UW-M School of Information Studies Statement of Support for the West Bend Library

In recent weeks, two citizens of West Bend, Wisconsin have petitioned the West Bend Community Memorial Library to remove gay-themed books from a section designated “Young Adults,” arguing the books should be reclassified and placed in a restricted area requiring parental approval prior to being released to a minor. They further demand that the books be labeled with a warning about their content, arguing that they are obscene and pornographic.

Some of the books in question include:

The books are from major publishers, sold in general bookstores, and are available in public and high school libraries throughout the State of Wisconsin.

There has been considerable media attention to this challenge, and you can learn about the challengers’ position at their blog, “WISSUP: Wisconsin Speaks Up“, and some of the community opposition to the challenge at a blog of their own, “West Bend Parents for Free Speech“.

As a school dedicated to training librarians and information professionals principles of open access, inclusiveness, and diversity, the faculty and teaching academic staff at the UW-Milwaukee School of Information Studies have issued the following statement of support for the West Bend Library:

UW-M School of Information Studies Statement of Support for the West Bend Library
April 14, 2009

In recent weeks, two citizens of West Bend, Wisconsin have petitioned the West Bend Community Memorial Library to remove gay-themed books from a section designated “Young Adults,” arguing the books should be reclassified and placed in a restricted area requiring parental approval prior to being released to a minor. They further demand that the books be labeled with a warning about their content, arguing that they are obscene and pornographic.

The books in question include:

  • “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky (MTV Books, a division of Simon & Schuster)
  • “The Geography Club” by Brent Hartinger (HarperTeen, a division of HarperCollins)
  • “Deal With It! a whole new approach to your body, brain and life as a gURL” by Esther Drill (Pocket, a division of Simon & Schuster)

The books are from major publishers, sold in general bookstores, and are available in public and high school libraries throughout the state.

Throughout the history of the American public library, special interest groups have attempted to exert a disproportionate degree of influence on the development of a community wide resource.  Whatever the intentions of any of these groups, the public library is required to maintain a standard of intellectual integrity within a sometimes-volatile situation.

The public library was developed to be the anchor of free inquiry in our democracy.  We believe that mission is still relevant today.  Over 15,000 public library branches throughout the United States maintain access to quality materials collected and arranged according to national standards developed by thoughtful and committed information professionals.  The administration and staff of the West Bend Community Library are among those professionals and public scholars dedicated to principles of open access, inclusive collections, and community service. The education of these professionals is rigorous and expansive, demanding sophisticated skills in assessment, development and leadership; it ensures their preparedness to take the lead in developing and delivering information resources to their communities.

We, the faculty and teaching academic staff at the School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, along with the SOIS Graduate Student Organization, commend the West Bend Community Memorial Library Board of Trustees, administration, and staff for their support of the principle of intellectual freedom in the face of pressure to abandon their professional and communal commitments.

The full PDF of the statement is available here.

::UPDATE:: You can read a reaction to this Statement of Support from Dan Kleinman of SafeLibraries.org here (as well as in the comments below, where I pointed out his error in directing his statements specifically at Dr. Joyce Latham).

Tony Hoffmann, a SOIS graduate student and research assistant at CIPR, offers his retort here.

5 Comments

  1. Michael Zimmer,

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I have the following response:

    Response to : “UW-M School of Information Studies Statement of Support for the West Bend Library , by Dr. Joyce Latham, School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, April 14, 2009″

    “In recent weeks, two citizens of West Bend, Wisconsin have petitioned the West Bend Community Memorial Library to remove gay-themed books….” Yes, but they are no longer seeking that goal and implying they are can only be misleading. Issues should be fought on the issues, not on false implications.

    “They further demand that the books be labeled with a warning about their content, arguing that they are obscene and pornographic.” Perhaps, but that’s not the real issue. And if someone does not articulate the real issue well, that does not mean the real issue should be ignored. The real issue is not pornography, rather it is material that may be legally treated differently from other material for reasons of age inappropriateness.

    “The books are from major publishers, sold in general bookstores, and are available in public and high school libraries throughout the state.” True, but again this is misleading. For example, the most liberal city in the USA, New York City, removed one of those books from hundreds of its schools because of its inappropriateness for children. Yet Dr. Latham makes no mention of that, choosing instead to mislead the public. Again. A pattern is starting to be established. Further, bookstores are private businesses, not public entities supported by taxpaying citizens.

    “Throughout the history of the American public library, special interest groups have attempted to exert a disproportionate degree of influence on the development of a community wide resource.” True, but the implication is citizens seeking redress under existing library policies are in the wrong, yet Dr. Latham does not address that the “special interest group … exert[ing] a disproportionate degree of influence on the development of a community wide resource” may be the American Library Association [ALA] and its local acolytes.

    “The public library was developed to be the anchor of free inquiry in our democracy.” True, but tell me where “free inquiry” allows children access to inappropriate materials despite the law and common sense?

    “Over 15,000 public library branches throughout the United States maintain access to quality materials collected and arranged according to national standards developed by thoughtful and committed information professionals.” Right, Dr. Latham fails to disclose how the US Supreme Court allows certain materials to be kept from children despite this. For example, from US v. ALA, “The interest in protecting young library users from material inappropriate for minors is legitimate, and even compelling, as all Members of the Court appear to agree.” Why does Dr. Latham exclude that?

    “The education of these professionals is rigorous and expansive, demanding sophisticated skills in assessment, development and leadership; it ensures their preparedness to take the lead in developing and delivering information resources to their communities.” Right again. But again, Dr. Latham fails to disclose that all such education must be ALA approved and based on ALA policy.

    “We, the faculty and teaching academic staff at the School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, along with the SOIS Graduate Student Organization, commend the West Bend Community Memorial Library Board of Trustees, administration, and staff for their support of the principle of intellectual freedom in the face of pressure to abandon their professional and communal commitments.” Excuse me? A legitimate filing of a request to reconsider material under an existing library policy is “pressure to abandon their professional and communal commitments”? The ALA said despite US v. ALA, its policies will remain unchanged and children will still have access to inappropriate materials. Are those the “professional commitments” the library is being “pressured to abandon”?

    In summary, the School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has totally misled the community. Then it recommended support for a policy made up by an out-of-state organization that continues to act despite a ruling against it in the US Supreme Court. As a result, the West Bend community is being misled into voluntarily giving up legally available means for protecting their children from harm in public venues.

    I certainly hope the School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is not receiving taxpayer funding to mislead those same taxpayers into allowing their children to become sexualized or otherwise endangered by “special interest groups” like the ALA despite the law and common sense.

    Reply
  2. Dear Mr. Kleinman:

    Thank you for taking the time to leave your comment, but I would like to point out that this Statement of Support is not from Dr. Joyce Latham, but from the entire faculty, teaching academic staff, and the graduate student organization at the School of Information Studies at UW-Milwaukee. Dr. Latham is the media contact for this particular statement, but she is not the sole author. So, I hope in the future you direct your statements at the School itself, and not a particular individual.

    Best,
    Dr. Michael Zimmer

    Reply
  3. Thank you, Dr. Zimmer, for responding here.

    Based on what you said, consider my article to be addressed to the entire group described. And in return in the future, please be more clear on authorship.

    Given that, I ask you and all other authors to address the substantive issues I raised.

    While I’m writing to you, I will be happy to make myself available to you or anyone else at the school (or any other school) who may wish to contact me for any pedagogic reason. I am certain we may disagree, but I will be polite and respectful, even cheerful. In other words, you may use me as sort of a lab exhibit. In exchange, simply give me a copy of any publicly-available final product that may have resulted from my assistance, whether or not I am mentioned.

    Thanks again.

    Reply
  4. the controversy reminds me of NPOV disputes in Wikipedia. i am fascinated with the puzzle of solving proportionality of politically sensitive information sets. in the case of the WB library conflict, what should our national standards for diverse and balanced bodies of literature look like? for example, what does the ratio of Christian POV-to-LGBT … Read Morebooks translate to? also who are these certifiers who determine what is kosher reading and what isn’t? are they coming from a neutral standpoint? also should problems of knowledge representation be solved with equations for what is deemed to be politically palatable in Washington D.C.? how about having libraries reflect the values of the community instead? In other words, is this another global vs. local tension? to what extent are libraries responsible for mirroring local over national or global values. [sometimes you can't have it both ways]

    Reply

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