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Sacramento Public Library
How does a library serve a spectrum of patrons when each one sees our role and services differently?
In 2010, we found ourselves embroiled in a fight for Intellectual Freedom rights unlike any other. The premise was simple, how do we bring young men in their 20s and 30s into the library? The answer for two of our staff was to host bi-monthly video game events. The idea itself was not radical but the reaction was, especially when we sponsored a tournament for the game, Halo. The local chapter of Veterans for Peace felt strongly that a public library should not sponsor war games. The Library, on the other hand, feels that the public library is the modern community center and we need to have programs for all interests, people and backgrounds. After two meetings with Veterans for Peace it became clear that they were only interested in having us cancel all gaming events that involved violent game content. We were not willing to do that for several reasons: 1) the library is for everyone, all tastes and interests; 2) the events were restricted to participants 17 and older; 3) we were attracting exactly the people we wanted to come to the library, i.e. young men in their 20s. We offered four gaming events that attracted protestors and each time was a challenge. Staff and participants were verbally attacked, our motives and intentions were questioned, there was world-wide press coverage and veteran protestor Cindy Sheehan took up the cause. The question we had to ask ourselves was whether programming is as sacred as the collection. Does it fall under the Intellectual Freedom umbrella? This series of challenges really gave the staff an opportunity to decide what is important to us and we collectively decided that we wanted to fight for the right of all people to find what they desire at the public library.
It was a fight that sometimes felt like it would never end. There were moments when we just wanted to acquiesce and make the whole controversy go away but in the end we stayed strong. We are still offering bi-monthly gaming events and the Library Director was recently asked to speak to a group headed by the Veterans for Peace representative. True compromise is difficult to achieve but we truly believe that we are a better library system having gone through this experience.