In a year in which challenges to books in school and public libraries have become organized and a sad feature of political campaigns, awards to those fighting for the right to read become all the more worth celebrating. The Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT) has presented three awards recognizing the commitment and strength of two very deserving leaders in that fight.
The IFRT John Phillip Immroth Memorial Award has been given to Terri Lesley. The Award “honors notable contributions to intellectual freedom and demonstrations of personal courage in defense of freedom of expression.” Ms. Lesley, Executive Director of Campbell County Library System in Wyoming, has led library staff and trustees through terrible challenges. Over 30 titles have been challenged for removal from the library shelves. Library board meetings have been interrupted and protests have regularly taken place outside the library. Ms. Lesley and her employees have been subjected to hostile emails, telephone calls, and social media attacks. Angry residents even tried to have Ms. Lesley and other librarians arrested and prosecuted by the sheriff’s office, in supposed violation of child sex laws for not removing books from the library. Through it all, Ms. Lesley has not only demonstrated strength and leadership opposing censorship but has also provided a graceful and professional example of how to increase support in the community for the highest values of librarianship. For her fortitude and ability to rally employees, trustees, and many community members, Ms. Lesley is indeed a worthy award winner and an example of how to respond to even the most severe of challenges well.
The IFRT Eli M. Oboler Memorial Award has been given to Jamie M. Gregory. The award is presented each year for an excellent work in the area of intellectual freedom. Ms. Gregory is National Board Certified Teacher in Library Media working as the Upper School Librarian and journalism/newspaper teacher at Christ Church Episcopal School in Greenville, SC. Her work may be found at the ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Blog. In reviewing her work, Oboler Award Committee noted “Attacks on reading at, and sometimes by, school boards, local and state legislatures, and even by federal legislators, especially on works for by and about People of Color and LGBTQ+ individuals, often with disinformation and outright hate, foreshadow a new era of repression that must be fought if we are to provide safe and culturally responsive spaces. Ms. Gregory’s writing takes us to the frontline of these challenges, pointing out the specific threats, interviewing leaders and especially young people being threatened by efforts to suppress their rights, revealing the injustice. She offers inspiring thoughts on why we must resist and practical advice on how we may yet prevail. Hers is an important chronicle of our time.”
The Gerald Hodges Intellectual Freedom Chapter Relations Award was awarded to the Tennessee Library Association (TLA) and Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL). The award recognizes an intellectual freedom focused organization that has developed a strong multi-year, ongoing program or a single, one-year project that exemplifies support for intellectual freedom, patron confidentiality, and anti-censorship efforts.
For the past two years, Tennessee has seen an increase in attempts to censor library collections, displays, and programming in local institutions and state legislation. In response, the Tennessee Library Association and Tennessee Association of School Librarians joined forces with other state and national organizations to form a statewide advocacy ecosystem. The Tennessee Library Ecosystem Coalition (TLEC) was pivotal to defeating adverse library legislation in the state house and defending library materials under attack in Hamilton County. TLA, TASL, and FOTL drafted and published a statement opposing censorship in libraries. The Tennessean and the TN Holler have since published the joint statement, amplifying the anti-censorship message and the core values of librarianship.
“Every book is not for every reader but every child should have access to books they may want to read.”
Ms. Lesley, Ms. Gregory, and representatives from TLA and TASL will receive their awards on Friday, June 24th at 7pm ET at ALA’s Annual Conference in Washington D.C.
Congratulations to all for their leadership and inspiring examples in a time of great challenge to the ideals that we in libraries hold dear.
Michael Kirby is an Assistant Professor/Reader Services Librarian at Kingsborough Community College. He received his MLS from Queens College, the City University of New York and serves as the 2021-2022 Publications and Communications Chair of the Intellectual Freedom Round Table.
The Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT) provides a forum for the discussion of activities, programs and problems in intellectual freedom of libraries and librarians; serves as a channel of communications on intellectual freedom matters; promotes a greater opportunity for involvement among the members of the ALA in defense of intellectual freedom; promotes a greater feeling of responsibility in the implementation of ALA policies on intellectual freedom.