City library's display policy, location of case stir debate

PFLAG disapproves of location of display case; library officials say they had little choice

Posted: Friday, August 22, 2003

The July arrival of a $1,700 display case at the downtown library marked the beginning of a new, public display policy for nonprofit groups at the library.

But the case, purchased by the Juneau Public Libraries, has sat empty since it was installed in a corner of the adult reading room. That frustrates some community members who have argued against the new policy and the location of the case in the library.

"I think the library is there to provide information for all citizens in the community, and I think that all citizens in the community should have an opportunity to provide information about community interests in library displays," said Juneau resident Ann Symons.

Symons and several others, including members of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, disapprove of the placement of the new display case.

PFLAG co-sponsored an exhibit with the library in a prominent display case at the downtown library in June 2002.

Library staff changed the content and appearance of the PFLAG display soon after it was installed last year. Some PFLAG members deemed that censorship and began to question the constitutional basis of the library's display policy, in which nonprofit groups and the library co-sponsored exhibits.

Juneau Public Libraries consulted the American Library Association legal counsel, said Barbara Berg, acting director of the Juneau Public Libraries. Carol McCabe, who has since retired, was director at the time.

The American Library Association, members of the Alaska Civil Liberties Union and the city attorney's office agreed that the library's legal options were to close the display cases to public use and leave them exclusively for library use, or to open one or more of the cases for community use.

In this case, the library could regulate the "time, place and manner" of the display, but could not restrict the viewpoint expressed in the display.

At a meeting of the Friends of the Public Library in November 2002, McCabe proposed the library reserve all display cases for library use. She suggested allowing users to supply materials to the library for a display but not allowing users to sponsor exhibits.

The proposal met with unanimous disapproval from those in attendance at the meeting.

McCabe said she would receive public comments on the policy until the end of November and put a new policy in place at the library on Jan. 30 of this year.

The new policy reserved the two prominent display cases in the front of the downtown library for library use. It reserved another display case, to be purchased and placed in the adult reading room, for nonprofit groups. The policy went into effect with the installation of the new case in July.

The policy is under an "experimental year," Berg said.

"We want to see how it works out," she said. "Then it can be reviewed and extended if we choose to extend it at that time."

If the policy isn't extended, it will revert to McCabe's proposed policy from last November, in which the three display cases would be reserved for library use.

Some community members said this policy doesn't allow enough of a forum for community members to share ideas.

"We ended up, in a surprising way, with the most restrictive policy in the state," said Dixie Hood, a member of PFLAG who has been active in the display policy dispute. "In my mind, the policy isn't working correctly."

The library had little choice as to where to put the new display case, Berg said. She said the library can't help it if community groups haven't used the case since it was installed.

"One of the things about having all of this wonderful glass and all of this view up here is we don't have any wall space to speak of," she said. "There really isn't any other wall that we have that wouldn't be less accessible than this place."

• Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.



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