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TL v62n2: Karyn Storts-Brinks
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It's My Opinion!

Intellectual Freedom


Karen Storts-Brinks


Collection Development Controversy

Readers, I am NOT going to mention any particular title(s) here by name, because we all know that every year, or a few times per year, certain titles develop such an overwrought reputation that we tire of hearing them mentioned whether or not we ourselves have strong positive or negative feelings about these titles. But when it comes to defending their presence (or absence) in our collections, we should have a clear policy that is in writing as well as deeply internalized to justify our rationale for all collection development decisions, and those policies and decisions should be designed to achieve the singular goal of best serving our patron population.

Does every title in my library have impeccable literary merit? Certainly not. But if patrons are reading and enjoying titles I consider dubious for whatever reason, and they want to come back for more, I am successful even if the only additional titles they EVER want to check out I would consider equally dubious. Now, I happen to be in a school library, so I do have the additional job expectation of educating my patrons, which means that I do work hard to get my library users to extend their reach beyond their comfort zone and into the realm of the literary, but I will never do that at the cost of ignoring their input, transmitting disdain for whatever they may want to self-select, OR by limiting their options of self-selection by only including titles I would eagerly display on my own home bookshelves.

I encourage--and provide resources and ready opportunities for--patrons to suggest titles to be added to the collection. Do I research every one of these titles looking for the kind of merit that can justify adding them to my budget? Of course I do; money is tight. If requested titles seem to fall into the dubious category (something like potentially disturbingly edgy content not backed up by good reviews), then these requests don't get prioritized like the patron requests that are for titles that most people seem to agree are knockouts for my patrons' approximate demographic. However, if multiple patrons come in requesting the same crappy title or pedantic author that is nowhere on the library shelves, you can bet I'm going to start feeling some chagrin that I am not putting a book my patrons want into their hands.

Here is just one example to illustrate: a couple of years ago, I had a rash of high school-aged young women requesting books from a particular author. When the first patron made her inquiry, I had never heard of this author. It was very easy to determine, however, that he does not write in the Young Adult category--he is known for urban romance with plenty of steamy bits for grownups. We're looking at probably not, UNTIL the third patron in as many or fewer weeks had the same request. I sighed and found an inexpensive paperback with what I hoped was the least outrageously racy plot and started circulating that thing like crazy, because girl, if you know this author and are asking for his work, I assume you know what he writes about, so your sensibilities won't be shocked. Each assured me that that was precisely the case, and a few volunteered that they may need to renew before the circulation period was up so their mama could read it, too--no problems, PLUS bonus readers.

Are those books going to be right for every patron? Of course not, so it's not like I'm going to put every new book at the top of my most-recommended list. But if other patrons hear rumors they find unpleasant about a particular author's or title's content, they don't get to DISALLOW me from ever talking about or providing that title or author to another patron. It doesn't take long for patrons to stop believing that you are there to serve them when you are choosing the needs of only some of them, or building the collection for somebody other than them.

A final consideration: one of the only ways that having little or no support staff makes life easier is that there are fewer individuals required to internalize collection development policies and rationale for a variety of titles. I don't delegate much knowledge of my library's collection and its patrons because besides myself, there is one other certified librarian on staff who is very familiar with ALA's tenets about reader rights and intellectual freedom, and that's it. For other library situations, be aware that no shortage of controversy has been exacerbated or even provoked by library support staff being unaware of or indifferent to thoughtful policies and ways to communicate them--be sure that your ENTIRE staff is all on the same page, as it were.

Karyn Storts-Brinks is the librarian at Fulton High School, Knoxville, Tennessee.



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