By the time you read this, I will have departed from my role as Director of the Kent Memorial Library. My plans to resign have been brewing for several months, despite having just started this position last fall. My decision was based on many factors, and it wasn’t an easy one to make. For the most part, it boils down to the fact that while I was hired to be a professional library director, I was not actually allowed to do my job as one.
The purpose of a public library is not to keep rows of books nice and neat for casual readers to pick something out to help them pass the time. While that is one of the services we proudly offer, it is not the core of our mission. The role of the library is to connect its patrons with information, facts, and literature that help them with all aspects of their lives. A library’s role is not to shield people from controversial issues, but rather to provide resources that help people to understand those issues. It should support the discourse that is happening in the community, not sanitize or whitewash it. Most importantly, a library should represent, reflect, and wholeheartedly welcome the diverse lives and interests of its entire community.
The way a public library is managed should not be influenced by politics. When the government of a town directs library staff to remove or relocate books based on certain topics, it is censorship. And it sends the message that some people in the community, and the stories that represent their lives, aren’t important. That some people’s lives don’t deserve to be treated equally. That only some people’s stories are worth drawing attention to.
Over the past year, people who do not understand the purpose of a library, or the tenets of the library profession, have asked me to make changes that are antithetical to established library best practices, including: increase late fines to generate more revenue for the town, tag all LGBTQIA+ books with warning labels, avoid putting up displays addressing current affairs or ones that represent marginalized communities, and to disregard patron privacy. I’ve been repeatedly told that I am “legally obligated” to include books covering “both sides” of every display topic in order to remain “neutral” (a statement that is both incorrect and very disturbing: are we to provide racist books alongside anti-racist resources? Anti-Semitic books next to ones celebrating Hanukkah or describing the Holocaust?). It’s also been suggested that I stop following the guidance of the American Library Association (ALA), despite the fact that an ALA-accredited Master’s in Library Science degree is required for my job.
Certainly, as a professional, educated, and experienced librarian, I have disagreed with directives and suggestions such as these. My duty as a librarian is to honor the First Amendment rights of everyone. To protect the privacy of our patrons. To not assign any kind of moral value to the books we provide. To let readers—and the caregivers of young readers—decide for themselves what is appropriate. To serve everyone in town—without judgment.
Unfortunately, I have not been allowed to do that. Instead, I have been instructed to run the library in ways that conflict with my professional ethics, experience, and training. So, it is time for me to move on.
It’s been an honor to serve the Suffield community for the past year, as best I could. I have gotten tremendous support and great feedback from many Suffield residents. The Friends of KML and the Library Foundation have been wonderfully supportive, as have most of the members of the Library Commission. And if I could, I would bring the entire staff of KML with me, as they are, each and every one talented dedicated and fantastic to work with. I hope going forward, their jobs provide them with fulfillment, inspiration, and a sense of pride, wherever their careers may take them.