Whose Library Is It?

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Patrons. Customers. Users. Taxpayers. Residents. Children. Readers. Visitors. Researchers. Students.

No matter what word we use to describe our library visitors, we welcome everyone at the library. You don’t have to enjoy reading. You don’t have to spend money or make an appointment. You don’t even have to have a library card.

You don’t have to live a certain way, love certain people or speak a certain language.

Come as you are.

In addition to welcoming all people in the library, librarians aim to provide helpful material to all people. Some books or other items might not appeal to you. You might not be able to see how they can be helpful to others. You might even find some materials inappropriate. However, does that mean the library should not offer them at all? Or make them harder for others to find?

Librarians choose the material we add to our shelves carefully. We believe all the items on our shelves have value. Of course, we all define things differently. What some of us may see as perfectly fine, others may find offensive. What if Person A sees obscenity but Person B finds it helpful or informative? Does one person have the right to restrict access to library materials of another? How do we decide who is right?

In legal cases addressing obscenity, courts apply what is known as the Miller Test, a set of questions to ask when determining whether something is “obscene”:

(1) whether the average person applying contemporary community standards would find the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;
(2) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and
(3) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
All three conditions must apply in order to make that determination.

The First Amendment protects the rights of all of us to express our ideas without governmental interference. This is widely interpreted to include reading and listening to the ideas of others. The government – by way of the public library – should not decide what you or your children can read, access, or discover.

What about the rights of parents?

Libraries do not act in the place of parents. We encourage parents to be involved in what their children choose to read, and we trust them to make decisions for their own families. Not every book in the library will be right for every child, but our goal is that every child can find books that are right for them. The library staff are trained—and committed—to working with parents to find materials that are right for their children. If you aren’t finding books that are right for you, just ask!

Parents have the right to monitor, disagree with or even forbid certain books or other materials for their own children. However, asking that books be removed or restricted for all children violates the rights of other parents.

All of the books in the library have potential value to someone, even if you can’t see its value. A book that might be too mature for one child might literally save the life of another.

If you find any material in the library that you feel does not belong there, we encourage you to read the book, read reviews of the book and talk to staff. There is a reason that book is there, and it is certainly not to offend or alienate anyone.

We do have a process should you wish to request that the Library consider removal or restriction of a book or other material. The details of this process can be found in our Collection Development Policy, which includes our Request for Reconsideration of Library Materials form. You can find the form and the policy at the library or on our website: https://www.suffield-library.org/.

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