The first sentence of Hibbing Public Library's mission statement states that the library's mission is "to serve all residents of Hibbing, Minnesota by providing materials, information, and services for their personal, recreation, educational, and professional needs." To facilitate this mission, the library staff has historically tried to make the library building an attractive and comfortable place to visit and use. One means to accomplish this has been to decorate parts of the library building or the display cases to reflect the various seasonal and holiday celebrations of the community.
It is the belief of the library administration and staff that decorating the library attractively actually brings people into the library. This is especially true of the decorations used at Christmas time. And yet, herein lies a problem. To what extent may a public institution, such as the Hibbing Public Library, decorate the building or its display cases with symbols that reflect a holiday or celebration that is religious in origin and nature?
In the book Celebrations: The Complete Book of American Holidays1, Robert J. Myers writes:
Mankind has celebrated significant days and events since earliest recorded history, and quite likely long before that. Practically all such celebrations, and indeed most of them up until the past few centuries, were of a religious nature. In the Western World they became know as "holy days." And from these two words came the secular term "holidays."
The Hibbing Public Library Board of Trustees, therefore, acknowledges the religious origin of most holiday celebrations. However, at the same time, the Library Board must acknowledge the public nature of the institution it governs. As the city library in Hibbing, Minnesota, it is supported entirely by public tax dollars. And, as such, it must not advocate or even display any symbols commonly associated with a religious faith or denomination. This requirement begins with the "separation of church and state" clause in the U.S. Constitution and is well established in legal court cases.
As a public institution, we serve all residents, which is affirmed in our mission statement. As the community consists of people with a wide variety of beliefs, the public library must attempt to serve all on an equal basis. This the library does by purchasing materials that cover a wide variety of topics, as well as both sides of a particular or controversial topic. This goal of providing materials of both sides of a conflict has always been the strength of public libraries across this nation. And, public libraries have traditionally been able to provide these conflicting materials in a neutral and non-threatening setting. Even though some of the purchased materials may be offensive to an individual or to a group of people, a public library cannot afford to make the physical environment one that is offensive to anyone. By necessity, this must include the decorations used to celebrate national and state holidays.
Therefore, it shall be the policy of the Hibbing Public Library that the library will endeavor to decorate the library in an attractive manner to reflect the various holidays and celebrations of the community. In its decorations, it will refrain from using any symbols or decorations that are religious in nature. It is noted that the library's Exhibits and Display Policy allows any group to exhibit a display that makes "the public aware of the different informational, educational and cultural resources of the community." This includes displays of a religious nature.
1. Myers, Robert J, Celebrations: The Complete Book of Holidays, Doubleday, 1972, p. ix.
Approved by Library Board of Trustees, February 8, 1995.