Last year's dispute over a gay pride display and a subsequent debate about free speech will lead to a new exhibit case at the downtown city library.
The new case, with room for two displays, will be installed next to the library's small conference room and will be open to nonprofit groups without library sponsorship or censorship. Existing display cases at the entrance to the downtown library and at the Douglas library will be reserved for city use.
"Juneau Public Libraries will not censor or remove a nonprofit group display because some members of the community disagree with its content," the new policy says. "Any local group with an opposing viewpoint may book its own display."
The policy change comes after controversy last summer over a Gay Pride Month exhibit at the downtown library that was co-sponsored by the library and Juneau's PFLAG, which stands for Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. The exhibit was changed after library staff members expressed concern about the design and content.
After the incident, PFLAG and other library patrons voiced objections to a policy that called on the library to co-sponsor exhibits with local groups. A proposed library policy last fall would have put all library display cases off-limits to the public.
In response, some written comments to the library advocated for library control of exhibits that young children would see. Others pushed for open access.
After a public hearing in November, Juneau's PFLAG members and the Friends of the Library board asked the library to set aside at least one display case for community use. Library Director Carol McCabe said the new policy comes in response to that input.
"Both groups that testified as groups recommended that at least one display case be open for community use and I'm responding to that," she said.
McCabe said the policy also gives people a choice of whether or not to view an exhibit.
"We're trying to balance two important freedoms. One is freedom of speech, one is the freedom of choice," she said.
The library will advertise the community displays in the lobby. Groups will be encouraged to provide additional advertising, she said.
But library patron John Symons said putting the new display case by the small conference room was "pussyfooting around."
"I think it's unconscionable to try to waffle around here and I think it's totally wrong," he said. "In this community, it doesn't make sense. We should not be afraid of conflict. These United States did not come because we rolled over. Alaska didn't become a state because we rolled over."
Representatives from PFLAG in Juneau could not be reached for comment by the Empire's midday deadline today.
Groups that want to schedule a display will need to fill out a reservation request. Obscene and illegal items will not be allowed.
The new policy is described as "an experiment" by the library and will expire on May 1, 2004, unless extended by written amendment. It will go into effect as soon as a new display case is added. The new case will cost about $1,700 and McCabe said the library hopes to have it ready by May 1.
"I really want to issue an invitation to nonprofit groups to start planning their exhibits," she said. "This will help relieve the pressure for all the wonderful stuff around town."
The library director will hear appeals regarding displays, with further written appeals through the city manager. As a next step, people could appeal through the courts.
The new display policy can reviewed by the Juneau Assembly.
• Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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