Management of controversial material in public libraries – by John Pateman

Management of controversial material in public libraries

John Pateman

MLA have now published the summary of responses to their consultation on Management of controversial material in public libraries (
It is disappointing to note that only 39 responses were received on this very important subject. And only 25 of these responses came from local authorities, despite the potential impact of this guidance on public libraries.
The responses are not very supportive of the draft guidance. 37% did not think that the guidance meets the needs of library managers and staff in stock selection and a further 10% felt that it only partly met these needs. The precedent of Section 28 was raised by several respondents in terms of such guidance making librarians more risk averse in their stock selection.
31% of respondents did not think that the guidance will help libraries to fulfil their role as access points to publicly available information. Many respondents requested clarification with regard to the concept of ‘legally published’ material.
The biggest area of concern related to community cohesion – 43% of respondents did not agree that the guidance would help to promote community cohesion and only 36% agreed that it would. There was a strong concern that the guidance could generate fear and apprehension and deter librarians from being proactive in promoting cohesion.
56% of respondents requested further and more explicit guidance, particularly around internet use. The MLA will not be able to take forward significant guidance about internet use but they are willing to revisit this issue with the sector and professional bodies.
Very few respondents had worked with other groups in creating their response. Only 2 local authorities had consulted outside the library team and none of the respondents consulted with external partners or community groups.
Two specific issues were raised which MLA will seek to respond to or include in the final draft of the guidance – data protection and the records of library users and their borrowing; and the use of the term ‘legal publication.’
MLA will now redraft the guidance and seek resources for training and development on the guidance and associated areas of positive action for community cohesion. The revised guidance will be published in autumn 2008.
It is disappointing that so few people responded to this consultation and that those who did respond not consult in turn with their communities. It is also disappointing that MLA is going ahead with this guidance despite the strong concerns raised by respondents, particularly around the issue of community cohesion.
Information for Social Change will continue to campaign against this guidance and calls on library workers and organisations to join this campaign.
John Pateman
Information for Social Change