Portsmouth Public Library solidifies policy on public displays


PORTSMOUTH—The Portsmouth Public Library’s (PPL) Board of Trustees met this week to discuss the newly implemented policy regarding programming and public displays.

The meeting is the third so far to address the public outcry following a Pride month display in the Youth Services section of the library.

At each meeting held so far, PPL’s Board of Trustees entertained comments from the public on all sides of the issue. Some patrons took issue with the themes of gender, anatomy, and LGBTQ inclusion explored within the selected children’s literature, indicating that they felt such material was inappropriate for children.

Others in support of the display argued that the literature provided valuable representation to LGBTQ community members in the area and that such inclusion held true to PPL’s own vision statement, which seeks “to offer all people a welcoming, accessible, and attractive gathering place conducive to learning, research, enlightenment, creativity, and enjoyment.”

Many community members indicated that they were polarized or conflicted by such content being offered in the Youth Services section but that potential censorship of library materials was concerning.

On Tuesday, July 19, the Board of Trustees further clarified the new implementation of policies for public displays, exhibits, and bulletin boards. With the assistance of their legal counsel, PPL’s Board of Trustees unanimously voted to accept the policies created by their policy committee as well as the aforementioned legal counsel.

The Display, Exhibit, and Bulletin Board Policy, therefore, took effect on July 19, 2022. The new policy stated that PPL’s displays and exhibits are “planned, organized, and implemented by a designation committee.” The designation committee consists of PPL’s Adult Services Coordinator, Outreach Services Coordinator, Youth Services Coordinator and Branch Supervisors.

The designation committee will use a list of criteria outlined in the policy to make decisions about display topics, materials, and accompanying resources.

The criteria includes in part: “community needs and interest, format and style are suitable for intended audience, historical or educational significance, appropriateness to seasonal events and holidays, relation to current events, connection to other community or national programs, exhibitions, or events, and relation to library collections, resources, exhibits, and programs.”

Regarding the exclusion of controversial materials, the newly adopted policy stated:

“The Library will strive to include a wide spectrum of opinions and viewpoints in Library-initiated displays and exhibits, as well as offer displays and exhibits that appeal to a range of ages, interests, and information needs. Library-initiated displays and exhibits should not exclude topics, books, media, and other resources solely because they may be considered to be controversial. Acceptance of a display or exhibit topic by the Library does not constitute an endorsement by the Portsmouth Public Library of the content of the display or exhibit, or of the views expressed in materials on display.”

The policy also made clear that PPL is open to considering the opinions of all patrons concerning the PPL’s exhibits. Anyone patron can request the PPL to reconsider public displays in the same manner in which they would request them to reconsider materials: by completing a Request for Reconsideration form on their website.

To read the policy in full, visit PPL’s website at: https://www.yourppl.org/policies/display-exhibit-and-bulletin-board-policy.

Though the question of what is deemed appropriate for children is a subjective concept, Kara Tieman, Secretary of the PPL’s Board of Trustees, said that by researching the policies of other libraries and leaving the question of appropriateness up to the designation committee, PPL can utilize the education of its diverse managerial staff to continue to serve a diverse community.

“If it’s any indication, we still have a high turnout for summer reading and different programs. I think we are all good at the Library,” Tieman said. “We did our job as the Board, Paige [Williams, PPL Director] did her job, and that’s exactly what we had to do.”

Visit the Portsmouth Public Library online at: yourppl.org.

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