In the scenario that a public library patron expresses concern over funds being used to purchase romance novels, librarians could defend the library’s selection decisions in accordance with the American Library Association’s (ALA) Code of Ethics. The patron might argue that romance novels should not be purchased by the library, as they may feel that the quality of the writing and story development is inferior to other possible selections. They may believe romance novels do not provide any educational enrichment, and should be excluded from the library collection. In this situation, a librarian can utilize several ethical perspectives in explaining collection selection decisions to the patron.
Selection decisions determine the range of resource types the library collection offers which sets the tone for the library. It is up to the selectors to determine what materials will fit the needs of the library users, regardless if the resources are controversial (Rubin, 2010, p. 421). Rubin (2010) suggests many selectors avoid purchasing controversial materials in an attempt to avoid confrontations such as this, but to do so would infringe on the respect for the individual. People utilize library resources for different reasons, and from these varying needs library collection development policies encourage “building collections that represent a wide range of materials, reflecting diverse perspectives” (Rubin, 2010, p. 418). To eliminate or limit a collection due to the views of dissenters would infringe on the rights of the people who would utilize those resources. Ross, McKechnie and Rothbauer (2006) explored the issue of leisure reading, and asked the question, “When people differ in their tastes, who has the power to look down on whom?” (p. 187). Not all people see the same value in a book genre, and typically value their own preference above others. This personal preference cannot form collection development policy, because to do so would be the true violation of ethical behavior. Fiction of varying types could be argued for their validity in a public library. Collections including mystery, fantasy, science fiction, and westerns could all be removed as easily as removing romance.
Professional codes of conduct have been established to help librarians determine how to handle situations such as this. The ALA Code of Ethics (2008) resists any attempt to censor library resources, encouraging “principles of intellectual freedom.” Instead, it suggests setting aside personal beliefs in performing library duties to ensure access to a variety of information resources. If the library intentionally elected to reduce or eliminate romance novels, it would not be based on a lack of educational enrichment or due to inferior quality. This decision would be grounded on the information needs of the community, and would indicate resource demand influenced the purchase of other more popular resources.
The librarian would need to explain to the patron how libraries provide open access to resources, and that romance novels provide value to the people who check them out. While the patron may not agree, they might be able to appreciate the fact that libraries are obligated to purchase materials that are popular with other patrons.
American Library Association. (2008). Code of Ethics of the American Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/sites/ala.org.advocacy/files/content/proethics/codeofethics/Code%20of%20Ethics%20of%20the%20American%20Library%20Association.pdf
Ross, C., McKechnie, L., & Rothbauer, P. (2006). Reading matters. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc.
Rubin, R. (2010). Foundations of library and information science (Third Edition). New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.