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Collection Development Policy vs. Personal Opinion

by on February 15, 2013

Every library must decide for itself if a book fits into its collection. In a perfect world we’d be able to afford every book published, and be able to make those books available to the public. This isn’t a perfect world though, and librarians face tough decisions on how to spend ever-shrinking budgets. We have to take into account reviews, reputation, patron requests, popularity, collection redundancy, and more. This is why a collection development policy is so important to the library, and it is unfortunate when policy is set aside in favor of personal opinion.

In one library in Greenville, South Carolina, the director allegedly ignored the library’s collection development policy and removed a book from the library’s collection after finding it personally offensive.   The Greenville (South Carolina) County Library (GCL) originally circulated two copies of Alan Moore’s “Neonomicon.”  The books were purchased based on reviews, recommendations, and the author’s reputation[1].  A 14 year old girl checked a copy out; her mother found the book then complained to the library. The mother ended up filing a request for the material to be reconsidered for inclusion in the collection. The GCL handles reconsideration requests by convening a committee, having committee members read the book, and then voting on keeping the book in the collection or removing it. If the patron does not agree with the committee’s decision he or she may appeal to an 11-member library board of trustees[1].

Following procedure, the library committee members read the book and decided in favor of keeping it in the collection, citing the library’s collection development policy, the awards the book has won, and the author’s reputation. That’s when the library’s Executive Director, Beverly  James, decided to review the book herself  and then decided to pull it from the library’s collection.  According to reports, James stated “I can override their recommendation” and “I’m ultimately responsible[2].”

The “Neonomicon” is described as a horror novel that includes the occult, obscenities, racism, and a rape/orgy scene[3]. James described the book as disgusting, and said that removing the book from the system was “de-selection[4].”  So far the committee and the board have not publicly reacted to James’ decision.

While James is entitled to her opinion, removing this graphic novel from the library’s collection strikes me as wrong.  The action of removing the book appears to circumvent the library’s collection development policy. I could understand if the library had chosen not to purchase the graphic novel  in the first place, although one may argue that not including the book in the first place would also be wrong.

It appears that the director placed her personal opinion above the decision of both her collection development staff and the library’s reconsideration committee. GCL patrons can no longer access the  book because it offended her. Librarians remove books from the collection all the time, but this is different. We weed books to keep the collection fresh; we don’t remove books because we personally don’t like them. Librarians are here to encourage and protect patron’s access to information. We should not let our personal biases get in the way of this duty.