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Freedom to read essential to democracy as library display comes under attack

This is in response to the June 9 article in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette by Mike Reuther, “Lycoming County Commissioners at odds over library Pride Month display.”

On Wednesday, June 2, Commissioners Metzger and Mussare visited the Library and provided a verbal objection to the Pride Display in the children’s area of the Library. The Library takes any request to censor materials or displays very seriously. Our policy dictates that we ask any community member regardless of status to submit their objections to any collection or display materials available at the Library in writing so that the Library can formally review and discuss the objections. This policy and process was shared with the Commissioners prior to the June 8 Commissioners meeting. To date we have not received anything in writing from the Commissioners regarding this issue.

This is an important policy and procedure because the Library is careful not to misrepresent the intention of anyone that issues an objection or complaint. As a core value the Library shows respect, values and welcomes everyone.

Prior to this recent objection from two of the three Commissioners, the Lycoming County Commissioners have been very supportive of all of the public libraries in the Lycoming County Library System. Most recently by sending a letter to our state representatives advocating for increased support to the Public Library Subsidy.

The mission of public libraries is to provide equal and inclusive access to all, regardless of age. To that end, the Library affirms the core principles of the Freedom to Read Statement, the Code of Professional Ethics, and the American Library Association Bill of Rights. The Freedom to Read is guaranteed by the Constitution and expressly states, “The freedom to read is essential to our democracy. It is continuously under attack. Private groups and public authorities in various parts of the country are working to remove or limit access to reading materials, to censor content in schools, to label ‘controversial’ views, to distribute lists of objectionable books or authors, and to purge libraries. We, as individuals devoted to reading and as librarians and publishers responsible for disseminating ideas, wish to assert the public interest in the preservation of the freedom to read.”

Libraries are cornerstones of the communities they serve. Free access to the books, ideas, resources, and information in America’s libraries is imperative for education, employment, enjoyment, and self-government. In “Libraries: An American Value,” published in June 2006 by the American Library Association, it states:

• We defend the constitutional rights of all individuals, including children and teenagers, to use the library’s resources and services;

• We value our nation’s diversity and strive to reflect that diversity by providing a full spectrum of resources and services to the communities we serve;

• We affirm the responsibility and the right of all parents and guardians to guide their own children’s use of the library and its resources and services;

• We connect people and ideas by helping each person select from and effectively use the library’s resources;

• We protect each individual’s privacy and confidentiality in the use of library resources and services;

• We protect the rights of individuals to express their opinions about library resources and services;

• We celebrate and preserve our democratic society by making available the widest possible range of viewpoints, opinions and ideas, so that all individuals have the opportunity to become lifelong learners — informed, literate, educated, and culturally enriched.

These are the core values that we hold dear. In our children’s library, children under age 11 must be accompanied by an adult at all times.

The Library celebrates Pride Month to welcome and honor our LGBTQ+ community of all ages in Lycoming County. Community members in order to feel welcome must see themselves reflected in the award-winning books, materials and displays that we offer.

The community support I received over the past few days has been overwhelmingly positive. I urge you to show your support by using the library, because it’s here for you.

Barbara Sarno McGary is executive director of the James V. Brown Library.

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