One Idea That Helps Libraries Alleviate Our Social Fears: The Freedom to Read
This article was originally published in the EveryLibrary publication on Medium.com
In a country that seems more divided than united, libraries know how to serve the information and learning needs of the public. When they are properly funded, libraries provide people with the resources to become more knowledgeable, and less ignorant.
By “less ignorant,” I do not necessarily refer to adherence to any current political fashion. No, ignorance is a choice, just as choosing to seek out credible information on a subject you want to learn about — like you would at a library — yields knowledge. That is why, when it comes to challenging learned prejudices like homophobia, racism, sexism, transphobia, xenophobia, and religious discrimination — very important words that everyone should recognize in their personal and social environments — one thing that libraries do is imperative: Always support the freedom to read.
Let’s Start on a Personal Note…
When I began college I didn’t realize how powerful my school library was. More importantly, I didn’t realize that there was a designated person — a librarian — there to teach me how to effectively explore the library’s vast offerings.
For example, the library in my college had an extensive digital collection of our college newspaper dating back to 1927. My librarian taught me how to access it and utilize its search features. In being able to navigate this resource, I gained a perspective on sexual assault and rape culture on college campuses, and learned about sexism from a unique historical angle.
Now imagine if someone bust into the library trying to remove those newspaper clips from our digital database because they didn’t represent our college well. If that happened, I would never have had the opportunity to learn about that issue from a historically accurate perspective. I reiterate: Without that digital resource and the research I learned to do with it, I don’t think I would have taken the topic of rape culture and sexism as seriously throughout my time in college.
Challenging Censorship, Protecting the Freedom to Read
Libraries are hubs that support intellectual freedom, or the freedom to read. They believe that all people should have access to information and material that can add to or change their worldview, or teach them something new in the long run.
Librarians exist to provide information and resources to their entire community, to protect and promote what their library has to offer, and people’s access to it. For many people, the library is the only place where they can go to learn about what’s going on in the world. What hurts the learning process is when people challenge what can and cannot be in a library, or what others should and should not read. Here’s why: It leads to censorship.
Many classic American novels were challenged because they dealt with issues that were sensitive at the time, though they are prevalent in high schools throughout the United States today. I believe libraries give people the power to educate themselves and change their minds on many prevalent social issues. They support that ideal through their stance on intellectual freedom.
Once you start censoring one book, and then another, and then another, it becomes easier and easier for all books to be censored. According to libraries, and according to our democracy, people have the right to read and hear what others express. That’s what intellectual freedom is.
I’m an aspiring librarian, and one of the reasons I am passionate about this field is because I like helping people grow their knowledge and become less ignorant. I would never tell someone to stop reading something and I hate the idea of taking information away from people. Libraries are the place where the freedom of expression and the freedom to read collide, and librarians make it so by providing open access to all materials.
In light of recent political tensions, it’s important to remember that reading, writing, and circulating information, as libraries allow you to do, is imperative for influencing society. Libraries and librarians alike have the capacity to powerfully shape our perspectives on social matters, and most importantly, we all have the capacity to bring about change.
As is so elegantly stated in the American Library Association’s Freedom to Read Statement:
Freedom has given the United States the elasticity to endure strain. Freedom keeps open the path of novel and creative solutions, and enables change to come by choice. Every silencing of a heresy, every enforcement of an orthodoxy, diminishes the toughness and resilience of our society and leaves it the less able to deal with controversy and difference.
Libraries exist to protect your “Freedom to Read,” giving you the power to enhance your worldview, and in turn, to bring about change in the world. In order to maintain that freedom we must, in turn, protect the institutions that bestow it upon us.