Magazine article American Libraries

On My Mind: The Importance of Workplace Speech

Magazine article American Libraries

On My Mind: The Importance of Workplace Speech

Article excerpt

In June, a display for Gay and Lesbian Pride Month at the Tampa-Hillsborough County (Fla.) Public Library's West Gate branch was ordered removed (AL, Aug., p. 14-15). Shortly afterwards, the Hillsborough County commissioners banned the promotion of gay pride activities. Later that month, ALA Council adopted two resolutions speaking directly to the Hillsborough County incidents: one decrying threats to library materials related to sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation and another to protect workplace speech (AL, Aug., p. 73-74).

The latter said, "Libraries should encourage discussion among library workers, including library administrators, on nonconfidential professional and policy matters about the operation of the library and matters of public concern within the framework of applicable laws."

Afraid to speak

The Hillsborough County gay pride ban shows why this resolution is crucial. County employees, specifically librarians, were afraid to speak up against the ban because of a rule that county employees are not allowed to share information with the media about their opinions of events in the workplace. This is counter to ALA's resolution, which asserts that "library staff are uniquely positioned to provide guidance on library policy issues that is informed by their experience and education."

When librarians were not allowed to speak out to defend their First Amendment rights, the public could only assume that librarians were not solidly against the commission's action nor solidly for the cause of intellectual freedom. Although this was not the case, Hillsborough County public librarians remained tight-lipped due to fear.

As a university professor I was allowed to freely express my disdain for the events, but I continued to notice that no librarians from the county system attended meetings, nor did any of them voice their concern for this outrageous act of censorship. It became quickly obvious to us that they were not allowed to voice their opinions due to the workplace rule noted above.

I sought opinions on the controversy from e-mail discussion lists and received anonymous responses. One librarian who has worked in Hillsborough County for over 25 years asserted that she has never experienced the fear of reprisal that exists with the current library administration. She said that anyone who questions certain policies "often faces disciplinary action or continuing harassment from library administration, including reassignment, denial or promotion, or removal from system-wide committees. …

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