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Fairfax County Public Library board sticks by materials selection policy

Statue of a girl reading outside Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

As schools and libraries across the U.S. grapple with a historic surge in book bans and challenges, the topic has inevitably become a concern for Fairfax County Public Library officials.

The FCPL Board of Trustees raised the possibility of revisiting the library’s collection development policies when it met on July 13, according to meeting materials.

However, after a discussion, the board decided there was no need to modify the existing policies, FCPL Board Chair Brian Engler told FFXnow.

“Our current policies support purchasing materials that provide a broad and deep collection that is reflective of our diverse community,” said Engler, who represents Braddock District on the board. “Our staff use these policies to inform their purchasing patterns and it is this board’s intention that the public library will continue to support all our residents through both our physical and digital collections.”

Aside from a protest late last year over a book display at Dolley Madison Library in McLean, FCPL has gone mostly unaffected by the mostly conservative push to restrict access to books, particularly ones that feature LGBTQ+ individuals and Black people.

Though Fairfax County Public Schools dealt with a high-profile challenge against two books last year, the county library system typically receives just one or two formal challenges to materials in its collections each year, and “2022 so far has not been an exception,” Director Jessica Hudson says.

Elsewhere, libraries have lost funding and workers over book ban campaigns that they felt amounted to harassment and intimidation. Some states have passed laws banning “sexually explicit” materials in schools or giving parents the ability to dictate what their kids are allowed to read.

In Virginia, public schools are now required to notify parents of sexually explicit instructional materials under new policies that the Pride Liberation Project, a local LGBTQ+ student advocacy group, worries will have a “chilling effect.”

FCPL’s collection development policy says materials should “be evaluated according to objective standards” with consideration given to artistic and scholarly merit as well as potential recreational and entertainment value.

The policy emphasizes a need for flexibility, open-mindedness, and responsiveness to changing social and cultural values and technological advances.

“Different viewpoints on controversial issues may be acquired, including those which may have unpopular or unorthodox positions,” the policy says. “The Library recognizes that those materials which offend, shock or bore one reader may be considered pleasing, meaningful or significant by another.”

The policy’s stance on access and free speech will be highlighted in the strategic plan that FCPL is in the process of revising, according to minutes from the July 13 board meeting.

Engler, who chairs the ad hoc committee developing the new strategic plan, says the library typically reviews its plan every five years, with the current one running through this December.

“I can’t specifically comment on the updated Strategic Plan yet, but suffice it to say that it will be proactive in addressing the latest issues, including the collection, selection, reconsideration guidance and the like,” Engler said.

The ad hoc committee is expected to present a draft at the board of trustees’ Nov. 9 meeting, with a final vote coming in December.

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