Libraries would be ‘warehouse of books’ without displays

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Imagine walking into a grocery store with no displays — just rows and rows of shelved food. Nothing to draw in the shopper’s interest.

Now imagine the same thing at a Citrus County library — rows and rows of shelved books with no displays to pull readers in.

“There wouldn’t be anything in there, basically a warehouse of books,” Eric Head, director of Citrus County Libraries, said in an interview.

Head finds himself grappling with that issue in recent weeks as some in the community questioned county commissioners about the appropriateness of a June display featuring LGBT Pride Month.

Commissioners in general responded that library displays should avoid taking political sides and be fair to all groups.

Head is a fifth-generation Citrus Countian who grew up in Homosassa and spent his days after school at the old Homosassa library, where mom was a librarian.

Now in his 26th year with the library system, Head is both a fierce defender of the library and its biggest cheerleader.

And considering he deals with diverse printed material, he knows not everyone will be happy with what they see inside the library.

“We take it very seriously. I take it very seriously,” he said. “If I’m doing my job right, I’m getting complaints from all sides.”

Libraries have numerous displays of all shapes, sizes and themes. Friends of the Library, which through its twice-a-year book sales covers roughly half the cost of buying library materials, has a display of the books purchased with their funds. Other displays highlight new books, or nationally recognized events, such as Flag Day or Constitution Day.

All libraries will have displays for the 20th anniversary of 9/11, he said.

There’s even a display planned for something called “Banned Books Week” at the end of September to celebrate the freedom to read.

“Every public library has book displays,” he said. “We have hundreds of displays every year.”

The displays are decided three months ahead of time. Workers in the five individual county libraries suggest display topics and they are discussed and approved by Head’s administrative staff.

Challenges to the library’s displays or books are rare. Head said opposition to the LGBT Pride Month display caught him off guard, as the Citrus libraries have had similar displays for years without a single complaint.

“I did not anticipate conflict,” he said.

And, while some displays may strike a nerve to someone socially or politically, they are not meant to make statements, he said.

“The purpose of the display is it’s a point of interest at that particular time,” he said. “I didn’t view this issue as political. We never choose displays based on a political ideology. We try to be as balanced as possible.”

Displays, he said, should be “respectful, professional, tasteful.”

Each stands on its own.

“There’s no one next to the display pushing items,” he said.

Someone can also request material be removed from the library. Head said it’s unusual — about two or three formal challenges in the 10 years he’s been director.

(Coincidentally, he received a formal complaint on Thursday from someone who claims a book is racist. On the complaint form, the person acknowledged he or she had not read the book.)

Most complaints about books are easily addressed at or below his administrative level. Oftentimes it’s not the book so much that’s offensive to someone as the location — a borderline adult-themed book in the adolescent section, for example.

“Once in a while it’s a valid complaint,” he said. “It may be a simple issue of reshelving.”

If someone wanting a book banned isn’t satisfied with Head’s decision, he or she can appeal to the Library Advisory Board and, if necessary, the county commission.

Head’s office spends about $150,000 a year on books, with about half funded by Friends of the Library book sales. The system has 60,000 active library card holders.

“I encourage everyone to talk to me,” he said. “We want to make sure we address those things.”

Source – Chronicle

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