Library Trustees have been entrusted with developing policies and funding mechanisms that will ensure that the library continues to function into the future as a valuable and valued community asset. Library Trustees should be thanked for the hard (and free) work they perform in support of these functions. Trustees, library directors, library staff, and community members and patrons should ideally work together to help develop a library that provides free, unfettered, and easy access to all. Part of doing this requires developing a deep understanding of and respect for intellectual freedom issues. Of course, developing key policies and learning the salient points ahead of time will provide for a much easier handling of intellectual freedom and materials challenges should they occur. Trustees often rely on the library director to help them identify areas of concern.
What to do before a challenge occurs:
- Know your community and its demographics and develop a shared knowledge of these demographics with your Trustees.
- Always remember that your community, like every other, is made up of people whose opinions span the whole spectrum. Be conscious and conscientious of differing opinions and include everyone in your library. After all, they are the sole reason the library exists.
- In many instances Trustees are long-term members (sometimes their families are multi-generational county residents) of the community. They have developed many important relationships and have a definite stake in maintaining a library that represents the community.
- Make certain that your policies are clear and that they are easily accessible for patrons.
- Know your community’s values and develop a shared knowledge of these values with your Trustees. Encourage your Trustees to embrace the need to develop policies and procedures that specifically and clearly address areas of concern for your community, and which do so in non-judgmental ways that invite questions and discourse.
- Have clear policies and procedures regarding children’s use of the library.
- Encourage Trustees to work with local officials so that these officials understand the library’s mission and strategic initiatives.
- Encourage Trustees to join state and national organizations and attend conferences and workshops presented by these organizations.
- Encourage the creation of library policies that will allow the library to pay for library trustee membership in the Kentucky Library Association and the American Library Association should it be financially feasible.
- Encourage the creation of library policies that will allow the library to pay for library trustee attendance at appropriate library workshops and conferences.
- Encourage Trustees to be active in the Kentucky Library Trustee Round Table (KLTRT). The KLTRT provides an opportunity for library trustees to work together and develop a deeper understanding of the importance of libraries in their communities as well as throughout the nation.
- Encourage Trustees to subscribe to appropriate LISTSERVs and to use these LISTSERVs to discuss important issues.
- Encourage Trustees to consider certification through the Kentucky Public Library Association. Part of the certification process will focus on training about intellectual freedom issues. This training, as well as the other sessions, will deepen trustee understanding of important library issues.
- Make sure your Trustees are aware of your policies and procedures and keep them apprised of any intellectual freedom concerns, no matter how small they may seem.
- The Trustee’s role is not to blindly pass policies as recommended by the director. Trustees should be thoroughly informed about the reasons for policies and should understand their impact on citizen’s access to the library and library services.
- An informed trustee is an excellent trustee. If you keep your trustees informed regarding intellectual freedom concerns, they can become aware of trends and possible hot topics. Further, they can be more prepared to deal with a challenge or other issue should it arise.
- Regularly celebrate national and state library events and encourage your Trustees to participate in the celebration. For example, if appropriate, celebrate banned books week, teen read week, national library card sign-up month, etc.
- Encourage trustees to be present at programs and other events.
What to do should a challenge occur:
- First and foremost keep things in proper perspective. Everyone involved is a human being and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. This, of course, means that you actively listen to and thoughtfully consider the opinions presented by everyone.
- Contact your Trustees immediately and let them know about the situation. If necessary, call a special meeting to discuss.
- Make sure that only one person (and that everyone knows who that person is) will speak for the library. This provides clarity and consistency of message.
- Generate your own positive publicity, focusing on the all the services the library offers the community. Make sure your Trustees have copies of the publicity and (when necessary) have approved it.
- Be courteous to all callers (in person, on phone, via e-mail), offer copies of your policies, and thank them for their feedback. Again, make sure your Trustees are aware of interchanges you may have with members of the public or the media.