Monday, October 13, 2008

VA School Librarians Reject Donated Titles

By Lauren Barack -- School Library Journal, 10/10/2008

A conservative Christian organization recently rallied outside a Fairfax County high school in Virginia to protest the decision by high school librarians to reject donated books, some of which argued against same-sex marriage.

“This was simply about freedom of information,” says Tom Bognanno, who, along with his teenage daughter Elizabeth, attended last week’s rally, sponsored by Focus on the Family, a Colorado-based organization that, among other activities, promotes conversion therapy for gay people.

Freedom, however, is exactly what the school librarians practiced, says Susan Thorniley, coordinator of library information services for Fairfax County Public Schools. While one of the 11 high schools approached by the organization did accept some of the books, the other 10 did not — nor were they required too. “Our librarians are autonomous,” says Thorniley. “We do not control what they choose or how they run their library.”

Indeed, school librarians in Fairfax County often reject donated books if they’re deemed inappropriate, says Thorniley.

Media specialists have a rigorous set of regulations that include examining a book’s authenticity, factual content, and educational significance. “These were self-published books, and were not professionally reviewed,” Thorniley says of the titles in question.

Nevertheless, some Christian students and their parents demanded that the books be added to their libraries—even though school officials claim that students hadn’t read some of the titles. “This was a national organization that wanted to create a political issue,” says Paul Regnier, spokesperson for Fairfax County Public Schools. “Some of our students are being used by [them].”

Many of the 40 or so students at the rally wore black T-shirts that read, "Closing books shuts out ideas." Monica Marti, a spokesperson for Focus on the Family, declined to comment beyond a press release.

Thorniley remembers a similar incident four years ago in which a donation request was made by Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) asking to donate titles that included a biography of Matthew Shepard, a slain gay University of Wyoming student.

“We told them we didn’t accept books,” says Thorniley. “But if they met our regulations we would put them out for librarians to take if they felt their collections were lacking.” PFLAG sent in eight titles, attaching the professional reviews, says Thorniley. “They met our regulations, and that was very important,” she says. “And some librarians took them. And some did not.”