Wyoming library bucks censorship trend

Wednesday, July 1, 1998

As more libraries are considering restrictions on access to information through such measures as Internet filtering software, Wyoming's Sweetwater County Library system is opting to continue its policy of open access to information — including R-rated videos — for all age-groups.


During a recent meeting of the Sweetwater County Library Board, members determined that the system's open access policy should stand.


“This policy puts responsibility where it ought to be—on the parents,” said Board Chairman Ron Beck.


The issue came before the board after a local resident said she was concerned about the library's stock of R-rated videos. Diana Hardy asked the board to consider implementing a rating system similar to those used in video rental stores.


Helen Higby, the library system's director, said the system's lending policy only allows for limits on the number of books a patron borrows and the length of time they may be kept. Some items, such as reference books, professional materials and rare books, are not available for loan.


“And that's it,” Higby said. “So when this patron requested that we limit checkout of videos, it was a request that went contrary to our policy.”


Higby said the request is also contrary to the library's mission statement, which says the purpose of the institution is to help its patrons “meet their educational, cultural and recreational needs by providing organized, uncensored collections, current technology and a highly trained staff.”


“I have found that I end up defending principle … over pieces of crummy stuff that I would assume didn't even exist,” she said. “That is difficult.”


But Higby said that once parents sign a document allowing their children to obtain library cards, the staff should not have the right to act as a parent and limit what children can check out.


“If parents restrict their children to the youth services department, I can guarantee that children won't encounter any R-rated videos,” Higby said. “But it is not the library staff's responsibility to restrict children to one part of the library or another. Nor do I think that is a suitable responsibility.”


Ann Symons, the new president for the American Library Association, said she was pleased to hear of Sweetwater's policy because librarians should always “stand for more access, not less,” since the library is “the cornerstone of democracy.”


“We come to work every day to impart knowledge, not to restrict it,” Symons said. “It's always been the rule of the parents to decide what their children should read and see and view.”