Source: "Residents to Have Say on Petit Book," by Luther Turmelle, New Haven Register, 20 October 20 2009, emphasis mine. It should have been called "Residents to Have NO Say on Petit Book."
Thank you, radio host Laura Ingraham, for the fair use of the But... Monkey concept and image. Ms. Ingraham's concept of a But... Monkey is someone who says something good initially, then there's a "but," then the person says and means nearly the exact opposite. In Cheshire, CT, the library director says she will listen to residents, and that is good, then there's a "but," then she says she will not listen to them, the library board, or even the town government. That is bad. The truth is the exact opposite.
Who is the real power in the town? The residents are the real power. At some time in the past, they organized a public library. That organization was likely recorded in some legal document such as a statute, an ordinance, a charter, what have you. That library was most likely established for a certain purpose, and the purpose was to be carried out by a certain means that likely has nothing to do with a single library director overruling an entire town and its government.
Look at the history of the library: "Community support for the Cheshire Public Library began in 1888 when a group of concerned citizens gathered together to form the Village Improvement Society." "The assets of the Library Association were turned over to the town and a citizens’ advisory Library Board was appointed by the Board of Selectmen." There's nothing there about the library director outranking those citizens or those boards.
"In 1978, the Library went 'on-line' with four other towns, forming the first automated Library consortium in the state of Connecticut." That implies Ramona Harten can control several communities all at once.
“This is not about my personal judgment about whether I like this book or not,” Harten said. “This is about me doing the job that I’m paid to do, and the final decision lies with the library director. There are probably a lot of books in our collection that some people may find offensive, but we leave it up to our patrons to decide whether they want to read them or not.”
If the statement in bold sounds like hubris, it is not. Factually, the library director is correct. The official book selection policies and practices say, "Although the staff participates in the selection process, the Library Director is ultimately responsible for the selection of materials." Despite the history of the library, despite founding documents, despite common sense, the current library director is, by policy, the sole arbiter of what goes. Does anybody see anything wrong here? Might there be a need to amend the policy?
One policy consideration is a selection criterion called, "evident popularity." The book is about the brutal murder of the entire family of a man who lives in the town. Hundreds of people are asking that the library in this particular town not stock this particular book while the victim is still living in the town. I would call that "evident UNpopularity."
"In the event of an objection to any material, ... [t]he Director will apply the selection criteria to the material in question," says the policy, but it appears that may not be happening. Noncompliance may be another reason to amend the library's policy.
What does the American Library Association [ALA] say about selection policy? Certainly ALA guidance is important because the library holds ALA policy to be paramount (Section III). In the ALA's "Workbook for Selection Policy Writing," apparently written for public school libraries, more than a single person is involved in selection policy decisions, and the final decision maker has authority delegated to her—she is not the ultimate authority:
In most states, the locally elected or appointed school board, by law, has broad powers and responsibilities in the selection of instructional materials. This authority should be delegated by policy to appropriate professionals for day-to-day exercise.
While selection of materials involves many people, including administrators, supervisors, teachers, library media specialists, students, and even community residents, the responsibility for coordinating and recommending the selection and purchase of library media materials should rest with the certificated library media personnel. Responsibility for coordinating the selection and purchase of textbooks and other classroom materials may rest with appropriate department chairpersons or with textbook or media evaluation committees.
Ramona Harten did say, "This is about me doing the job that I’m paid to do." That indicates she is answerable to someone or some entity. Perhaps that person or entity would like to consider what the ALA has said about selection policy decisions and rewrite the Cheshire Public Library policy to be in line with the ALA policy held so high in Section III. Compliance with reasonable ALA policy may be a third reason to change the library's existing policy.
In order to stock that first library, Mary Baldwin and her friend Mary Dickerman spent many hours collecting books. In 1892, a Library Association formed, with Mary Baldwin volunteering to serve as Librarian, a post she would hold for the next 29 years. .... Two years later the Library moved to a house owned by Mary Baldwin’s father, presently known as the Belknap House. .... In late summer 1996, the new Library opened. .... A larger programming room (named for Mary Baldwin) and sophisticated telecommunications links were among the improvements. Source: "A History of the Cheshire Public Library."
Compare Mary Baldwin to library director Ramona Harten: "This is about me doing the job that I’m paid to do, and the final decision lies with the library director."
First Library Director Mary Baldwin. Present Library Director Ramona Harten. What a difference.
The residents, library board, and town government of Cheshire, CT, ought to ensure the library policy is amended to be more compliant with existing ALA guidelines, local control, and common sense. Several justifications have been provided for amendment. Certainly there are more.
"Cheshire Public Library has not lost sight of its mission...." Time will tell if that is true.