Working with your Community

What to do before a challenge occurs:
  • Know your community and its demographics. By being aware of your community makeup, you can draft policies and procedures that both serve the needs of guaranteeing patron access to information, while also keeping your community informed about the why’s of your policies in terms that resonate with them.
  • Always remember that your community, like every other, is made up of people whose opinions span the whole spectrum. Be conscious and conscientious of differing opinions and include everyone in your library. After all, they are the sole reason the library exists.
  • Make certain that your policies are clear and that they are easily accessible for patrons.
  • Partner with community organizations and make sure that community members know your library director and staff.
  • Know your community’s values. Knowledge of community values can help you position intellectual freedom and its terminology in terms that resonate with your community members. Make sure you have policies and procedures that specifically and clearly address areas of concern for your community, and which do so in non-judgmental ways that invite questions and discourse.
  • Know your local elected officials. By knowing your local officials and keeping them informed about the library and its mission, you will be more likely to find support from them should a problem occur. You may also find that your mission and strategic plans are embraced by them such that they become a vocal supporter for you in the community.
  • Provide all local elected officials (and other important community members) with statistical reports, strategic plans, annual reports and anything else that can help them understand your mission.
  • Regularly celebrate national and state library events. Libraries are part of a holistic approach to the provision of information. Letting your patrons know that their library is part of something bigger may well help them develop an even greater sense of pride in the library and the library staff, understanding that library work is truly professional and important in nature. For example, if appropriate, celebrate censorship week, teen read week, national library card sign-up month, etc.
  • Let your patrons know that you attend important conferences that help you become trained to provide even greater levels of service.
  • Develop good relations with your local media. Work with them to write articles for the newspaper that demonstrate the library’s value and support the library’s mission and goals.
  • If feasible and appropriate, work closely with schools and participate in school functions. The library is a definite, though often forgotten, part of the local educational infrastructure. Aside from offering general informational and recreational items of interest, the library also offers access to a vast array of educational materials making it possible for anyone to self-educate.
  • Set up booths at school events and pass out information, including information regarding policies affected by intellectual freedom issues.
  • Ask to present to government (and other) classes about the importance of libraries and intellectual freedom.
  • If desirable in your community, give your patrons options, especially where their children are concerned. Everyone likes to feel included and offering options is a great way to do so. Can parents limit child activities on child cards (for example, decide whether children should be able to check out certain types of materials)? Can parents decide if their children are able to access the hardwired and wireless Internet?
  • Educate parents about their rights and responsibilities regarding their children’s use of the library.
  • Have clear policies and procedures regarding children’s use of the library.
  • Create and make easily accessible a brochure about parental knowledge, consent, and monitoring privileges.
  • Do you remind parents through programming and activities that their interaction with their children is vital?
  • When possible, grab the “teachable moments” to provide patrons with information about the importance of protecting privacy.
  • If desirable, hold a program about patron privacy.
  • Be consistent in your efforts and vocal on your policies to protect the right of access to all persons.
  • Create a display. For example, how about putting up a book display comparing our freedoms in the United States with those freedoms of citizens in other countries.
  • Create displays and host programs embracing and celebrating diversity.
  • Create displays and host programs showing multiple sides to issues.
  What to do should a challenge occur:
  • First and foremost keep things in proper perspective. Everyone involved is a human being and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. This, of course, means that you actively listen to and thoughtfully consider the opinions presented by everyone.
  • Should the worst happen and a challenge occur, make sure that only one person will speak for the library. The provides clarity and consistency of message and helps alleviate the awkwardness likely felt by employees (remember, in many instances your employees may well know the person or persons who have initiated the challenge). It also removes the possibility for an employee to incorrectly state something.
  • Generate your own positive publicity, focusing on the all the services the library offers the community. Over and against public discontent, spread the truth about all the library does for the community. Begin a public awareness blitz emphasizing community assets of the public library. Spend money on posters and advertisements to show the importance of the public library.
  • Create high quality posters and advertisements to show the importance of the public library.
  • Create a brochure with the truth about parental knowledge, consent, and monitoring privileges—or any other truth that may be distorted by some in the public in an effort to educate those misled by the opposing narrative.
  • Consider writing an opinion article for the local newspaper concerning intellectual freedom in general (not speaking about the current incident specifically).
  • Make your advertising and policy-related materials easily accessible.
  • Do not be drawn in to discussions about intellectual freedom challenges.  Do not argue, do not offer point-counter point debate, and do not enter the online discussions.
  • Be courteous to all callers (in person, on phone, via e-mail), offer copies of your policies, and thank them for their feedback.
If we can stress only one point, it is the previous one—do not be drawn inremain above the fray.  While it is difficult not to defend yourself and your library by publicly arguing against your accusers, such action will only fuel the fires, excite the media, and bring you down to the same level as those circulating misinformation.  Take a deep breath and smile.  Then show the community how great your library is and leave the arguing to others.