Medford School District forms committee on library ops
Following the removal last spring of the graphic novel version of “The Handmaid’s Tale” from its library collections, the Medford School District has launched a new committee focused on improving library operations.
Jeanne Grazioli, Medford School District assistant superintendent, and Lisa Yamashita, the district’s director of curriculum and assessment, said the district’s decision to remove the controversial 2019 adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s classic 1985 novel was not a factor in forming the new committee, which has yet to meet.
Instead, it had to do with district schools coming back into session from a year of remote learning brought on by the pandemic, changes in staffing, as well as Yamashita’s evolving role.
“As I participated in the learning community meetings of our librarians, (I realized) that there were gaps or differences between the way schools were doing things,“ Yamashita said. ”(It) highlighted the need for calibration and alignment between our schools.
The committee, which does not have a name, is still being formed but will include district personnel such as librarians, principals, teachers and other staff who support school libraries.
“We are all going to provide input on what materials we think can help students and belong in our libraries,” she said.
Yamashita added that the committee would review its library procedures handbooks, which deal with duties ranging from purchasing books, materials checkout and Chromebook support.
“We’re going to be reviewing our procedures for all of those things,” Yamashita said. “What has developed is different schools have different chunks of information. What I am going to try to do is bring North’s information and South’s information and synthesize them into one cohesive book for our school district.”
Yamashita said the committee’s work will include “making consistent purchases of library materials.”
Grazioli noted that the committee also will review school board policy to make sure it is being followed by school librarians. In the spring, the district had cited its “Library Materials Selection and Adoption” policy as the basis for removing the graphic novel from school library collections. On Monday, Grazioli was not specific on which policies the new committee would review.
But Grazioli, who made the decision to remove the graphic novel from the shelves with her boss, Superintendent Bret Champion, made clear the committee’s work will not involve trying to find books to remove from district libraries.
“We don’t have a master plan to go and review all of our collections at all of our schools because we heard about a book,” she said. “It needs to come from a parent, a student, a teacher, to bring it to our attention for review — and then, obviously, we go through the process.”
A parent had filled out a district form last spring requesting the graphic novel be removed. When another committee could not come to a consensus on whether to remove the publication, Champion and Grazioli made the decision to remove it.
“We’re excited and confident that our libraries meet the needs of our students and staff at this time,” Yamashita said.
An online search of the Medford School District library catalog shows over 3,700 books classified as graphic novels.
“We know graphic novels can be really engaging for different kinds of learners, which is why we include them in our library collection,” she said. “We know there can be lots of opinions about what’s appropriate for school libraries, which is why we want committees making these decisions.”
The district’s stance on graphic novels is at odds with the Oregon Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, which wrote to Grazioli and Champion in the spring after it learned the graphic novel was removed from North Medford High School.
IFC has pressed the district for answers on that decision by way of public records requests, written questions to the school district’s attorney and drafting suggestions for how to improve library operations.
IFC released a three-page statement Sept. 19, concluding “the district is without sound or formal review policies for reconsideration of library materials, and the removal of access to this content amounts to censorship.”
The statement lists numerous ways Medford School District can improve upon its library book shelving procedures, including the implementation of the “Collection Development and Materials Selection Policy for School Library Materials.” Such a policy would include objective criteria for selection of library materials.
“As far as we’re able to tell, they didn’t (inform the community); we were the ones that had let the community know this book had been pulled,” said Emily O’Neal, IFC co-chair. “If they wanted community feedback, they would have included a way for the community to respond to the removal of this title and provide them with an appeal process.”
Even now, O’Neal says she is concerned over the way the district continues to respond to not only the removal of the graphic novel, but its actions going forward in creating a new committee.
“Any committee, especially newly formed, should be formed with strong guiding principles,” O’Neal said. “I feel really strongly that in order to have an objective review and remove personal bias and world view, you need to have guiding principles in writing.”
Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.