Sam Jack is the adult services librarian at Newton Public Library in Newton, Kansas – near Wichita. Sam received a BA in English from Harvard and an MFA in poetry from the University of Montana, then spent several years working as a journalist before earning an MLS from Emporia State University. He is three years into his career as a librarian. He serves as a member of the Intellectual Freedom Round Table’s Publications and Communications Committee, and was part of the 2022 class of ALA Emerging Leaders. Outside of the library world, Sam enjoys writing poetry and singing opera and classical choral music.
1. What made you want to be part of the IFRT?
My mother is a middle school librarian in Goddard, Kansas. In November 2021, administrators in Goddard violated their own policies and banned 29 books after receiving a single complaint from a parent. The story made national news, and the school district quickly reversed course and returned the books to the shelves. I had already thought of myself as an intellectual freedom advocate, but this incident really drove home the damaging impact of book bans. The act of censorship surely made minority and LGBTQ students in Goddard feel targeted and attacked – and it surely created a chilling effect for teachers and school librarians that is still being felt today. More people need to understand the ethical and practical reasons that resources in libraries should not be censored. And more people need to be encouraged and empowered to counter the censorious voices of the political right.
2. What is your favorite part about being in IFRT?
Meeting amazing librarians! Attending IFRT-related programs at the 2022 ALA Annual Conference allowed me to connect with inspired intellectual freedom advocates from all over the country. The members of my Emerging Leaders project group became fast friends, and created an Intellectual Freedom Syllabus that will hopefully grow, evolve, and serve as a valuable resource for the IFRT and other advocates.
3. Have you joined any IFRT programs lately? What was your favorite?
Being part of an IFRT committee turns out to be lots of fun, and not too terribly much work. I would encourage IFRT members to consider joining one. The Publications and Communications Committee holds monthly Zoom meetings where we talk about what’s going on in the intellectual freedom sphere, and plan out newsletters, articles, social media posts and so on.
4. If you could meet your favorite banned book character, who would you meet and why?I’m currently reading Voltaire Almighty: A Life in Pursuit of Freedom by Roger Pearson. Although Voltaire is not a fictional character, he is definitely a self-created character, and an extraordinarily appealing one. From his early twenties straight through to his death at the age of 83, Voltaire’s works were censored and banned. He was imprisoned multiple times, or forced to flee to the French countryside or to another country altogether. Several of his books were published abroad and had to be smuggled into Paris in haycarts. Despite all that, and despite a number of other tragedies, he remained utterly irrepressible. The modern edition of his complete works runs to 205 volumes.
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.