The Georgia Libraries Conference was at the beginning of October. It was a good conference, and the newly revived Intellectual Freedom Interest Group had a good showing for our meeting. As we were talking about what we might want to do over the coming year, someone suggested doing an Intellectual Freedom 101-style webinar or conference session. It was a good idea; we have a lot of people working in Georgia libraries who have never gone through library school, so a crash course in the main intellectual freedom issues facing the field is never a bad idea.
I don’t know. Initially, it was hard for me to work up a lot of enthusiasm for it. I felt about it the same way that I usually feel about shelf-reading: This is important to do, but I don’t necessarily enjoy doing it. I mean, I doubt IF 101 would be offered at every ALA conference if it weren’t important. However, even as we were batting this idea around, we were talking about doing this and something else. And in my head, I couldn’t help but think that whatever that something else ended up being, it would be the more important thing we attempted next year.
That’s the entirely wrong attitude. New people enter library work everyday for the first time, and I would bet that most of them have no background in library school. Many libraries are staffed by long-time passionate staffers who have no desire to go to library school. And while many organizations may offer some training in intellectual freedom issues when someone is hired, refreshers and information on developing issues may be left up to individuals to pursue on their own.
The issues that intellectual freedom seeks to confront are huge. Privacy. Net neutrality. Censorship. The general free flow of information. And because they are so huge, we need every possible hand to be a member of the team. That doesn’t mean that the IF field doesn’t need to keep breaking new ground and providing guidance on new things, but that also means that the old standards don’t need to be forgotten either because for emerging LIS professionals, it’s all new.
With that in mind, I remind myself to take pride in refresher courses and to recognize the values in rehashing debates that have been hashed a million times before. I remind myself to take the time to debate these issues with the students on my library team. I remind myself to explain the why’s and the philosophies behind the decisions I help make for my library. I believe that libraries want staff people who understand and believe in why we do what we do rather than just following rules by rote. It’s a higher standard to reach, and it starts with the basics.
Librarians are information and knowledge facilitators, and we don’t need to forget that facilitating the knowledge of our core values and ethics to new staff members is never a waste of time that could be placed in something more “practical.” Instead, it is investing in the very foundation of the future of the field.
John “Mack” Freeman is the marketing and programming coordinator for the West Georgia Regional Library. He is a past recipient of the Freedom to Read Foundation’s Conable Scholarship, and he was a 2015 ALA Emerging Leader. He currently co-chairs the GLBTRT’s Stonewall Book Award Committee and is the second vice president/membership chair of the Georgia Library Association. He is interested in privacy, self-censorship, new frontiers of IF, and services to under-served communities. You can find out more about him at www.johnmackfreeman.com. When not in library world, he enjoys walking Micah, the laziest blueheeler in the world, going on adventures with his husband Dale, and cooking Italian food from unintentionally snobby mid-century cookbooks. Find him on Twitter @johnmackfreeman.