Rhonda Evans rose from ALA Emerging Leader to Chair of the Intellectual Freedom Round Table in just one year – and shows no signs of slowing down. She brings expertise, energy, and encouragement to her new IFRT leadership role, and invites all library workers to get involved in intellectual freedom issues.
What excites Evans most about leading IFRT is you – the members. “There are IFRT members who have been advocates for intellectual freedom for decades, and we also have many new library professionals as well as students who are joining the Round Table. Each brings their own unique understanding and perspective to intellectual freedom challenges.”
As an IFRT-sponsored ALA Emerging Leader and IFRT Membership Committee appointee, Evans previously worked on the virtual all-member gathering and complimentary student membership campaign. She emphasizes that there’s room for everyone at the round table (so become an IFRT member!):
“You don’t have to be an expert on censorship, or privacy, or the First Amendment to be actively involved in IFRT. There are plenty of ways to get involved and we are always welcoming new ideas and new members.”
Evans identifies three priority areas for her term as IFRT Chair: broadband access as a human right, digital literacy, and information literacy. These priorities are informed by her direct experience as an online instructor, witnessing the impact of the digital divide on her students and others in her community. She explains how these priority areas mutually reinforce each other to ensure access to quality information:
“The more progress we make in providing wider access to broadband we will also need to increase our efforts in digital literacy. Misinformation is rampant online, and as library professionals we need to be prepared to help others recognize and dismantle the spread of misinformation. It is almost impossible for librarians and intellectual freedom advocates to fight every battle that threatens access to information, so we should do as much as we can to provide the tools for information literacy.”
When she’s not serving with IFRT, Evans is the Assistant Chief Librarian at New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, which has seen a surge of interest in researching and understanding the Black experience over the past year. Unfortunately, Evans observes that this comes at the same time as renewed affronts to intellectual freedom, including book challenges to best-sellers like Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, How to Be An Antiracist, Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race and Ruth and the Green Book.
Evans reflects on the story of pioneering NYPL children’s librarian, Augusta Baker, who collected books and created bibliographies about Black culture specifically for children to fulfill her mission of providing access to books that were not degrading or demeaning.
“There has been so much important work done in the past by librarians like Augusta Baker, who created spaces for children and young adult books that positively center people of color, LGBTQIA+ youth, and other marginalized communities. To see that there are people who are actively trying to prevent those who need these books most from accessing them, only solidifies the importance of my work at the Schomburg Center and as a librarian of color.”
This is why Evans encourages all library workers to get active in intellectual freedom initiatives. “[Intellectual freedom] impacts us every day in small and large ways, directly and indirectly. I would like to encourage everyone, whether you join IFRT or not, to become an intellectual freedom advocate.” And for those facing intellectual freedom challenges head-on, Evans wants you to know that support and resources are available from ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
Sarah Hartman-Caverly, MS(LIS), MSIS, is a reference and instruction librarian at Penn State Berks, where she liaises with Engineering, Business and Computing programs. Prior to her current appointment, Sarah was a reference and instruction librarian at a community college, and was an electronic resources manager and library system administrator in both community and small liberal arts college settings. Sarah’s research examines the compatibility of human and machine autonomy from the perspective of intellectual freedom. Recent contributions include “Version Control” (ACRL 2017), “Our ‘Special Obligation’: Library Assessment, Learning Analytics, and Intellectual Freedom” (ACRL 2018), and “Human Nature is Not a Machine: On Liberty, Attention Engineering, and Learning Analytics” (Library Trends, forthcoming). She earned her MS(LIS) and MSIS from Drexel University in 2011.