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Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

ALA Recap: Libraries are Not Neutral Spaces (Things I Never Learned in Library School)

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolThis past Sunday I had the honor of presenting with a panel of fabulous librarians about how libraries are NOT neutral spaces. Like most librarians, I spent a major part of my career proclaiming that we were. But over time, I have come to realize that we are, in fact, not. For example, if during the month of December you put up a Christmas tree or a Christmas display but don’t acknowledge that any other holidays exist, you are making a non-neutral statement and highlighting certain faiths and traditions over others. Did you choose to avoid putting up a Black Lives Matter display? That was not a neutral decision. This month is Pride, did you put up a Pride display? Whether you answer yes or no to this question, your answer is not a neutral decision. Every decision to do or not do something in our libraries is not a neutral decision, and it often reflects our own personal, cultural or institutional biases.

You can find the slides to our ALA Presentation here (a log in is required)

You can read tweets about the presentation under the #CritLibAla17 at #ALAAC17

It has been a process for me to learn how to examine and break down my personal biases in considering everything I do in my library, from putting up a display to deciding when, where, and how to program. The work of being inclusive and advocating for my teen patrons – ALL of my teen patrons – is ongoing and never done. It takes some intentionality on my part and I am working on training my staff to have that same type of intentionality.

In fact, for me, displays and collections are a big part of how I try and be intentional and inclusive. I didn’t have a term for it until this weekend thanks to someone one Twitter, but I regularly perform diversity audits of my YA collection. I will sit down monthly with some type of topic or focus in mind and go through my collection to make sure I have a well represented number of titles and authors that represent that topic. For example, with Pride approaching, I spent the month of April going through every single letter in GLBTQAI+ to make sure that I had a good representation of titles for each letter in my collection. And when doing so I go through and make sure that they include as many POC, LatinX, Native American, Asian and more authors as possible. I don’t want to just be diverse in having GLBTQAI+ titles, I want to make sure that those titles are as diverse and representative as possible.

I recently went through the process of re-writing my display policy and procedures for my staff to help achieve this same goal. I want to make sure that every display we put up is inclusive. If we do a fantasy display, my staff is reminded to go through and check to make sure that there are books by diverse authors featuring diverse characters on that display. A display that solely features cis-het-white male authors is not acceptable in my department, but building them takes dedicated work on all levels. It means that I have to make sure I am building good collections for my staff to pull titles from and it means that my staff has to do the work of looking at the display daily to make sure they have a good balance of titles to choose from.

#SJYALit: Making a Social Justice Book Display that Engages Teens

Storytime Underground Libraries are Not Neutral Spaces Handouts

I discuss displays more here: The Display Must Go On. In the future I hope to add a statement to my display policy, which is included in the link, specifying that 50% or more of the display must feature diverse authors and main characters. And since we have a display notebook where we are making note of past displays so that we have good notes for future displays, I would like to create a form where we list the titles put on display and the theme of the display. This not only will provide us good info for doing RA or creating/repeating future displays, but it will help us do those diversity audits so that we can make sure we are being inclusive not just in our collections but in our displays.

sjyalit#SJYALit (2017)

The Social Justice in YA Lit Project/Discussion, using YA literature to discuss a variety of social justice issues including own voices, representation, discrimination, education, poverty and more.

Although I talked a lot about displays, many others on the panel talked about other good points and I highly recommend that you check out the slides and read the work of those I had the honor of speaking with. I learned a lot from my peers. For example, I have never processed what it means that Christian creation stories are catalogued in religion while Native American creation stories are catalogued as folklore. This was a profound moment of realization for me that finally helped me more fully understand what settler colonialism means. Doing the work means being engaged in the professional community and learning from your peers. It’s important to follow and read from librarians from different backgrounds.

I want to make one final note about holiday programming, which comes up frequently when we talk about libraries as neutral spaces. Many libraries engage in Christmas programming in their libraries and there is an ongoing argument that this is what our communities want and that Christmas is a secular holiday. For me, as a Christian, Christmas is a profoundly religious holiday and I decided when I had children not to discuss or introduce the concept of Santa to my children because I did not want to dilute the sacredness of this day. So no, our communities, even our Christian communities, don’t all want us to be doing holiday or Santa programming at the library. Even some of the fundamental beliefs we have about what our communities want may be wrong.

As I mentioned, this was truly an important and enlightening discussion for me. I continue to learn and grow as a librarian and appreciate every opportunity to talk with my peers, challenge my beliefs and make sure that I am heading in the right direction as a librarian for myself, for my teens, and for my community. I want to keep doing the good work, and sometimes that means changing what I think I know, what I believe, what I do, and the how and why of how I do it. It’s often uncomfortable, but I keep doing the work anyway.

Thank you to my co-presenters:

Nicole Cooke

Assistant Professor / Director of the MS/LIS Program, School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois

Cory Eckert

Librarian, The Post Oak School

Kendra Jones

District Manager, Youth & Family Services, Timberland Regional Library, Washington

Jessica Anne Liddell

Branch Manager, Grand Rapids Public Library

Debbie Reese

Founder and Editor, American Indians in Children’s Literature

Things I Never Learned in Library School: Dealing with Minors and Pornography

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolDoes your library have a plan for what to do in case a patron is caught viewing child pornography on your public computers? What about if you suspect that a child or teen in your library is being subjected to pornography, such as receiving nude pics?

In my library career, I have had a couple of extreme instances that I have had to deal with. In one, we caught a patron using our public computers to search for and view child pornography. In the other, we learned that an adult was sending inappropriate pictures to one of our teens. Here’s what I’ve learned from the police and legal counsel about dealing with these situations. Please note, this is not legal advice.

Both incidents occurred in different libraries and we were told both times that we were not only right to call and report the criminal activity, but that there would be severe consequences for us had we not (Duty to Report Suspected Child Abuse Under 42 U.S.C. § 13031). Those statements have always stayed with me. To be honest, I wasn’t clear what to do because I never imagined being in these type of situations. So I’m sharing with you what I have learned in order to help you better prepare. Although to be honest, I hope that you never have to face a situation like this if you already haven’t. If you have additional thoughts or experience, please share them in the comments. And again, let me stress, this is not legal advice, I’m just sharing with you what I was told and what I have learned.

1. You need to have a plan and train staff BEFORE something happens

Our staff made several missteps along the way because we didn’t know what we should do. Both times we went back and formulated policies and trained staff, but it would have been better for everyone involved if we had already done this. In order to create your policies and plans, consult with your local police and legal counsel. Know what your legal obligations are.

2. Know that pornography involving minors is a crime and you are legally obligated to report

This is not the same as being a mandated reporter. This is about being aware of criminal activity and failing to report. And since your library devices are used for the transaction of criminal activity, you can become complicit if you fail to report. Not only is pornography involving minors against the law, but it is my understanding that so is viewing pornography with minors or sending/receiving pornography to and from minors. But I can not stress it enough, talk to your local legal counsel to help staff better understand what is illegal activity and what to do about it.

Citizen’s Guide To U.S. Federal Law On Child Pornography

3. Preserve the evidence

It’s uncomfortable, but staff needs to preserve the evidence. This means taking screen caps, printing pictures, etc. If you can, unplug the device and remove it from the public so that the police can investigate it. Do not log out of any accounts if it can be avoided.

4. Have staff fill out a detailed incident report ASAP

The police will show up pretty promptly, but you’ll want to make sure that you have as much detail as you can to give to the police. You’ll have to make sure and understand your state’s privacy laws and incorporate that into your policy and staff training, but there are often exceptions in the laws regarding criminal activity.

Defining Child Pornography | Stop It Now

5. Take detailed notes during the process

Get the name of any reporting officers. Ask for case numbers. Keep in contact with your library’s legal counsel.

6. Advise staff on how to talk with the public/press

Should the information get out into the public, you’ll want to make sure and advise staff in how to handle the situation. Give staff a scripted response that basically says, “You’ll have to talk to our library director about this.” Let them know that they should avoid talking with other patrons or the press about the situation. Also, you’ll want to remind staff not to talk about the situation in a public space where patrons can overhear. Your goal here is to protect any victims, prevent misinformation from getting out, and to prevent staff from making any statements that can be misconstrued and garner negative PR for the library. And again, your goal is also to keep the library free from any legal issues.

Sexting & Child Pornography Laws in the United States

7. TRAIN YOUR STAFF

After you have written a comprehensive policy and procedure on what to do in the event of pornography involving children, train your staff on how to implement it. Have all staff and department meetings, especially for those departments that work directly with children on a regular basis. Make sure all staff understands what to do, who to contact, and when in the case of suspected pornography involving children. For example, do you want staff to contact their immediate supervisor or call the police themselves? That should be made clear. I think that in this type of scenario you always want to make sure the director is contacted ASAP, this should also be made clear.

8. Invite the police and your legal counsel to come train your staff

Get the people who deal with these situations on a more regular basis to come do the training and answer any questions. They best can explain the law and your library’s legal obligations. And I can’t say it enough, train your staff.

Guidelines and Considerations for Developing a Public Library Internet Policy | ALA

9. If you have an incident, do a postmortem

If you have an incident, meet with staff to make sure that all of the steps in your policy and procedures manual were followed. Also, use this as an opportunity to clarify any questions and refine your policies and procedures.

10. Know that you may never know what happens after the fact

In the case of the minor who had been sent pornographic images from an adult, there was not follow up with the library. We reported it to all the appropriate authorities and then we just had to trust that they were doing what needed to be done. Because of privacy issues, they don’t really come back to you and say x, y and z happened. In the case of the patron caught viewing child pornography, they had enough evidence that the library wasn’t really involved.

I will be honest, it is scary and stressful when this happens. And I definitely hope it never happens again. But having policies and procedures and a well trained staff in place can help staff should a situation occur. And although I’ve mentioned that this isn’t legal advice (seriously, I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice), I do want to give you this one piece of advice: don’t wait until it happens to figure out what you’re supposed to do.