Are you ready to introduce themes of diversity and social justice in your programs but worried about pushback from patrons? Do you know that your patrons are hungry for these programs but you need to prepare yourself or your staff for tough conversations? Are you ready to agitate for change within your library system?
If your answer is yes to any of these, I have an idea for you.
See, most of us already have a system for dealing with patron complaints and challenges in regards to materials they find controversial or unacceptable and it’s one that can be easily adapted to help protect our programs and the staff leading them. It’s this thing called a Collection Development Policy and they’ve been lifesavers for decades in communities where materials face challenges.
For many of us, managing a collection and creating programs follow the same principles. You take a look at what your community already loves and can’t do without, you take into account demographics that may be harder to see and require extra work to reach, and you add in topics that can help your patrons broaden their horizons and experience the unexpected.
So if we have collection development policies that help defend our choices in materials, isn’t it time that we introduce a written policy defending our choices in programming?
Having a written policy–a Program Development Policy, if you will–would accomplish so much in protecting staff and programs from pushback. It would, ideally, state the following things:
- All patrons are equally valued by the library and no one’s viewpoint carries more weight than another’s.
- Programs are developed to reflect the full range of diversity in the community, providing information, recreation, and support.
- Parents and caregivers are primarily responsible for selecting appropriate programs for their children.
- Describe the process for challenging a program.
With staff input in creating the policy and training in how to present it to patrons, a written policy would provide much needed confidence and reinforcement for staff who could use talking points to use with patrons. It’s also a more official and final-feeling statement to present to patrons who may complain and, much like challenges to library materials, you can create a system for handling those complaints that helps to weed them out.
Supervisors, I hope that you consider having this discussion and a brainstorming session with your team. To staff members, maybe consider bringing up this idea if you think your supervisor may be supportive.
Does your library system already have a policy to protect programming choices? If so, send it to us and we’ll create a round-up to help libraries write their own. Storytimeunderground at gmail dot com.