Blogger Intellectual Freedom Committee

Interview with Steven Herb, 2018 ALSC Distinguished Service Award Winner

Head shot of Steven HerbTo say the 2018 ALSC Distinguished Service Award recipient, Steven Herb, has had a long, interesting library career is a terrible understatement. From serving on and leading award committees, chairing the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee, being the President of ALSC, and leading the Pennsylvania Center for the Book, Herb has made lasting contributions to library services for children. We focus now on his interest in and experience with Intellectual Freedom.

  • How and when did you first become aware of/interested in Intellectual Freedom (IF)?
“I probably got interested in intellectual freedom issues when I was in high school because I went to high school in the 60s–a conservative high school with at least a select number of liberal high school students. The Vietnam war was going on, King and Kennedy were assassinated in 1968, and the Chicago seven that had started out as eight was happening as well. It wasn’t hard to notice that people who were speaking up were being silenced & punished.  It made me want to speak up.*”
  • What was the most difficult IF issue you faced as a children’s librarian?
“As a children’s librarian, it was probably the efforts needed to defend Daddy’s Roommate. As the Chair of the Intellectual Freedom Committee at the end of the last century, it was definitely fending off the attacks and name-calling when we were defending kids retaining access to the emerging web. We were perceived as “not protecting children” when we were doing our best to defend the First Amendment rights of all American citizens, regardless of age. It did hurt to be called a “child pornographer,” but it was certainly in a worthy cause.” 
  • Is IF still important for youth services? Why or why not?
“Very much so. It always has been (or at least since Judy Krug* sprang into action) and always will be.  We may not even imagine the direction our IF actions will take, but we know two things—1) those actions will grow from protecting the First Amendment rights of children and 2) intellectual freedom is one of the true bedrocks of library services to children.  As I like to think of our long history of ALSC—advocacy for the literacy rights and information choices of all ages.” 

A big thanks to Steven Herb for taking time out of his busy schedule to participate in this interview. His career is truly inspiring! Building on the work of librarians like Herb, librarians are equipped to face new challenges. What are the most pressing intellectual freedom challenges and issues today? How are you working to promote intellectual freedom in your organizations?

*Read more about Steven Herb’s formative high school experience leading him to be an intellectual freedom advocate in “Speaking Up: Voices Celebrating Intellectual Freedom” by Symon and Reed.
*Judith Krug was director of the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom for more than 40 years. Learn more in this NPR interview on All Things Considered.
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Mariah Manley, a Children’s Librarian at the Day-Riverside Branch of the Salt Lake City Public Library, is a member of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee.  You may contact her at mmanley@slcpl.org.

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