A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Librarians Stand for Right to Privacy and Freedom of Speech

by on November 29, 2016

“Privacy is the fountainhead of all rights.”[1] Those words were  spoken by Edward Snowden via Skype during a panel discussion at the University of Arizona earlier this year. He concluded his speech by saying, “Privacy is the right to a free mind. Without privacy, you can’t have anything for yourself. Saying you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is like saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”[2] Those powerful words reverberate what librarians have been preaching for so long. As librarians, we do our best to protect the absolute right to privacy and freedom of speech for all patrons. Librarians have been on the front lines since the September 11 attacks in defense of free speech and privacy.

“In a recent incident, a librarian in Kansas City, Missouri was arrested for standing up for a library patron’s free speech rights at a public event featuring a former US diplomat.”[3] As part of an agreement the library had with local law officials, nobody was to be kicked out of the event for asking controversial questions. When patron Jeremy Rothe-Kushel asked a question that security deemed “controversial,” he was kicked out of the event and arrested. Steve Woolfolk, the librarian and director of programming, was arrested alongside him simply for stepping in and protesting the removal. Rothe-Kushel posed no threat to the diplomat or anybody else in the audience. “The arrests went unmentioned in the national press, in part because of the library officials’ hope that the incident would simply blow over and the charges against Woolfolk and Rothe-Kushel dropped. The case gained new attention, however, in late September, when the library drew support from the American Library Association and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.”[4] Currently the case is still pending but whatever the outcome, “the case adds to a growing history of attacks on libraries—simply for upholding the bedrock values that have historically made them so important.”[5]

It is vital librarians and libraries across the country uphold all of our fundamental rights to freedom of speech and privacy. The fight will continue and librarians will continue to fight for what they believe is inalienable. Edward Snowden summed it up best when he said, “We must know what the government is doing in our name and against us, or else we are no longer directed by the public, we are ruled from above.”[6]


[1] “Edward Snowden Compares Privacy to Feedom of Speech.” University Relations – Communications. March 28, 2016. https://uanews.arizona.edu/story/edward-snowden-compares-privacy-freedom-speech, accessed October 31, 2016.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Prose, Francine. “When Librarians Are Silenced.” The New York Review of Books. October 14, 2016. http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2016/10/14/kansas-city-librarian-arrest-for-defending-free-speech/. Accessed November 1, 2016.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Edward Snowden Compares Privacy to Feedom of Speech.” University Relations – Communications. March 28, 2016.

Tags: , , , ,