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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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