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 Intellectual Freedom and Libraries: an overview
 

Intellectual Freedom and Libraries: an overview

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Intellectual freedom presentation for Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation donor event.

Intellectual freedom presentation for Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation donor event.

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  • I hope to add an audio version of this talk at some point, however until that time here are my notes to add context to the slides.
    Jim


    Hello and welcome to the Sno-Isle Service Center. I am Jim McCluskey Collection Development Assistant Manager for Sno-Isle Libraries. Today you’ve had a tour of the Service Center and learned a lot about how books and other materials are added to library collections.
    When asked people tell us that books are the most important service the library provides to the community. For many of us, books are what libraries are all about. I’d like to suggest that although books, movies, music are more tangible representations of the library collection the ideas expressed within those books are really what the library is all about.
    Sometimes those ideas are as comfortable as a favorite pair of blue jeans, other times those ideas are frightening, and sometimes they are offensive. The method by which those ideas are expressed may vary but in providing access, libraries open a larger world to their users. Libraries provide free and open access to a wide variety of opinions on a wide variety of topics, and they provide exposure to the myriad of ways in which humans express themselves. Librarians use the term intellectual freedom when discussing the provision and protection of access to a wide variety of ideas and points of view.
    You can’t talk about intellectual freedom without first mentioning the First Amendment, which says in part, “Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of the press, or freedom of speech.” The Founding Fathers thought it important that citizens in a democratic society have free and open access to information so that the electorate could cast an informed ballot. The Fathers knew that unless these rights were written into the constitution that they could be taken away and disappear as gradually as the writing on this cup of coffee. Public libraries amongst all institutions and individuals are the foremost advocate for intellectual freedom.
    Put another way, intellectual freedom is quite simply access to what is written, spoken or produced regardless of the means of communication, the content of the expression, or the viewpoints of the author. The First Amendment would be little more than an empty promise if people didn’t have access to books, newspapers, CDs, DVDs, and the internet.
    As a Collection Development librarian, I work with my colleagues to build collections which represent all sides of an issue in our collection. Sometimes the materials we provide support and sometimes they challenge the status quo. As library employees we are called upon to make selections that we personally find offensive. However, we understand that it is our responsibility to make these decisions as stewards of the community’s freedom to read.
    It is inevitable when serving a diverse public with a wide range of materials in different formats from books to CDs and DVDs and to the Internet that items requested and sought after by some people will be rejected or even an anathema to others. The library assumes that each individual will decide for herself or himself what to borrow from the collection. A person may decide that a certain book or CD or DVD is not what he or she wants. It may not reflect her tastes, interests, or values. Yet, they may recognize that others may seek out this very work. The library itself does not endorse, advocate or disparage any of the materials in the library.
    While each person has the right and obligation to choose the materials they want and need, the library does recognize that because parents own values and philosophies may differ and, because young people mature at different rates, we encourage parents to advise and consult with their children about their use of the library.

    When all is said and done some library users may still struggle with some of the works in the collection. A customer who objects to certain materials may consult with the local community librarian. If she or he is not satisfied, the user can complete a Request for Reconsideration form. When we receive a Request for Reconsideration of Library Materials, we do not defend the item. Instead, we explain why the item is found in our library and how we made a decision to purchase it. In making this explanation the selector will read, view, or listen to the item, gather reviews and circulation data and respond to the customer in writing. If the customer remains dissatisfied he or she can submit a request for review by the Library Director. If the Director’s response does not resolve the issue the user can appeal the decision to the Library Board of Trustees. (In very few instances have we removed materials from our collection.)
    What objections do some customers have? They run the gamut: offensive language, violence, nudity, sexuality, and the occult. Some customers object to our carrying material for Gays, Lesbians and the Transgendered. Once in a while, a customer has challenged the correctness of information found in a book. Children’s books are sometimes challenged because the outcome in the book is not happy or there are magical elements in a work. The library receives an average of two to three dozen Requests for Reconsideration in a year—this in a library system where there are nearly half a million registered borrowers and a collection of over 1.4 million items on library shelves.
    Customers sometimes offer their own remedies. They ask that this page or cover be removed or that the book be put on a higher shelf, or behind the desk. Some of these possible suggestions make evident that the customer does not appreciate that the value of a title is derived from the work as a whole and not specific words or paragraphs, or graphic descriptions. Moreover, Sno-Isle’s Collection Development Policy does not allow marking items or sequestering items, or making them less accessible to show approval or disapproval of the items.
    You might find surprising some of the titles that were most frequently challenged in the United States in 2007. For the second consecutive year Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell’s award winning And Tango Makes Three, a children’s easy picture book about two male penguins caring for an orphaned egg in the New York City Zoo, tops the list of the American Library Association’s 10 Most Challenged Books of 2007. And Tango Makes Three was challenged on the basis that it contained themes of (Anti Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group), The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (religious viewpoint), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain (racism), The Color Purple by Alice Walker (homosexuality, sexually explicit, offensive language). The Harry Potter series though it isn’t on the list for 2007 continues to be a target of the censor because of its focus on wizardry and magic.
    Intellectual freedom or if you like, the freedom to read, view or listen to ideas is now and always has been under near continuous attack. The Founding Fathers worked to guarantee it by writing it into the constitution. John Stuart Mill wrote about it over one hundred years ago in his treatise, On Liberty. And in 1952 Justice William O. Douglas at the height of Senator McCarthy’s Un-American Activities Committee’s power wrote, “It is our attitude toward free thought and free expression of ideas that will determine our fates. There must be no limit on the range of temperate discussion, no limits on thought. No subject must be taboo. No censor must preside at our assemblies.”
    Libraries are the last stronghold of freedom of thought. The playing field is level…regardless of gender, or religion, or economic status. If you can’t find information at your public library, where else can you turn?
    The Collection Development Policy expresses this concept well: “… the library is a community resource for people of all ages, races, creeds, national origins, and political or social views. It is a physical and virtual place where ideas and information are freely communicated through the collection and other services and resources. A variety of viewpoints is represented in the library's collection, regardless of the author's race, nationality, or political, religious, or social views. The existence of a particular viewpoint in the collection is an expression of the library's commitment to intellectual freedom and not an endorsement of the particular point of view.”
    This is an awesome responsibility. As a library employee I’m proud of the work we do to achieve it.
    Every day.
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     Intellectual Freedom and Libraries: an overview Intellectual Freedom and Libraries: an overview Presentation Transcript

    • Libraries and Intellectual Freedom
    • “Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement be explored.” http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/basics/intellectual.cfm
    • Congress shall make no law…
    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/salim/
    • WARNING: The contents of this library may have ideas that offend you.
    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/sno-islelibraries/
    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/sno-islelibraries
    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/sno-islelibraries
    • A conversation about access http://www.flickr.com/photos/sno-islelibraries
    • Requests for Reconsideration  Challenges  The objections  2 to 3 dozen each year  Offensive language  Violence  Nudity  The Library  Sexuality  495,000 registered borrowers  Occult  1.4 million items
    • ALA 10 Most Challenged Books 2007 Anti Ethnic Sexism Homosexuality Anti-Family Religious Viewpoint Unsuited to Age Group
    • ALA 10 Most Challenged Books 2007 Religious Viewpoint
    • ALA 10 Most Challenged Books 2007 Racism
    • ALA 10 Most Challenged Books 2007 Homosexuality Sexually Explicit Offensive Language
    • Not on the 2007 list but frequently challenged. Magic
    • … the library is a community resource for people of all ages, races, creeds, national origins, and political or social views. It is a physical and virtual place where ideas and information are freely communicated through the collection and other services and resources. A variety of viewpoints is represented in the library's collection, regardless of the author's race, nationality, or political, religious, or social views. The existence of a particular viewpoint in the collection is an expression of the library's commitment to intellectual freedom and not an endorsement of the particular point of view.
    • Collection Development Assistant Manager