New library exhibit policy out for review

Outside groups would not be allowed to sponsor exhibits

Posted: Sunday, November 10, 2002

Juneau Public Libraries is accepting public comment on a draft policy that would set aside library exhibits for library use only.

Under the proposed policy, outside groups would not be allowed to sponsor exhibits, but could provide materials. Exhibits would be prepared and mounted by staff members.

"Library exhibits may contain materials that are on loan to the library from community groups, individuals and outside agencies," the draft policy said. "However, none of the exhibit cases or display spaces are intended as an open or limited public forum and therefore are not available for scheduling by the public."

In developing exhibits, staff members will present a "broad spectrum of ideas and viewpoints and visually enticing materials of interest to all ages," it said.

The library's current policy allows outside groups to co-sponsor an exhibit. Exhibits can't back a political candidate or issues, engage in religious proselytizing, serve as advertising space, or promote a particular organization. The library reserves the right to deny co-sponsorship requests and make final aesthetic and content decisions, according to the policy.

The policy change comes after a dispute this past summer about content in a Gay Pride Month display at the downtown library. The exhibit was co-sponsored by Juneau's PFLAG, which stands for Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. After the two artists who originally put up the display objected to library changes in content, other PFLAG members worked out a compromise with staff.

Library Director Carol McCabe was out of town Friday and couldn't be reached for comment about the revised exhibit policy. City Attorney John Corso said the draft policy still allows the public to be involved, although library staff will be in charge of preparing the displays.

"People can still bring in cool things to put in the cases, and in fact, the library staff will go looking for that," he said.

Oral comments on the policy changes will be accepted at a Friends of the Library meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the downtown library's large conference room. The testimony will be forwarded to the library director and city manager. The policy also will be considered by the Friends of the Library board as it prepares a formal written response, according to a memo from McCabe.

PFLAG co-chairman Willie Anderson said his group is disappointed with the new proposed exhibit policy and plans to speak against it at Tuesday's meeting. PFLAG would like to see the policy rewritten, he said.

"It retracts the ability for the public to have a display. It's totally library-staff dominated," he said. "By law, (the library director) can do what she's attempting to do, but for the capital city of the state to have a regressive display policy, it saddens us."

In reviewing the policy, Corso said his primary consideration was the First Amendment. Although the government can control the time, place and manner of speech, controlling content is problematic, he said.

"One way to avoid that is to have the speech come entirely from the government," he said. "If there is a partnership or something like that, to some extent the speech is private speech. It raises First Amendment questions if the library attempts to control it."

Over the past few years, exhibits at Juneau's libraries have included student sculptures, masks, carved Native dolls, an Olympic torch relay display, old toys from the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, and information about notable local women.

A copy of the proposed policy is available at Written comments can be submitted through Nov. 31 to Barbara Neal, Administrative Secretary, Juneau Public Libraries, 292 Marine Way, Juneau, AK 99801.

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