Principles v. Budget or Job Security

Q: What if your principal has made clear your budget is tied to not getting any complaints about library materials? I’m all for selection instead of censorship, but should you stand on principle if it means taking a budget cut? Ideally, you would never face this dilemma, but it’s out there.

You are right that there are situations in which a library media specialist (LMS) may feel an overt threat to her or his position or funding. At other times the pressure may be more subtle but still very real.

There is no simple answer to this question because every situation is unique, as are the personal circumstances of every individual. No one but a LMS who finds her- or himself in such a position can judge whether they can afford the potential costs—-personally and professionally—-of adhering to principles that may be impossible to act upon without serious consequences.

Of course, the irony of such a situation is that no one can predict what specific book might be the subject of a complaint or challenge, which means the only “safe” library for this administrator would be one with nothing in it, even if she or he mistakenly thinks that books of which they approve couldn’t possibly offend anyone.

The LMS in this situation might want to begin by asking the administrator to clarify her or his position. Approach such a discussion in a non-confrontational way. For example: “I want to make sure I understand. Are you saying that if I purchase a book that meets the school district’s selection policy and you receive a complaint about it, my position or the library’s funding may be at risk?” Make the administrator state what he or she really means. Being asked to do so may give the administrator pause, especially if what is being implied or stated violates district policy.

If a LMS feels there has been a threat by an administrator and belongs to a union, he or she should also consider notifying the union representative of the situation. At the least, the LMS should document for his or her own records the date, time and summary of any conversations or comments that make them fearful that carrying out their job responsibilities puts them or the school library in jeopardy.

With regard to actual materials selection, should the LMS in such a position abandon the principles of intellectual freedom? No. It is important to be mindful of these principles in order to continue to uphold them as much as possible, and to understand and acknowledge when they are being compromised in decision-making, and why. They will be ideals the LMS continues to embrace, even if she or he feels they can’t always be put into action.

Finally, a LMS in such a situation should not let her- or himself be isolated. Look for teachers within the school who understand the importance of a vibrant school library with a collection that supports the curriculum and student interests. Look for ways to further that understanding among the staff and students. With a limited budget there is only so much anyone can purchase, but a LMS can still DO as much as possible (given time constraints and other responsibilities) to fulfill the library’s mission and support the needs of teachers and students. In return, he or she is raising awareness of the vital role the school library plays, and building a network of support.

November, 2006