This past week I did my first “formation”- workshop. I feel immense relief that it is done, went well, and that I am finally being productive. Let’s hope anyway. I did not have high hopes, to be honest. I thought it would be a disaster: not useful, not supported, and without participation. I was worried that the hours and hours of travel some would make for it would be for nothing. It seems that was a bit off. The subject was a dull one (“maintaining the library”), but was one I think my coworker had been anxious to cover for a while. You can imagine the challenges of keeping a library clean in a country of sand and sandstorms, or trying to justify the time or need to weed collections when you have few resources for the staff or the shelves.
The participants ended up really getting into it and I thought even a fistfight could break out over the time management and weeding issues. One librarian almost cried when trying to defend his (in my opinion obsessive) dedication to his library. Who knew such passion could be elicited over what I thought was going to be a dull two days of me talking with nothing but the sound of crickets chirping during pauses?
I had included a point in one handout that a collection development policy could include a statement on intellectual freedom. I didn’t know what the experience with the subject had been here, but it is part of our collection development policies in North America, and I thought it would be condescending to not include it as something to put in a policy. I don’t present material as “this is how we do it, as should you..”, but as “this is how we do it, but adapt what I can tell you for your situation…”, and was curious about how the conversation would go, and worried I may get in over my head.
In summary I would say that although the broad term “intellectual freedom” was new, the idea of censorship was not, and only one of the librarians (the above mentioned obsessed one, who runs his library like a mini academy, complete with dress code) seemed to express strong feelings surrounding keeping children from reading material that did not offer them tips on how to behave or that were considered a bad influence. One person (perhaps this man again, I can’t recall) asked me to tell them what kind of books I would recommend not putting in the library. I did not answer “Anything containing characters named Quatchi, Miga or Sumi”, but I did admit that most libraries I knew of did not have pornography in their magazine reading rooms (anyone know any that do? there must be some out there?). Otherwise, I could not come up with a good answer. I tried to give an example of when I worked at a library where the Scientologists had donated a dozen copy of each of LRH’s books, and how they didn’t get added to the collection…. but you could imagine the quagmire I got into explaining the Scientologists and so on… in French, in the end settling, I think, on trying to say it was more for publicity for their “church” so… So maybe that didn’t help. I tried to reinforce that, in my opinion, a parent has the responsibility to monitor what their child reads, and that one parent’s complaint can’t dictate the direction of the collection for all the other children. (I hope that is the public library’s point of view, I’m a little out of practice…) The discussion was lively and I wish I had a better memory for remembering it. I don’t think I said anything out of line, but I don’t know if I convinced that one librarian (above mentioned) to put his Harry Potter posters back up. (He took all but one down when parents came and asked him whether they give children “good advice”… but maybe multiple copies of HP posters is overkill anyway.)
So that’s it on that front for now. Next month they’ll be a longer workshop on programming and promotion, I think.
In the end I was happy that such a great group of people showed up, they do so much with so little and for so little, it can be humbling.