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These days, I'm the director of the American Library Association' s Office for Intellectual Freedom. I'm also executive director and secretary of the Freedom to Read Foundation. See "About Me" for contact information.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Trustee talks to library school

In library school, I never had the chance to hear about the library world from the Trustee perspective. Last night, one of our two new Trustees, Ms. Demetria Heath, accompanied me to a DU library class (Professional Principles & Ethics, taught by Dr. Mary Stansbury). She described, from her perspective, what it was like to submit a "request for reconsideration" of a book she objected to a couple of years ago. I've written about that incident, as has Ms. Heath.

I think Ms. Heath provided the students with something quite extraordinary: a view from the outside of the profession, a real-life example of a critic who is both insightful and eminently rational -- and is also willing to assume a governance role when called on. She also provided a fascinating follow-up to our encounter: the publisher actually changed the content of the book, perhaps based on my communication of Ms. Heath's concern.

I followed this up with the only example -- after receiving over 200 challenges over the years -- of a book I did in fact remove after a complaint. Then we had a lively discussion: why did I resist Ms. Heath's complaint, and grant the request of another patron? Had I committed an act of censorship?

This kind of real world situation -- dealing with complaints, learning to listen to critics and take action -- is vital training for people who really want to be librarians. And it was fun, too -- for all of us, I think.

A last observation: Ms. Heath's complaint, the complaint that caused me to remove a book, and in fact, many of the complaints I receive, were all about fairy tales. Isn't that interesting? Fantasy is more real than reality. It reveals reality, making plain what might otherwise have remained hidden.

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