforward: public libraries are "anti-family."

But it turns out that there's some good news, too, at least according to the article's author. In Loudon County, Virginia, the chairman of the library board persuaded his colleagues to drop an American Library Association policy. This policy, called "the Library Bill of Rights," states that the public library should strive to make available "the widest diversity of views and expressions, including those that are unorthodox or unpopular with the majority."

The author appends this interesting statement: "The board also stripped the so-called 'anti-censorship' provisions of LBR [the Library Bill of Rights]."

I do not consider this good news. In fact, I consider this dangerous not only for libraries, but for families.

Why is the library "no longer" family friendly? (The article doesn't say when it used to be, or when that changed, or even what "family friendly" means.)

The issue seems to be that some libraries actually carry R-rated movies, and that these libraries don't automatically refuse to check the videos out to children. The unquestioned assumption, of course, is that children are eager to check them out, and do. For the record, this flatly contradicts my experience.

But since Focus on the Family has many dedicated readers and listeners, I'd like to lay my cards on the table.

First, I believe the public library is among the most "family friendly" institutions in the nation. In Douglas County, we offer public buildings that are physically attractive, determinedly welcoming, and open 68 hours a week. We have lavished our attention on acquiring a rich collection of picture books for pre-schoolers, contemporary and classic fiction for young people and adults, a broad spectrum of non-fiction for students of all ages, popular videos and audio tapes, and a good representation of general interest periodicals. We sponsor programs aimed at young people, middle aged people, and old people. We sponsor school visits. We provide public meeting space at no cost.

It is significant that over 70% of the residents of Douglas County have, and have used in the past year, a library card.

Thanks to the Friends of the Library, one of our libraries even has a changing table. Speaking as the father of a 19 month old child, it doesn't get any more family friendly than that.

Think about it: how many places can you take all of your family, for free, spend hours of time, have all the people in your family find something that suits them, and then get to take it all home?

Second, yes, we do have a few R-rated videos -- those videos that have received or been nominated for an Academy Award. Such items are the focal points of many articles, essays, and books. They deserve inclusion in a public library.

On the other hand, these items constitute a tiny fraction of our holdings. We have far more Focus on the Family publications, for instance, than R-rated movies.

Third, no, we don't examine each item at the point of check out to determine whether or not it's appropriate for the patron. It is our experience that our patrons have a pretty good idea why they want the material they do. We respect that, and do not feel it is our place (as a governmental entity) to tell them that they can't have it. That's the job of the parent, and based on my observations, "family values" get communicated pretty quickly to children. Most of the time, children live by them. If they stray, it's not because the library has seduced them.

So consider this the Douglas Public Library District's official response to the Focus on the Family allegation that we're anti-family. We believe that knowledge is better than ignorance. We believe that literacy is better than illiteracy. We believe that parents, not government employees, should decide what's appropriate for children to borrow from the public library.

And I respectfully submit that the way to determine the value of a public library is to examine it to see if you can find materials you agree with -- not just materials that you don't.

No comments:

Post a Comment