Sara Dallas was the moderator and Nick Buron (Queens Library) and Patty Utarro (Rochester Public Library/ Monroe County Library System) provided their prospective. The overarching questions was, "Are libraries truly neutral and open to all?"
Are libraries neutral?
Buron - 50% of the Queens borough was born outside of the
US. We don’t welcome people who themselves re not welcoming. He
believes that the organization is, but that the people,who work in it
- As safe and as neutral as can be. She recognizes that people are
need to deal with everyone in the same way, it that is hard for people
to do. It takes fortitude to work in a library and be public facing.
It may not be a role for everyone. You have to be able to put aside
your feelings. They Library belongs to the people in the community.
What would you do if ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) asked about the programs at your library or just showed up?
- The Library is open to all, which means all. Programs are publicly
known. ICE or other law enforcement may come into the library and you
don’t know they are there. You need to talk with your staff in advance
to know why the library’s procedure is.
- The mayor has issued information to help local government. The
library should contact the mayors office if ICE shows up.
How do you make sure that your staff have the tools and the knowledge to handle a situation?
- You need to have a good form of communication with your staff.
Communicating in this area should be the same as how you communicate in
What would you do if a patron asks for holocaust denial information?
- You don’t know why the person wants the information. You shouldn’t
make assumptions. You should help the person. Your staff should have
the flexibility to step away, if they are uncomfortable, and allow
someone else to help the patron. You the library cannot refuse to help
Should you find the most verifiable sources in this instance?
Talk to the person about verifiable sources and turn it into a moment of learning.
If someone asks about how to build a bomb?
Buron - It is information that is “out there.” What type of bomb? Yes, answer the question.
Is part of the problem staff morale?
Utarro - Yes, staff are seeing and dealing with really awful things every day. Staff are getting emotionally burned out.
Buron - They are seeing fewer reference questions and dealing with more public conduct issues.
do you respond to people who tell you why they want the information?
For example, a person wants info to convince a child that the child is
- You almost don’t want to know why the person wants the information.
It is a chance to talk about reputable sources. Talk about the facts.
Comment - Be aware that some of those awkward questions are being asked by students who are doing assignments.
Should you treat these questions as readers advisory?
Buron - Yes, your collection development policy should collect a range of materials, including both sides of an issue.
Utarro - The collection and your programs should not be homogeneous. You should stimulate public discourse.
Comment - Ask for the context. Then talk about the type of information that is available to use in that context.
Question - How does this square with Title IX and creating a safe workplace?
- Referenced Feb. 16, 2007 news story that was done on Rochester Public
Library. It was a situation that was causing workplace harassment.
They instituted a filter, with the caveat that adults could ask that
the filter unblocked. Computers have privacy screens.
- “The Freedom to View” - Do we provide access to porn? People can use
the WiFi and their own devices to view whatever they want. Desktop
computers do have filters.
Does the answer change if it is a child or young adult?
Utarro - Unsure how she would respond. She later noted that teen librarians in Monroe County are not mandated reporters.
- Treat the person respectfully. Treat it as a teaching/learning
opportunity. If someone says they are going to harm themselves, that is
a situation that you should act on.
Comment - Through the reference interview, you learn to confront your own assumptions.
- You need good meeting room policies. If you don’t want singing, then
don’t allow it for anyone. Queens has an open door policy; there are no
Utarro - Have your meeting room policy vetted by an attorney.
Dallas - Flyers should say that the program is not sponsored by the library.
Comment - All activities stay in the meeting room. No handing out materials or asking for money.
Is it practical to enforce these policies?
Buron - Make a policy that is not subjective. Don’t trust a specific group more than another.
Dallas - You can be sued if you don’t implement the policy equally.
Utarro - Mental Health. Difference. Flexibility. Mindfulness. Training doesn’t always work. Staff doesn’t always know what triggers them.
Are you asking librarians to act like parents?
- Stop saying that we don’t act like babysitters or parents, because in
reality we do. We need to change how we staff our libraries to do this
Comment - You May not be a parent, but you are a neighbor.
Art - Their are policies that are publicly available, which you can refer to.
Is the library liable, if someone acts on what they learn in the library (e.g., suicide)?
Buron - What we do has ramifications. It is more important to be a trusted location, then to do what people like.