Intellectual Freedom in Our Country Post-Election

General Interest, Intellectual Freedom Issues

By: Naomi Bates

To say the election has been divisive is an understatement. Watching the aftermath, feeling the effects on social media, reading about it on news blogs and sites… I can’t even tell you how it all makes me feel. As I was reflecting on what my blog would be about, I started thinking about the core of libraries’ beliefs and their impact on society.

This is the first paragraph from ALA’s Intellectual Freedom page:

ALA actively advocates and educates in defense

of intellectual freedom—the rights of library users

to read, seek information, and speak freely as

guaranteed by the First Amendment. Intellectual

freedom is a core value of the library profession,

and a basic right in our democratic society.

A publicly supported library provides free, equitable,

and confidential access to information for all

people of its community.

Now, don’t skim over it. If you did, go back right now and read through it carefully. Did you do it? Then, you’ll notice how important that first sentence is. First sentences are the lead-in into the theme of the paragraph. It’s the first potent piece of information that makes the most impact. It takes consideration because that first sentence is the foundation for the information that paragraph provides.

Election 2016
The election has fueled First Amendment and intellectual freedom conversations.

If you don’t believe me, then try this simple test. Go back and read only the first sentence of every paragraph I’ve written so far and you’ll be able to understand what this post is about.

The election is over but the dust hasn’t settled for either party. Things are being said, written, and shared that fall under the First Amendment and intellectual freedom. But with that said, there is a fundamental difference.

Intent and context are crucial.

People take intellectual freedom and transform it either in a beautiful or ugly way. Before we say anything, we should always think about our intent. Is it to build up or destroy? Is it meant to hurt or nurture? And the context — is it used for its original purpose or is a distorted version being used?

You can say, “That’s not what I meant” and it’s still veiled with unspoken intent and context. And somehow, people intuitively know how and why someone says what they do. There is so much information, feedback, opinions, thoughts, replies, images, and more out there. If libraries are to uphold intellectual freedom, we also need to support the intent and context that doesn’t destroy, but builds, or at the least, maintains.

So, what’s a librarian to do? I believe first and foremost we should conduct ourselves professionally without engaging. Sometimes what I believe personally isn’t what I believe professionally. They are two distinct parts of me, but sometimes they mesh.  I stay out of the fray simply because if it means there is a chance that relationships with patrons or my peers may be jeopardized, then it’s not worth it.

Also, we need to be very vigilant about what we read and share. I came across this very interesting article that shows false, misleading, clickbait-y, and/or satirical “news” sources that use their First Amendment rights but have hidden intent and context that’s skewed.  **Sigh**  There are still people out there who believe everything they read on the internet…

Lastly, librarians are social media mavens with professional sites that are linked with the libraries we serve. We need to make sure it continues to be non-biased and non-partisan.  Tweet, link, share, and post about the importance of libraries and intellectual freedom. The gist of professional social media is to advance our services. To do otherwise is very much a disservice. We are here to serve everyone. The end. Period.

Intent and context — the best we can do is to uphold intellectual freedom like the professionals we are, making sure we share excellent information in a variety of ways for all patrons. All patrons — red, blue, pink, brown, white and all colors, cultures, and backgrounds they come from.


Naomi Bates is a teacher librarian at Northwest High School in Justin, Texas. She has worked with students K-12 in both small and large school districts in Texas.  Currently, she is serving as a school library representative-at-large for the Texas Library Association.  She can be reached via Twitter @yabooksandmore or email at

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.