By: Pat Peters
We’re coming up on a season of gift-giving, so I recently asked a group of public library directors, if they could have one gift related to intellectual freedom, what would it be? Would they choose access for all? Net neutrality? Academic freedom? First Amendment rights?
From the responses I received, it was clear that each of them was thinking back to their own experiences either as informational professionals or as information seekers. Here is a sampling of what I heard:
“Anonymity — not being judged for information seeking or reading behaviors. Library service without bias as to what or why.”
This gift crosses library types, community sizes and demographics. A basic expectation of library users must be that the professionals providing service will not judge them for their topics of interest, the information or lack of information they begin with or their choices of reading material. Our responsibility from both a library professional and a customer service point of view is to help the person in front of us find what they’re looking for. This is a tough one for those of us who tend to be judgmental or condescending. But remembering our purpose for being in the library, for having a job in the first place, can help us offer our services without bias.
It’s this very idea of anonymity that leads many to simply Google the information they need, rather than go into a library and have to ask for help. We know that we can help our library users find the answer they need, not the 1,000 top results, but if we’re making people feel uncomfortable in the asking, they may forego the right answer to maintain their dignity.
“A free thinking mind capable of thoughts independent of stigmatization, political correctness, official party lines and/or preconceived conventions.”
This gift, I believe, is referring to both library users and library staff. While similar to the last one, this seems to be looking for having an open mind while both seeking and finding information. The U.S. is a nation divided, and many refuse to sit down and have a civil discussion with anyone who disagrees with them. Maybe it’s time for a basic civil discourse workshop to help people feel more comfortable listening to those with differing opinions. Or check out the Howard County, Maryland, Choose Civility campaign. From their website, you can access TED Talks, podcasts, booklists and other resources for making civility a habit.
“Everyone respecting other viewpoints and being inclusive of diverse library collections.”
Those of us responsible for collection development need to be aware of the need for diverse library collections. We must give our library users the opportunity to see themselves in the resources we offer as well as to learn something new and begin to understand experiences different from their own. It’s not enough to simply reflect our own community in our collections; we must go beyond to give our own users windows for seeing new and different lifestyles and world views.
One of the privileges we enjoy in libraries is that our collections, programming and resources are for the entire community that we serve. While we need to use our resources wisely to ensure that needs are met, we aren’t required to reflect only the most popular opinions and world views. “Something for everyone” is the mantra for building collections and planning programs and services. Of course, none of us is immune to attempts at censorship from members of our communities or from outsiders who think they know what our communities need or don’t need. But if we can establish that our libraries exist to be neutral places where accurate information is available representing all sides of an issue or where people can find materials and events that appeal to them or enlighten them, then we are well on our way to meeting those challenges with our collections, programs, resources and integrity intact.
“If we no longer needed to worry/discuss intellectual freedom — if IF was just an understood fundamental in our world.”
Well, of course, that’s what we wish for. And in order to make this a reality, we have to be willing to stand up for intellectual freedom in all its forms and in all areas of our lives. We have to live as if intellectual freedom truly is important to us, to our communities, to our world.
And of course, one person can’t change the world. But each of us influences thousands of people over our lifetimes (even introverts!), and we can start with where we are. Start small, but stand strong. If each of us causes a ripple, together those ripples can become a tsunami for intellectual freedom.
May you receive everything on your wish list!
Pat Peters is director of the Decatur Public Library in Decatur, Texas. In her spare time, she is an adjunct professor of Library Science for Texas Woman’s University, having taught both graduate and undergraduate Children’s Literature and Youth Programming. Pat is the 2016-17 chair of the Texas Library Association Intellectual Freedom Committee. Pat and her husband Jeff live in Denton, Texas. Pat can sometimes be found @PatriciaP628.