On My Mind: It May Be Legal but It's Not Right

By Symons, Ann K. | American Libraries, October 2004 | Go to article overview

On My Mind: It May Be Legal but It's Not Right


Symons, Ann K., American Libraries


It saddens me these days to walk into the Juneau (Alaska) Public Library. In fact, I now find myself avoiding it because I don't want to walk by the display case. For most people, that reaction would be caused by something in the display they thought was offensive; but for me, it's the library's display policy that's offensive. I'm actually so incensed by the stance of the library that I'm considering taking the library foundation out of my will.

In June 2002, PFLAG (Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) had its first-ever exhibit in the public display case at the Juneau Public Library; but the exhibit, which featured photos of famous gay men and lesbians, was up only one day before the library director took it down. As a member of PFLAG, and a librarian who was known to be outspoken about intellectual freedom, I was asked to attend a subsequent meeting with the library staff and the PFLAG members who had put up the exhibit.

Reasons for rejection

The purpose of that meeting was to find out why the staff had removed the exhibit. We found out that it was considered too controversial--children might walk by and ask their parents questions. We found out that the grammar used in the descriptions of the photos did not pass muster. We found out that the library staff disagreed with the choice of persons whose photos were in the exhibit--they weren't all "mainline" gays and lesbians.

By far the worst was finding out that the library's display policy gave the director the authority to censor anything she didn't like in any exhibit. As the director explained to us, she had written the policy just for circumstances like ours and said, "I'd rather fight with PFLAG than the conservative right."

PFLAG abandoned the fight over the exhibit to fight with the library over its policy. We refused as a group to bow to the changes the library wanted to make in the exhibit and walked away. The library staff then revised the exhibit to their liking.

No board on board

The library does not have an advisory board, a policy board, or, in fact, any other board. Policy decisions are between the director, the city manager, and the borough assembly. When PFLAG asked for the policy to be reviewed, the director admitted the policy might be out of date and the laws changed since she wrote the policy. …

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