Magazine article American Libraries

On My Mind

Magazine article American Libraries

On My Mind

Article excerpt

What's Wrong with "Family Friendly Libraries"?

In recent years the library community has come under increasing scrutiny and criticism, being described as advocates of feminism, homosexuality, pornography, and a host of other "anti-family" social and political trends. Over the last decade the voices of dissent and criticism of ALA, both within and outside the profession, have grown louder and more strident. And librarians have found themselves more and more often the only voice in the community calling for tolerance toward these so-called anti-family ideas and minority lifestyles and cultures.

The chorus of "pro-family" critics has grown louder, while library advocates have largely stepped back into the shadows and hunkered down to try to wait out the barrage of attacks. Meanwhile, many librarians are, quite frankly, shocked by how mean-spirited and vicious these attacks can be. For example, a recent issue of Focus on the Family's Citizen included a cartoon showing a group of children in a library, reading books called Pipe Bomb Illustrated, My Pal Manson, and Anarchy Atlas in a room labeled "ALA Reading Corner" (AL, Nov. 1995, p. 1007).

And now a new lobbying group called Family Friendly Libraries has been formed, with the encouragement and assistance of conservative groups like Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, the American Family Association, Citizens for Community Values, and James Dobson's Focus on the Family. These groups clearly proclaim themselves to be advocates for conservative Judeo-Christian values and ideas, and enemies of anyone whose words or actions, they believe, might tend to undermine this social worldview. They clearly view alternatives to the traditional two-parent family as dangerous aberrations in the social order. Efforts by librarians to promote tolerance of varying viewpoints are seized on as evidence of an "anti-family" bias.

Family Friendly Libraries and its founder Karen Jo Gounaud clearly believe that ALA policies are at least partly responsible for the "decay" of American society. According to Gounaud, ALA's Library Bill of Rights is "infamous" and ALA's policies "fail to uphold the traditional family." She clearly sees her group bringing pressure on library boards that, in their opinion, fail to actively promote family values.

ALA's iron fist

Strangely enough, Gounaud seems to believe that local libraries are "tightly controlled" by ALA and its policies - an idea that may make quite a few librarians shake their heads in disbelief. She doesn't describe exactly how ALA is able to enforce its edicts on local libraries, but it's clear from her "vision statement" for FFL that Gounaud sees ALA as an evil empire that rules libraries with an iron fist.

The issue here is, of course, that these people honestly believe that ALA is "hostile to traditional family values" and that ALA somehow forces local libraries to put anti-family materials on the shelves. In the view of these right-wing groups, we are currently in the middle of a culture war. There are no "neutral" parties - everyone is either "family friendly" or an enemy to family values. For them, the issue is not "censorship" but "sponsorship"; that is, when a library buys a book that treats homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle, it gives aid and comfort to the enemy - an "anti-family" attack on conservative values.

Family Friendly Libraries is clearly affiliated and cooperating with a variety of right-wing organizations that would like ALA to drop its current policy on challenged library materials, which state that every challenge to library materials needs to be examined and studied in the context of First Amendment rights, with a goal to create a society where libraries can act as a forum for a wide variety of ideas.

Mark Stover, library director of the California Family Study Center, suggests that all challenges have an intrinsic merit as a form of social protest, "a democratic process of providing checks and balances to the materials selection process" (AL, Nov. …

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