Home Commentary Op-ed THE ROLE OF THE LIBRARY IS NOT CENSORSHIP

THE ROLE OF THE LIBRARY IS NOT CENSORSHIP

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As a librarian I am very disappointed with a recent value judgement made at the St John library resulting in some photographs on display being taken down.
The photographs titled "The Colorful Men of St. John" depicted local men who have their own fashion sense. A library worker complained that some of the people in the photos had unsavory reputations.
Simon Caines, coordinator of library and cultural services decided the photos could not be exhibited in the library.
I am surprised as well as disappointed since libraries generally abhor censorship. In fact the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights (ALA’s basic policy concerning access to information) states that "Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents—and only parents-have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children—and only their children -to library resources."
Censorship by librarians violates the First Amendment. Also, ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Manual states, "Freedom to express oneself through a chosen mode of communication becomes virtually meaningless if access to that information is not protected."
Although these photos were not a library holding, surely the library must have some books that contain passages that some people would object to. Although it may be commendable to object that the men in the photos may not be community role models, I do not think that is the point of art or the role of the library to decide.
Freedom of thought and expression is a basis of our democracy and libraries usually fight to keep it so.
American libraries are the repositories of views that may not be popular and the freedom to express unorthodox views must be protected. Many of the classic books of our time have been challenged as objectionable. Recently Modern Library Press published a list of the best novels of the 20th century. A third of the titles on this list have been challenged in libraries and schools at some point. The Grapes of Wrath and The Color Purple have been frequent targets for those activists who say the are protecting the community.
Considering the state of disrepair and the neglect of the libraries
in the Virgin Islands, this incident should lead us to consider the actual
role that our libraries have in our community. Don’t we want our
libraries to be concerned with providing us with quality access to
information rather judging the moral quality of artistic photographs?

Editor's note: Betty Story has been a teacher in the Virgin Islands for over 10 years. She currently holds the position of librarian at Charlotte Amalie High School. She is a regular contributor to St. Thomas Source.

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