[Libs-Or] IFC Tuesday Topic, May 2021

Katlyn Temple kat at chetcolibrary.org
Tue May 25 11:54:50 PDT 2021

OLA IFC Tuesday Topics May 2021: The Impact of Police Presence on
Intellectual Freedom

Welcome to Tuesday Topics, a monthly series covering topics with
intellectual freedom implications for libraries of all types. Each message
is prepared by a member of OLA's Intellectual Freedom Committee or a guest
writer. Questions can be directed to the author of the topic or to the IFC

The Impact of Police Presence on Intellectual Freedom

When we train new hires at my library, safety is one of the first things
that we discuss. And when our trainees ask me what situations warrant a 911
call, my advice to them is this:

Emergency services are for emergencies—immediate threats to someone’s
health and safety. If you’re in a situation where you’re wondering whether
you should dial 911, then there’s probably something else you can do before
you make the choice to pick up the phone.

There are many reasons that we give this advice to new hires, emphasize
fair rule enforcement and deescalation tactics, and invest in trainings
<http://www.homelesslibrary.com/> that prompt staff to critically consider
the impact of law enforcement interactions on their visitors. While we
recognize that we still have more work to do on this front, our choice to
foster and promote this culture does not just stem from a point of
compassion; it also stems from a desire to protect the intellectual freedom
rights of everyone we serve. This includes Black, Indigenous, and People of
Color (BIPOC), and persons experiencing homelessness—communities which have
historically been targeted by police.

In a 2020 American Libraries article
Cass Balzer reported on librarians who are active in the Library Freedom
and are taking steps to divest from a heavy law enforcement presence on
their campuses. This article and others posit that the principles of
Intellectual Freedom and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion can--and
should--go hand in hand. As LFP director Alison Macrina pointed out, “If
you are a person who is targeted by police, and you’re in a library when
police come in, you’re going to change your behavior. You’re going to

These acts of “self-censorship” can manifest themselves in a variety of
ways. It could prompt a person to abandon a book they were reading, move
away from the stacks they were browsing, or log off a computer session
early. It could also prompt someone to leave the library and its resources
behind for the day—or even for good.

Each library’s ability and approach to reducing unnecessary police presence
in their buildings may look different, based on the bodies that govern them
and the resources at their disposal. But there are universal questions that
we can all ask ourselves as we seek to build environments that protect the
intellectual freedom of everyone who visits the library:


   Does the language of my library’s behavior policy treat everyone fairly?
   And are those rules enforced consistently and compassionately?

   Are staff members trained to recognize which situations warrant
   immediate emergency services intervention, and which do not?

   Does my library need surveillance technology, such as CCTV? If the
   answer is yes, how can we minimize its impact and write policies that
   safeguard the information it captures?

   Is my library required to have armed, uniformed police or private
   security staff patrol the building? If so, why? What alternatives might
   exist to foster a safe environment and connect vulnerable people to
   resources they need?

Intellectual Freedom does not begin and end with the language in our
collection development policies. It manifests in the environments we choose
to foster as well.

Katlyn Temple

OLA Intellectual Freedom Committee Member

Assistant Director, Chetco Community Public Library

Works Cited

Balzer, Cass. “Rethinking police presence: Libraries consider divesting
from law enforcement.” American Libraries, 8 July 2020,

“It’s not enough to say Black Lives Matter--libraries must divest from the
police.” Library Freedom Project, 9 Jun. 2020,

“Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness.” Ryan Dowd, 2021.

Katlyn Temple, MLS
Assistant Director
Chetco Community Public Library
Currently Reading:* Beartown, *by Fredrik Backman
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