Library Policy Committee Conducts Review, Clashes Over Definition of Censorship

Committee did not directly address materials collection policy, will make recommendations to full board

By Micah Drew
ImagineIF Library in Kalispell on April 24, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The ImagineIF Library Board of Trustees policy committee met on Jan. 24 to begin its review of library policies. According to the essential standards set forth by the Montana State Library, the board must review its policies every few years to ensure they accurately reflect the mission and goals of the library.

Trustees Marsha Sultz and Doug Adams reviewed a handful of policies and will make recommendations to the full board at its regular meeting on Thursday. The trustees opted to send most of the policies, including those related to donations, continuing education, confidentiality, and copyright protection, to the board with a recommendation to reaffirm them with some minor language tweaks.

Two policies regarding fair treatment and computer use will be recommended for review with the full board of trustees at an upcoming retreat.

“It has language that concerns the American Library Association and it’s a hot topic with the community,” said Sultz, referring to the fair treatment policy. “It needs a broader conversation.”

The policy, first approved in 1989, adopts the American Library Association’s (ALA) Library Bill of Rights, which affirms that libraries are forums for information and ideas and states that materials should not be excluded “because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.”           

Trustee Adams has stated on numerous occasions that he believes ImagineIF should remove ALA wording from its policies and has denounced the association as having a “radical leftist agenda.”

Senior librarian Sean Anderson mentioned that in conversations he had with Adams and former interim director Martha Furman, there appeared to be broad agreement with the tenets of the fair treatment statements, and it might just require a rewrite to remove direct association with the ALA.

Another longer discussion centered around the regulation of computer use. Among paragraphs regarding internet filters for children’s use computers and a ban on using devices connected to ImagineIF Wi-Fi for illegal activity, is a sentence stating that ImagineIF provides “free and open access to information and does not practice censorship.”

Adams recommended removing the last five words of that sentence.

“The censorship part comes down to what everybody’s talking about — do we as a board have a right to make the determination of what material we buy?” Adams said. “I don’t think that’s censorship.”

Adams asked Anderson to shed some light on the library’s book buying policy, including whether his decision about which books to purchase each year at the expense of thousands of others could be considered censorship.

“Selection is not the same as censorship,” Anderson responded. “We don’t have the space to buy every book that’s published — I would love to — so we have a group of professionals here and the state library and a group of partners who make good judgments on what is being selected. I think to remove that line would be dangerous.”

“All I’m saying is that if we strike it from here, that’s not the same as saying we do practice censorship,” Adams responded. “The shift is simply not to say anything about censorship in this policy, and then we take it to the next meeting when we discuss the collection policy.”

It was determined that the policy would be tabled until the full board of trustees convenes at their annual retreat, which will include a representative from the Montana State Library as a policy resource.

“Just to be very frank, you’re not going to convince me of this,” Anderson said before the discussion moved on. “Everywhere that our policy can have a full-throated defiance of censorship, it should.”

ImagineIF’s policies can be viewed online at www.imagineiflibraries.org/your-library/policies/

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.