Michael Blackwell is the Director of St. Mary’s County Library (MD). He came to Maryland from Ohio, where he worked at Columbus Metropolitan and Worthington Libraries. He is the project manager for ReadersFirst, a member of the ALA Joint Digital Content Working Group, Co-chair of the CORE Architecture for Public Libraries Committee, Project Manager for deploying SimplyE in Maryland, a frequent presenter at conferences and author of posts and articles on digital content, and a two-time winner of Dublin’s (OH) Best Legs in Kilt Contest and Grand Leprechaun. In his spare time, he enjoys sailing, cycling, community engagement, and spending time with his spouse Lisa.
1. What made you want to be a part of the IFRT?
I’ve been interested in issues of personal freedom, the right to read what one wants, and the intersection of the individual with society since high school — I was a bit of a rebel — but now I’m interested in being a part of IFRT in order to give back. From 2017 through 2019, my library was involved in a series of challenges to the use of our meeting rooms. The right of some groups to legitimate use of the meeting rooms was under challenge by religious groups and even by some elected officials. My phone number and email were posted on websites, and people from Mexico to Maine communicated to say we should bar LGBTQ+ groups from using the meeting rooms. People wrote the local media to encourage that I be fired. I received threats of violence. We had Freedom of Information Act requests from many of the “usual suspects” involved with attacking libraries. Ultimately, Maryland’s Attorney General’s office became involved to protect constitutional rights. During this time, the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom was on our side, advising and supporting. I want to be there to help others and ensure libraries are able to support the right to read, fulfilling the IFRT’s purpose and mission.
2. What is your favorite part about being involved in IFRT?
Being informed! We’re all too busy to follow everything happening in libraries. Being a part of the IFRT helps keep one current on specific challenges and social trends that might lead to challenges and how to message well. The Friday “Intellectual Freedom News” updates from Kristin Pekoll are invaluable. I also like the camaraderie, sharing with others on ways we can help and feeling connected with others to promote action.
3. Have you joined any IFRT programs recently? What was your favorite?
My favorite ALA program of all time may be the Advocacy and Intellectual Freedom Bootcamp. It gave a fantastic overview of resources and strategies for thinking about how to advocate in a time of increasing challenges, when the very existence of libraries can be threatened by those who would see a commitment to facts and the use of libraries by all end.
4. If you could meet your favorite banned book character, who would you meet and why?
Wow, tough one! So many characters would be a joy to meet—funny, smart, a challenge to one’s honesty and integrity. When I was in 4th grade, I probably would have wanted to meet George and Harold from Captain Underpants because they would have been great friends then. I’m a lot older now, if not always any more mature, and I think I’d like to meet Hannah Baker from Thirteen Reasons Why. I wouldn’t be the ideal person to talk with her — someone her own age would be better. But wouldn’t it be good to talk with some young person about how life will get better and is worth continuing, even if that person is so hurt that she or he might not be able to listen? Heartbreaking, of course, if the person could not accept.
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.