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Simpson dismissal was wrong, U.S.-based library group says
Former NOTL Public Library chief librarian and CEO Cathy Simpson with Wayne Scott, vice-chair of the library's board of directors. FILE

Collections must reflect varying viewpoints, says Association of Library Professionals

 

A second U.S.-based group has stepped forward in defence of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library’s former CEO and chief librarian.

The Association of Library Professionals is a new organization – founded only last month – and is based in Kansas.

The group, which advocates for library collections offering materials reflecting differing viewpoints, said the library board was wrong to fire Cathy Simpson over the contents of an op-ed she penned for The Lake Report’s March 21 edition to mark Freedom to Read Week.

Association president Erik Wilkinson penned an open letter to the library board, expressing its support for Simpson, saying her column illustrated her testament to the principle of library neutrality, in which the association believes.

In the column, Simpson cited the U.S.-based Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism (FAIR), a group regarded by some as one that espouses far-right talking points.

FAIR’s executive director defended the group and disputed the claims of it being far-right in a story in the March 28 edition of The Lake Report.

“Cathy is one of our founding members,” said Maggie Allbee, a spokesperson for the Association of Library Professionals. “So she, of course, reached out to the rest of us to tell us what had happened to her.”

Simpson, when contacted by The Lake Report, declined to speak to the matter.

“I can’t comment at this time,” Simpson said.

Daryl Novak, chair of the NOTL library, stressed that Simpson was not fired because of what she wrote in the newspaper.

“I think the one part of the message that we have failed to get across is that Cathy was not let go because she wrote an article,” Novak said. “It was never anything about Cathy’s right to free speech.”

Because Simpson signed the column as the library’s CEO, it gave the appearance that her opinions were also those of the board, he said.

He added that she was asked to write a letter clarifying that she wasn’t speaking on behalf of the board.

“She didn’t do that,” Novak said. 

Allbee, meanwhile, said that the association believes libraries should be champions of free speech and defend freedom of speech, freedom of thought and intellectual freedom.

“We believe that responsible libraries will have books on the shelves that reflect a variety of viewpoints, not just one, not just two, but all,” said Allbee. “Even to the point that maybe there’s gonna be some stuff on the shelves that not everybody agrees with.”

Simpson’s story is not a new one, she added.

“I have several colleagues in (the association) that are in the organization for that very reason,” Allbee said. “They’ve lost their jobs over expressing the desire for the libraries to have a variety of viewpoints on the shelf or for questioning collection development policies.”

She said it is the job of libraries to provide information whether or not everyone agrees with it.

“Sometimes the information may not be something that everyone is comfortable with.” she said. “That means that we’re doing our job because we’re not supposed to be taking a stance and limiting what goes on the shelf, or what gets put into people’s hands.”

hutton@niagaranow.com

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