Birds Do It, Bees Do It….. Why Does the Library Do It?

You may have heard about the recent controversy at the Library. A community member challenged four titles, The Joy of SexThe Joy of Gay SexThe Lesbian Kama Sutraand Sex for Busy People. The Library’s Board of Trusteesvoted to restrict them for minors at its February board meeting. I’m not going to comment or editorialize on that decision. If you’re interested in learning more or commenting yourself, you may go to the Expression of Concern on our Digital Branch.

I want to talk a bit about why this library or any public library has information on sex or any topic that might be deemed controversial or challenging.

The role of public libraries has changed quite a lot in the past 40+ years. Our role in society is a pretty important one. Fundamentally, we exist to provide open access to information and stories in all forms—books, film, music, art—you name it. Our goal is to ensure that anyone in our community who uses the library finds something that speaks to him or her. That openness and accessibility is essential in a democracy.

Our mission says it all, “Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library: Your place. Stories you want, information you need, connections you seek.” We understand that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all for how people think or feel about anything. For this truly to be your place, you must be able to find what you want and need. In the process of finding that, you’ll find things you don’t want or need. In fact, you’ll find things you may find shocking or distasteful. We say somewhat facetiously that if you don’t find something to offend you in the library, we’re not doing our jobs.

Life doesn’t stop at the doors of the library and our collections, services and programs attempt to address the human condition and experience. A recent example is the Girl Culture exhibit in the Sabatini Gallery, cosponsored with the Junior League of Topeka. It is a powerful and challenging exhibit of photographs portraying the experiences of and pressures on girls and young women in our society today. I hope you visit and enjoy it, but if not, remember that there is a not just a world but a universe of information and stories here at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library.

Let me know what you think. What should the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library do to be your place?