Read the St. Joe County Public Library Viewpoint

The St. Joseph County Public Library Leadership Team submitted the following viewpoint letter to the editor of the South Bend Tribune on August 31, 2023.

The first amendment to the Constitution protects our freedom to read, to listen, to write, to speak and to protest about our beliefs and opinions with protection from retaliation.

Our public libraries are a symbol of freedom of speech and are fundamental to our democracy. This freedom can’t be taken lightly. 

There are some countries where authors and journalists are threatened or imprisoned for what they write or say. 

And citizens don’t have free access to read what they’d like and their access to the Internet is highly restricted.

An informed public is important for a healthy democracy. Public libraries have a mission to provide free access to books and information for all people.

This includes access for all ages. Minors are also protected by their own first amendment rights. Public libraries are important for the next generation of thoughtful readers and responsible citizens.

A parent or caregiver always has the first and most important role in teaching and guiding their child. It is the parent or caregiver’s responsibility to decide what their child can read and what programs or experiences their child may participate in.

We are obligated to include materials offering different viewpoints. And some of these materials may be controversial or offensive to some members of the public. It is ok if an individual disagrees with a library book or program and decides not to select that book or attend that program. 

In fact, each of us in this room has books in the library we personally don’t agree with. While we each would have good intentions, if one by one we removed books according to our personal values, there wouldn’t be anything left. Our shelves would be bare.

Here are some diverse titles you will find in our collection

How Capitalism Saved America and The Socialist Manifesto

Mandy’s Song and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Spiritual Gems of Islam and Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

Barack Obama Selected Speeches and The Greatest Speeches of President Donald J. Trump

Following are the criteria we use for selecting books:

The library’s Collection Development Policy serves as a guide for the selection of materials. We use five major guidelines: 

  1. The American Library Association statements including the Library Bill of Rights, Freedom to Read, and Diversity in Collection Development.
  2. The needs and demands of people and community organizations.
  3. The merit of the work as a whole, not by selected or random passages. 
  4. The obligation to reflect within the collection differing points of view on controversial subjects, and 
  5. the existing collection, budget and services. 

You might wonder how we decide the location of books in the library

We rely on our professional Collection Development and Technical Services Librarians to determine the appropriate location for each title added to the collection. 

They classify a book based on author and publisher information for the intended audience, professional reviews of the title, and shared data on where other libraries have placed the book. 

Our librarians have undergone rigorous schooling and preparation to decide the best place to put every title in our collection for our community of readers to easily access them.

We do not typically remove books from a children or teen area, because that denies access and is censorship. For example, if we move a teen title to the adult section, that teen or parent/caregiver will more than likely never find it. 

You may not want your child or teen to check out a title that does not follow your personal values, but there are many other parents in the community who would want that book on the shelf in the teen area for their child or teen if they choose to read it.

We leave it up to the parents or caregivers to know what is best for their child or teen.

The public library plays an important role in our democracy. We are used by a diverse community, and provide services and a collection that meets the needs of every individual and family in our community. 

In closing, we would like to share a quote from the former U.S.  Poet  Laureate, Rita Dove: “The library is an arena of possibility, opening both a window into the soul and a door onto the world.”

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