A decision by the London Public Library in London, Ont. to deny meeting space to an academic freedom group involved consultation with the library’s “senior team” and “board of directors,” True North has learned.
As first reported Monday by True North, the library refused to allow the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship to rent a theater to host a May 19 talk on “sex, gender, and the limits of free speech” by British author and academic Joanna Williams, citing a risk of “physical danger” and violation of the library’s workplace harassment policies.
In an internal memo sent to library staff Tuesday morning, London Public Library CEO Michael Ciccone provided “additional background on the events that led to the posting of the article in True North.”
In the memo, which was shared with True North by a library employee, Ciccone said SAFS’ request was “reviewed against our policy, including in discussion with Senior Team and our Board of Directors, and was declined based on several policy considerations.”
The library previously told SAFS that it was declining the booking based on the risk of physical danger, the likelihood the event could “impede the ability of others” to enjoy the library, and violation of the library’s workplace harassment and sexual harassment policies.
The library declined to give specifics to SAFS.
Critics of the library’s decision have pointed to its policy vowing to uphold “intellectual freedom,” including the right to “seek, receive and impart information.”
Nevertheless, Ciccone told staff the library is standing by its decision.
“As community institutions, libraries exist in the public space and our decisions are sometimes subject to a wide range of public opinion,” Ciccone wrote in the memo. “We welcome that role and the scrutiny that can sometimes come along with it. We feel we made the right decision and will stand by it, however, we recognize that the Library will bear criticism for this decision and we sincerely apologize for any negative feedback you may encounter as a result.”
Ciccone asked staff to direct any requests for comment on the incident to him or the library’s manager of communications, and to fill out an “incident report” if they encounter any “abusive comments or behavior.”
Ciccone and the library’s communications manager did not respond to requests for comment from True North.
True North also reached out to library board chair Brian Gibson, and London city councillors Peter Cuddy and Sam Trosow, who sit on the board, but did not receive replies.
In the memo, Ciccone told staff that the library approaches its values “through the lens of exceptional customer service and a commitment to anti-racism and anti-oppression.”