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Intellectual Freedom: Beyond Banned Books Week

by on March 28, 2013

I have always loved that I could walk into a public library and choose any book or item and check it out with no questions asked.  As a librarian, I often need to reassure our patrons that I really do not need to know why they are looking for a book on a particular topic or by a certain author.  It is okay…read whatever you want!  We especially celebrate our freedom to read every year through Banned Books Week in September.  Displays at my library always spark conversation, especially when a patron discovers that a well known classic or popular book has been challenged.

Librarians and library staff are champions of the freedom to read, and indeed, it is a core value of the library profession.  However, intellectual freedom means much more than reading banned books during a special week once a year.  Intellectual freedom is part of our jobs each and every day.

At the 2012 PLA annual conference in Philadelphia, one of the sessions I attended made an impression on me, and I still refer back to it nearly a year later.  It was called “Everyday Ethics: Tools for First Responders on the Library’s Front Lines” presented by Theresa Jehlik, Angela Maycock and Martin Garnar.  They provided several scenarios of intellectual freedom issues that might occur in a library and asked attendees to discuss the scenarios in small groups.  The speakers responded and with the help of several ALA emerging leaders, they role played each scenario with a particular response.  The audience was then invited to provide comments.

Some of the scenarios included issues such as:

  • A parent wanting to know what is checked out on their child’s card and you know that you helped their child last week on a sensitive topic
  • A parent is upset that you allowed their child to check out a movie that is rated R
  • The public computers have filters and a teenager is not able to get the information she needs on a topic that the filters are blocking
  • You discover that an employee is discussing a patron on Facebook.  She did not use a name, but it is obvious who she is talking about.

The small group discussions were enlightening.  Yes, I know my own library’s policies, but everyone in my group had a different point of view and may handle the scenarios in slightly different ways.  It promoted terrific discussion, and made me more aware that intellectual freedom issues happen every day.

After the conference, I talked about these scenarios with my administration and co-workers.  They were good reminders about how to handle intellectual freedom issues.  I encourage you to think about how you would handle similar scenarios (or create your own) in your library.  For more information about intellectual freedom, including a manual and toolkits, visit the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom web page. http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom



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