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“We need to remain neutral in all that we do.”

Those words emerged during a long board meeting in mid-November of the High Plains Library District (HPLD) in Colorado. The Board’s focus that evening was to reevaluate and update various library policies of the district, including the Programming Policy (beginning at page 111), which hadn’t been updated since April 2015.

One of the meeting attendees pointed out language in the newly updated policy that she felt was controversial (minute 50). This lead to the emphasis that libraries are neutral and should therefore not offer programming that doesn’t afford “both sides” to be represented.

Bullet point number four, “Program topics should reflect community interests and should not be intended to persuade participants to a particular point of view” ignited a conversation about librarian passions and where or how those might be appropriate for community programming. The Board dismissed what was brought up as something not to worry about, that it was intended to bolster the point above, “Programs should promote the library’s collection and resources and should consist of the same breadth and depth of topics, stories and perspectives that are offered in the collection.”

The changes to the Programming Policy, which include the steps by which a patron can lodge a complaint, were met with full approval of the Board.

Though it was clarified that “both sides” didn’t mean topics like The Holocaust, what was left unsaid in the discussion rings loudest. The ability to interpret that line in the policy opened the door to Administrative oversight of library programmings as a means of suppressing the sharing and engaging of ideas and conversation, even if it reflected the library’s “depth of topics, stories and perspectives.” The lack of clarity encourages subjectivity about what may or may not “persuade participants to a particular point of view.”

In the weeks that followed, librarians at various branches within the High Plains Library District were told they had to rename, change, or otherwise cancel a number of planned programs which no longer aligned with the new policy.

On December 9, a member of the Colorado Association of Libraries Intellectual Freedom Committee list-serv forward a message from a librarian within the HPLD shedding light on the Board’s new guidelines. Hours later, the post was retracted in fear of retaliation along the lines of what the original piece’s writer was seeing.

That librarian was Brooky Parks, Teen Librarian in the HPLD, who reached out to the Colorado Association of Libraries Intellectual Freedom Committee via their list-serv December 10, reposting the initial message that had been retracted the day before. Parks encouraged those reading to pass along the information to help educate others of what was happening and how to respond:

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