Undecking the Halls: Why Christmas Decorations Do Not Belong in Public Library Spaces

Article excerpt

Although the appropriateness of Christmas decorations has been debated in the US for many years, it does not yet appear to be discussed in Australia. Public libraries have a responsibility to be impartial in their delivery of collections and services. This should include the provision of an impartial physical environment or public face, which Christmas decorations undermine. There are several arguments made for Christmas decorations in libraries, all of which are contestable. To retain neutrality of the public library face, all religious or cultural celebrations should be limited to educative displays in delineated spaces such as display cabinets

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At the end of year public library staff are likely to bring the boxes of Christmas decorations out of storage and spend a morning merrily decorating shelving, service desks and anything else within reach with tinsel, Santas, fake Christmas trees and assorted Christmas paraphernalia. They may even insist upon pumping Christmas carols across the public address system. Every year library staff treat the space of the public library as if it is their own home, with apparent management acquiescence or even encouragement.

The appropriateness of Christmas decorations (particularly Christmas trees) in public libraries has been debated in American libraries for many years. (1) Yet it does not appear to have been raised as an issue in Australian public libraries. The principles at stake, however, demand serious attention by those with responsibility for public library services.

Public library policy framework

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's (Unesco) Public library manifesto (2) states that the public library is the local 'gateway to knowledge' and 'provides a basic condition for lifelong learning, independent decision making and cultural development of the individual and social groups'. To this end, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (Ira) Glasgow Declaration (3) states that 'library and information services shall make materials, facilities and services equally accessible to all users' and that

   libraries and information services shall acquire,
   preserve and make available the widest variety of
   materials, reflecting the plurality and diversity of
   society. The selection and availability of library
   materials and services shall be governed by
   professional considerations and not by political, moral
   and religious views.

The Australian Library and Information Association's (Alia) policy on free access to information (4) asserts the

   equal and equitable rights of citizens to information
   regardless of age, race, gender, religion, disability,
   cultural identity, language, socioeconomic status,
   lifestyle choice, political allegiance or social
   viewpoint

and that libraries and information services have responsibility to

   [adopt] an inclusive approach in developing and
   implementing policies ...'. Libraries also must '[cater]
   for interest in contemporary issues without promoting
   or suppressing particular beliefs and ideas.

Alia's policy on public libraries (5) states

   a public library services its community through the
   provision of access to knowledge, information and
   works of imagination through a range of resources and
   services.

Professional ethics requires library managers and other librarians to put aside personal viewpoints and serve library users and create collections with complete neutrality. This they generally endeavour to do.

It is a logical extrapolation from these platforms of impartiality in collections and services to assert public libraries have a responsibility to create an impartial and detached physical environment. If it is a 'gateway to knowledge' then all the resources and services of the library must come together to create a completely impartial public face. …