Policies Keep Things Fair for Everyone

by Claudine Perrault, Library Director

In recent weeks, we’ve answered a few questions regarding the Library’s policy on petition gathering. Those who asked were simply seeking clarification on how it works—and why. We are always happy to respond, and thought to take this opportunity to share the answers with everyone.

First, context. The Library is a place where everyone is welcome. It’s the place to learn, connect, and collaborate. Our spaces have been used for decades by many different groups to discuss topics of all shapes and sizes. On almost any day, a glance at our meeting room calendar shows this busy and wonderful variety.

This is our contribution to the thriving democracy that is Estes Park. The Library belongs to everybody.

Our challenge in this setting is to achieve the balance between public and private that patrons seek in the Library. On one hand, people come to the Library to practice democracy: to discuss issues, exercise freedom of speech, and learn about the politics of our time. On the other hand, people also come to the Library for undisturbed quiet: to read, study and reflect.

Policies are the principles that guide Library decisions, and they are adopted to keep things fair and consistent for all. The policy addressing petitions goes back to 2010. Petitioning is a form of solicitation and refers to the active gathering of signatures for a cause or political issue.

To understand today’s policy on petitions, we might hop aboard a time machine and travel to 2009. It wouldn’t be uncommon then for an individual to comb through the Library, seeking signatures, raising funds or handing out leaflets for a variety of for-or-non-profits. Whether it was for a worthy cause or not wasn’t the issue. Some Library users felt accosted. They couldn’t enjoy their Library experience like they wanted to. And that wasn’t fair for them.

So the board adopted policy that says, ‘no soliciting in the building – for funds, signatures, or anything else. Inside the library people can discuss anything, but actual solicitation activity is limited to outside the building.’  This has been our standard for many years now, and applied equally to all groups, regardless of viewpoint.

This is not to say solicitors aren’t courteous of others. Most of them certainly are. But having a policy removes us from making subjective value judgments. It keeps the rules fair and consistent for everyone.

In this sense, the policy is not unlike our approach to audible conversation in the Library: some noise and hubbub does occur in a Library that hosts programs and storytimes; but there is also a value toward keeping quiet spaces. Both are appropriate uses, so we work towards a harmony to achieve that.

If people would like to know more about library policies or offer input, they are always invited to monthly board meetings, where the trustees welcome comment. You can find the policy on petitions—and all other Library policies—online at estesvalleylibrary.org/about/policies/