Dear Dara: Lawyers and Library Policy

Dear Dara,

My school's lawyers have recommended that my district not endorse any collection development plan nor other set of library policies. However, I do have one that is drafted, and it is what I request that my aides follow and how I evaluate which of their purchases/programs are ideal for the school served. Would I be offered any protection if the policies are public but it's noted that they are not board approved? Could I open the policies to board members for suggestions, if not approval? What is a good step forward for giving these policies weight without stepping on toes?

Sincerely,

When Lawyers Lead

Dear When Lawyers Lead,

Collection development can be a conundrum when it is not supported by the school, district, and community. Fear dictates many responses and often, opinions arise without evidence and are solely driven by emotion.

Good professional practice dictates having a collection development policy approved and in place. I find it unreasonable that a lawyer who is supposed to protect all employees of a school district is willing to leave you open and vulnerable to liability and scrutiny from the school community and general public. With that said, you do have the support of your professional organizations and the First Amendment.

How do you handle an unseemly situation professionally? First, start by educating your administrators, the board, and the parent teacher organization. The purpose of a collection development policy is not just to deal with banning books and challenges, but to provide a transparent policy for building a collection of resources that meets the needs and interests of all students and provides equitable access. Refer to the ALA's Library Bill of Rights, specifically Access to Resources and Services in the School Library (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/accessresources) which is an interpretation specifically for school libraries. As stated in this interpretation, "it is the responsibility of the governing board to adopt policies that guarantee student access to a broad range of ideas...these include policies on collection development and procedures for the review of resources about which concerns have been raised." Print a copy of Access to Resources and Services in the School Library and share it with all concerned parties. Explain the importance of having an endorsed policy in place and demonstrate your desire to maintain a trusting, transparent, and collaborative relationship with the board.

Next, read up on the landmark court cases involving First Amendment rights, specifically 1965's Lamont v. Postmaster General, 381 U. S. 301, and 1982's Island Trees School District v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853. Then, you can share your knowledge of censorship, public institutions, First Amendment rights. Remind the school's administrators and lawyers that the Supreme Court upheld the First Amendment when a local school board tried to remove books from a school library. The First Amendment applies to public schools because they are considered public institutions. If you are working in a private school, collection policies and censorship are not handled in the same manner.

If your argument is still not persuasive enough for the board's lawyers, write a solid collection development policy and use it to guide your own professional actions in the library. Continue to encourage and educate your aides on collection development, but remain the authority. Keep reading, use professional reviews, build a culturally reflective collection, and utilize the plan as a tool. In addition, have a procedure in place to address challenges. If and when a challenge arises, be prepared and knowledgeable. Have a clear procedure to follow, document the process, and then bring it all to the lawyers to further convince them of the need to have a policy in place and why it is so essential to have their endorsement.

SMH,

Dara

Looking for Advice?

Dear Dara is School Library Connection's monthly, anonymous advice column for school librarians who find themselves in a pickle, at a crossroads, or at the end of their rope.

If you need some friendly advice in navigating a thorny problem, a sounding board, or even just to vent, send your questions to Dara anonymously via the form here

About the Author

Dara is the pen name of SLC's expert librarian advisor. Although choosing to remain anonymous in order to foster open and honest discussion of sensitive issues, she has a master's in library science and more than ten years working in and advocating for school libraries.

MLA Citation Dara. "Dear Dara: Lawyers and Library Policy." School Library Connection, September 2019, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Column/2217065?topicCenter=1955261&tab=1.

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Entry ID: 2217065

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