Friday, October 06, 2006

Wisconsin State Journal article: "Library welcomes controversy"

An article in the Wisconsin State Journal today discusses the way the Sun Prairie library has functioned as a forum of sorts for debate over the proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriages and civil unions:

Front and center as patrons enter the city's library are pictures of happy couples and families along with a sign urging voters to support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages and civil unions.

The political message by Vote Yes for Marriage at the Sun Prairie Public Library is in response to a September display advocating against the ban by Fair Wisconsin, which held a similar space in the library's entrance.

While the library offers the space as a public forum and has posted displays on controversial issues such as school referendums, these most recent messages have been the most political the library has displayed.

'(The displays have) been a very popular way for the community to share all kinds of information about itself,' said Sharon Zindar, the library's director. 'This is the first time we've had such a political message in our (display) case. It could turn out that's all the case becomes.'

Complaints about both displays have prompted the library board to consider changing its policy - not to end the practice but possibly to remove the signs further in advance of an election, since the library is also a polling place.

As it is, the pro-amendment group's sign is due to stay up until just a week before the Nov. 7 election.

The atticle continues for those who would like to read the rest of it. What do LIS 450 students think about this debate in light of what we have been reading and discussing in class? For those of you who currently work in area libraries, what has been the policy on displaying political speech or encouraging political debate at your sites?

11 Comments:

At 8:30 AM, Blogger Julia said...

I think it's a good thing to encourage people to be active in politics. I'm not sure, however, if it's a good thing to provide a forum for activism that lends itself to giving the impression that the library has vetted or approved the items posted. Perhaps the board should be for more "neutral" items (I know, nothing is without a bit of politics or bias), and for those who would like to comment on more "charged" issues, the library could perhaps offer space or time for a lecture or debate. That assumes, of course, that they have the staff and room. Perhaps providing an online Wiki or blog, like this one, could be a good way to do this without having to have a physical room. Librarians might have to monitor for salty language, but this would be a way for people to stomp for their causes without the cause being linked as strongly to the library as a poster on a bulletin board is.

 
At 8:38 AM, Blogger Frances said...

If the library is to be a successful information "ecology", it has to be careful not to alienate parts of the community. At the same time, I think displays about relevant topics are a vital part of keeping the library current and active (and keeping members involved), so some sort of balance needs to be reached. It seems to me that it would be ideal for the library to focus on one issue at a time and invite all sides to participate in a display simultaneously. So October could be the topic of "marriage", for example. Logistically more complex, but perhaps also a way for the library to continue to be active in the community without appearing like it's taking sides.

 
At 8:38 AM, Blogger Frances said...

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At 11:31 AM, Blogger Ginny said...

I agree with Julia. I think PUBLIC libraries are just that and although they are responsible for providing information they have to be careful not to appear that they are promoting or have a political agenda. It would be impossible for librarians to make sure that every topic had equal coverage of both sides of a debate. The idea of an online blog to do the dirty work is a great idea!If patrons are interested in being bombarded with more information about political ideas they could log on to a blog.

 
At 11:38 AM, Blogger aangela1010 said...

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At 11:46 AM, Blogger aangela1010 said...

"The display spaces are reserved on a first-come, first-served basis, and the displays are put up on the first of the month and taken down on the last day of the month." Perhaps the library board should include a clause regarding election time. A week before election time is really close; but then again, them's the rules and they are being followed. I'm kinda surprised this is the first report of such uses for display cases in public forums.

 
At 6:10 AM, Blogger Jill PD said...

I agree with Julia and Frances, libraries are public and should reflect the debates that are relevant to their patrons. However, I think the simultaneous display is a better idea. That way, the library prevents someone from seeing only the currently posted view and mistaking it for the library's opinion.
I also think the blog idea is a good one. It leaves more room for the kind of in depth discussions that politics engenders. A cautionary note on those, however. Blogs are really new (for some people), so expect to see a very computer savvy crowd and not a big slice of the average population.

 
At 3:49 PM, Blogger Andy G said...

I think it's wonderful for a library to encourage not just fact-and-fiction finding, but discussion and even debate. Simultaneous display would have been wiser, to remove the impression of an endorsement.

I agree with Ginny that you can't always cover both sides. For many topics, just deciding which views to represent would require picking sides. This particular issue seems a good one, though, since it's discussing a yes/no vote. Of course, there could be judgment calls in deciding who gets to represent each side...

 
At 4:36 PM, Blogger lkbronstad said...

I honestly wonder if I would be more amenable to this political display if the happy, smiling couples were part of a display against the ban. But it is only fair for both sides to be heard. I agree with Jill that displaying both sides at the same time would be a better way to present the issue(s). Is this is best use of library space, though? I believe the library should of course be a forum for political discourse, but not in such a static way. You can't debate a display (I guess you could provide a space for people to write their own thoughts, but that usually veers quickly to the juvenile and/or ugly), and that may just leave a big part of your library population feeling disgruntled. I would feel very unwelcome walking into the Sun Prarie library right now, and I suppose the people on the other side of the issue felt the same way walking into the library last month. Not the best way to encourage people to talk to each other, I don't think.

 
At 7:22 PM, Blogger Becky Jean said...

I agree that it is a public space and should be used as such. However, it seems that as a polling place this type of use is inappropriate. I realize that the display will be down a week before the election, but it still seems a little close to home. I agree with Kris, I would feel uncomfortable walking into the library right now. Isn't it fair that I should feel comfortable in a public place. Groups can't campaign in the county courthouse can they? Shouldn't it be treated that way instead?

 
At 5:51 AM, Blogger Amy said...

I would be taken completely by surprise if I walked into the Sun Prairie library right now and saw that display. Not being familiar with the library's practice of rotating displays, I would assume that the library was stating it's views on the up coming election. I agree with Jill, along with the rest who commented after, and think that both sides of the issues should be presented at the same time. I think having two perspectives up at once would be helpful to children as well. The library is a very family oriented place and children walking into the library have the right to see all types of families being represented, not just the nuclear family. This is the 21st century; mommies, daddies and families come in all shapes and sizes. Seeing only one perspective can make children feel like something is wrong with their family. The library is supposed to be a safe haven within a community, this kind of political statement, when viewed by a child, with little understanding of the issue, or the context, of the display can make the library an unwelcoming place.

 

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