NOT WELCOME: Some libraries reject books on drug reform.
You can give a drug book to a library, but you can’t make the library shelve it.
Headquartered in Fayetteville, the Drug Policy Education Group, which hopes to liberalize Arkansas’s drug laws, has donated more than $8,000 worth of books, videos, booklets and article reprints to 48 public and college libraries across the state since 2002. DPEG has just completed a survey to determine whether the donated materials are placed on the libraries’ shelves. “Materials not shelved are commonly sold at library book sales at extremely low prices, which is not only a waste of our resources, but also does not accomplish our goal of making these materials available to the general public,” a DPEG report on the survey said.
DPEG studied the donation retention rates for eight books and three booklets sent to all the libraries. It found that retention rates diverged as widely as possible — from 100 percent to 0 percent — and that the reasons for the discrepancy were not entirely clear, although high rejection rates seemed to reflect the “personal opinions/prejudices” of individual librarians more than factors such as the size and location of the libraries.
College libraries had the highest retention rate as a group, perhaps not surprisingly. Arkansas State University at Jonesboro retained all 11 items surveyed. Henderson State University at Arkadelphia and Lyon College at Batesville retained 10. The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, the University of Central Arkansas at Conway and Southern Arkansas University at Magnolia retained nine. The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences at Little Rock and Arkansas Tech University at Russellville retained six. Harding University at Searcy retained five. Information about the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff could not be obtained, DPEG said.
Some community and regional libraries also did not respond to the survey.
Of those libraries that did respond, the Central Arkansas area had the highest retention rates. Six of the eight libraries that received materials responded; their average retention was eight of the 11 materials, or 75 percent. Malvern retained all 11, Hot Springs 10, Conway and Little Rock eight, Benton and North Little Rock seven. Morrilton and Lonoke did not respond.
The next highest retention rates were in the Northeast Region, where six of eight libraries responded. The average number of materials retained by the six libraries was six, or 56 percent. Newport retained nine, Paragould and Searcy eight, Walnut Ridge and Jonesboro six, and Wynne none.
Three libraries out of five reported in Southwest Arkansas, retaining an average of five donations, or 48 percent. Magnolia retained nine, Texarkana six, El Dorado one.
Seven of 13 libraries responded in Northwest Arkansas. The average number of donations retained was 4.5, or 42 percent. Fort Smith retained nine, Fayetteville eight, Mountain Home seven, Rogers four, Van Buren three, Dardanelle one, and Harrison none. DPEG said that Springdale and Bentonville were not part of the analysis “because we did not have budget to include them in our 2002 donation round.”
In Southeast Arkansas, two of the four recipient libraries responded. Helena kept four of the donated items, and Pine Bluff kept three, for an average of 3.5 or 32 percent.
That the highest retention rate occurred in the most densely populated region of the state (Central) and the lowest rate occurred in the least populated (Southeast) suggested to DPEG that “A primary consideration in tolerance toward reform literature may lie in numbers. Librarians for inhabitants of more highly populated areas may be more likely to feel ‘safe’ in considering topics involving personal behavior viewed as contrary to accepted public norms. Libraries serving greater populations would be expected to provide materials on a broader array of topics.”
There were no reports of patron complaints about the donated materials, though DPEG admitted that input from librarians was “limited.” Still, the input from librarians was sufficient for DPEG to conclude:
“High rejection rates of our donated materials seem to stem from staff decisions based on personal opinion. Perceptions about our mission or drug policy reform in general are likely factors in those decisions. One library director in a zero-retention facility stated that the community was conservative and that drugs (meth) were a serious problem there, causing him to conclude that the public would not accept our materials. He was not willing to accept a public outcry on this matter.”
The report listed four options for DPEG in trying to improve library retention rates for its donated materials: Find alternative recipients within a region to replace recipients who have not retained any DPEG materials. Try to visit personally with key library staff at low-retention facilities. Ask DPEG supporters to request its materials at their local libraries, targeting low-retention libraries especially. And “Publicize this report to highlight how librarians’ personal opinions/prejudices about critical issues control the selection of public library materials available to entire communities.”