Intellectual Freedom

“Readers are Thinkers.” Thank You, Lin Oliver!

At School Library Journal‘s 2021 Middle Grade Magic Virtual Conference (where I had the honor of moderating an author panel), Lin Oliver and Henry Winkler gave a rousing keynote to close the day.

I was struck by this observation from Lin Oliver: “Because librarians are the dispatchers of intellectual freedom, you were the ones to see each of those kids and hand them the thing that’s going to make them a reader and make them a thinker, and it’s valuable to our society to develop a generation of thinkers and readers.”

Reading and intellectual freedom are inextricably linked. This places librarians at the center of all the recent discussion about what books should be actively recommended to patrons, who should or should not be given book deals, and the extent to which publishers take responsibility for false or misleading information in books they print. 

We’ve got this

Fortunately, our professional organization has crafted guiding principles to help us navigate these challenging issues. There are several touchstone statements to keep in mind. The first principle from the ALA Library Bill of Rights cautions librarians to avoid excluding materials from our collections “because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.” In other words, we should separate the artist from their art. The second ALA principle puts the responsibility for safeguarding access to information and intellectual freedom squarely on librarians: “Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.” 

The conversation continues

Support for the free expression of ideas, especially ideas with which we vehemently disagree, is essential. This has been expressed in many ways over the years, by representatives from a range of industries and organizations. Our ongoing discussion should include keeping an eye on decisions being made by publishers and their impact on our patrons and collections.

“If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”

—Noam Chomsky, speaking in a BBC television interview with John Pilger on The Late Show (1992)

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Tools and support

ALA offers a wealth of resources on intellectual freedom. Content includes useful statistics as well as an ongoing discussion of related news and events. A quarterly journal and weekly email reports publish the latest insights. ALA also provides guidance on issues affecting meeting rooms and exhibit spaces, filtering, schools’ and minors’ rights, censorship, and access to library resources and services. In March, our ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee released a new toolkit. This resource includes storytime plans and practical tools for incorporating the ideals of intellectual freedom into everyday programs and services. 

These are challenging times. As librarians we have a passion for service and a wealth of resources at our disposal to assist us in our work.  I suggest these ALA and ALSC resources as our guide in place of news outlets or social media.  And thank you, Lin Oliver, for the reminder that librarians preserve intellectual freedom by supporting the next generation of readers and thinkers.

Marybeth Kozikowski is a member of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee and works as a Librarian II, Children’s Services at Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY. Please note that as a guest post, the views here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

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