So much of what we think we know is perceived through a political lens—education, women’s rights, even public library funding. How can libraries respond to this social shift without losing the integrity of their missions?
This season finale ties it all together with a few real-world illustrations of how ideology can collide with diverse library programming to accidentally cause a bit of controversy.
Examples ripped straight from the headlines of #TheLibraryLife:
- Library story time with drag queen Disney princesses.
- Jewish community center Q&A results in librarian arrest.
- LGBTQ themed children’s picture book in the school library.
Jim Heuer [00:00:13] Hi, everybody. This is Jim Heuer, Director of Sales for Ingram Library Services. We are here for Episode Four, Series Three of our podcast, Two Librarians and a Microphone. This is the last in this series. We've had what we think is a lively discussion. We had some topics earlier on library neutrality, fake news, civility in the library. In today's episode, we're going to try to tie a bow around all of that, talk a little bit about when things in the library perhaps go a bit differently than you've planned, and you find yourself embroiled in a controversy that maybe you didn't necessarily plan on. There's a few different examples that we'll talk about. And we've done some research, talked to a few of the players, have heard some of them speak. And we think this would be kind of a neat way to put an end to this podcast series. Once again, I am the microphone in this scenario. I have two librarians with me, Tricia Bengel and Donna George, as you are aware, if you've been following our series. I wanted to talk to you guys a little bit about an event that happened earlier this Winter in Binghamton, New York, Broome County. Donna, you want to kind of lay that out for our listeners?
Donna George [00:01:30] Yeah, reporting live from 14 Ingram Boulevard in La Vergne, Tennessee. There was a story time up in Broome County, New York, kind of upstate New York. And the performers in that story time were drag queens. And the drag queens were going to be dressing up like Disney princesses, as I understand it, and reading stories to the kids. As we start to kind of dive into this and what happened after that, it might be of interest to mention that in our previous episode, episode three, we did talk about civility, and the Sarasota Library letting you check out people to get to know people who are different from you. This is certainly one way to come at that, as well. What did we learn from Broome County?
Jim Heuer [00:02:13] I spoke to the director, Lisa Wise. This was a fundraising event brought to them by a member of their library board, right? Certainly, it was not intended to make any sort of political stance or promote, as she told me, an agenda, which they were accused of doing. What they were trying to do was precisely what they did, which is raise awareness of the library, perhaps, let some folks know that not everybody looks the same, and sign up some library patrons along the way. In that regard, certainly, it was successful. They got 200 library card sign-up’s that weekend, right? That's a really big number for them, probably about a week’s worth of signups. They also got a lot of folks in the community, they found out how important they were in the community. If you want to check out their Facebook page, it's just a couple of Google searches away. But you'll see that there were a lot of folks that rallied behind the library and talked about their importance. Once again, kind of what they thought was a harmless or innocuous fundraising event with a local organization, turned into something a little bit more controversial than that. But at the other end, they would do it again, right? That was a little bit of an unexpected consequence to that event. If they looked at it in hindsight it shouldn't totally had been a surprise, and I think that they weren't totally taken by surprise.
Tricia Bengel [00:03:55] Disney princesses are kind of scary. I must say that the only picture of me, as a four-year- old at Disney, was crying my eyes out while Cinderella was trying to hug me.
Jim Heuer [00:04:12] Disney, wow, yeah. As the father of a six-year-old daughter, my daughter is totally into Disney princesses. I don't know what she would do if any of them had a mustache. But who knows? Maybe we could go check it out. If it's in my area, we'll go find out. Late last year, Tricia and I were at the Library Journal Director’s Summit in Philadelphia. We got the opportunity to hear a pretty fascinating story. Tricia, you want to tell us what was going on in Kansas City that we heard?
Tricia Bengel [00:04:42] Yeah, thanks, Jim. I'm glad you brought that up. It's a really interesting story. Last May, Kansas City Public Library hosted this diplomat, Dennis Ross. And this was a joint venture between the library, the Truman Library, and the Jewish Community Foundation. This was a big event that they were hosting at the library. Because the Jewish Community Center has had issues of violence in the past, they wanted to have armed security at the library. The library agreed, but made sure that there was a couple provisions that governed that. One is, they were not going to say anything if people asked really tough questions, or thought-provoking questions, or even possibly incendiary questions. They were not supposed to escort anybody out, kick anybody out, unless there was the threat of imminent violence. The library, and the Jewish Community Foundation, and the Truman Institute all agreed to this. The event started to happen. After Dennis Ross finished speaking, someone from the community, who is a known Jewish activist, got up and asked a pretty thought-provoking question. Ross disagreed, and the speaker wanted to do a follow-up question. As he started to talk, one of the security from the Jewish Community Center went up and started to pull him away from the microphone. He starts saying, "Don 't touch me. Don't touch me. " The library, programming librarian, got concerned and started to insert himself, and said, "Please stop. Please stop. If he agrees to leave on his own,
Tricia Bengel [00:06:56] can we let him just leave on his own?" And the security guard/policeman backed off. Steve Woolfolk, the programming librarian, escorted the gentleman out. As Steve started to return to the library auditorium to find his boss to give her an update on what happened, Steve was pushed from behind into a pillar, and a plain-clothed police security person, it's not real clear if he was off-duty police officer or just security person, started to shove him. Steve kept saying, "What's going on? What's going on?" And the police officer was saying, "Stop resisting. Stop resisting." He ends up in handcuffs. The activist and Steve ends up being taken to the police station after being arrested. And they called their library director on the way, who comes and bails them out. The activist was arrested for trespassing, and Steve was arrested for trying to prevent the arrest of the person. And so, this was pretty strange, and almost a year later they finally go to court, and the judge just dismisses it all, and said he didn't even know why it had ever come to court. What started out as a really thought-provoking lecture series, ended up with two people arrested, one of whom was a librarian just trying to have a program at the library. Pretty interesting thing to occur.
Jim Heuer [00:09:03] Yeah, without a doubt. I would imagine that Steve Woolfolk, when he was going to library school, probably never thought that he would have to make a decision about allowing a patron to ask a question or spending time in the clink. But we try not to get our own opinions in here, but I think that all three of us would agree with the opinion of the judge that why this went to court was somewhat beyond anyone who kind of heard the facts. We talked about fake news last story, so there might be some tie in there, I don't know.
Tricia Bengel [00:09:37] Well, what I think is important from that lesson learned, Jim, is that we need to not be afraid to continue having these conversations, because the public library should be where we have these conversations.
Jim Heuer [00:09:49] Oh, what a perfect segue. Talk about our last story. This happened a few years back in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and there was a book that was being taught, I believe in the fourth-grade class. It was a book by Linda de Haan. I believe that's how you pronounce her last name. Looks like she's from the Netherlands. And it is a fairytale called, King and King. It has to do with a couple of royal figures falling in love with one another. The fourth-grade teacher who had that in the curriculum, and the curriculum director thought it was fine, as a way to introduce some people who might live their life a little bit differently. There was some folks that brought a little bit of pressure on the school. They did not teach it in the school, but the public library stepped in and they had a symposium on that event, that apparently went fine. That ties in nicely to what Tricia had talked about, where the public library is the perfect venue to have that dissemination of differing ideas.
Donna George [00:10:56] The ALA seems to agree with that. We found some information from an initiative from the ALA called, Libraries Lead. And to quote directly, "Now is the right time to emphasize how important it is for libraries to be at the table when a community is debating issues and thinking about its future. How critical it is for libraries to be leading the fight for core values like equity of access, intellectual freedom, social responsibility, and diversity and inclusion."
Tricia Bengel [00:11:26] That goes back to, have we come up with any conclusion with neutrality?
Donna George [00:11:34] I don't know.
Jim Heuer [00:11:34] Yeah. I don't know, I think that's an excellent question. We'd love to hear from some of you. This was designed to hopefully engage you and interest you, and entertain you, and maybe give you something to think about. I don't think that we ever thought we were going to solve the library neutrality question, and if we set out to do that, and if we got five librarians in a room, I think we'd end up with five different opinions when we were done. But we've had a really fun time talking about some of these topics. If you would have said to us a couple years ago that things like fake news or civility in the library, these would be topics that would be germane and really important, some of us might have looked at you sideways. I guess what we're saying is, we don't know what the next series will be. We're going to be keeping our eyes and ears open to what's going on, not only in the library world, but in the world in which we live, and hopefully, be delivered to you some content that you'll find relevant and applicable to what you guys are doing there out in the library world. Once again, thank you for listening. If you so want to, make sure you don't miss the next season. You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or your Apple Podcasts app. You'll be able to find our blog, which will recap most, if not all, of these podcasts as well as the books that we talked about. You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter. Please use the hashtag, #thelibrarylife. We've had a fun time doing this.
Jim Heuer [00:13:10] Hopefully, you'll want to hear from us again next season. I'm Jim Heuer, I've been the microphone. I'll let Tricia and Donna each say goodbye to you all. I've had an excellent time.
Tricia Bengel [00:13:21] Librarian one, signing off.
Donna George [00:13:23] Librarian two, thanks for your time.
Jim Heuer [00:13:26] Bye bye, everybody. Two Librarians and a Microphone is a production of Ingram Library Services, a division of Ingram Content Group, produced and directed by Rachael Cope, engineering by Craig Simpson. Special thanks to Essence Brisco, Candice Sweet and Elizabeth Wilcox. Research done by our two librarians, Donna George and Tricia Bengel. I am Jim Heuer, and thanks to you for listening.