By: Frederic Murray
One of the benefits of writing for the Office of Intellectual Freedom, this past year, has been to recognize the amazing work done by a variety of people who continually promote and protect the right of free expression in this country. The work of advocating, facilitating and protecting intellectual freedoms is important activity, and is often carried out by everyday people. I thought it would be useful to speak with those whose work is dependent on intellectual freedom, and how libraries impact who they are and what they do. I was able to interview a teacher, a historian and an artist for this writing project. Any errors in transcription are my own, all three guests to our blog were unfailingly generous with their time.
Biography: Karen Fiorito is an artist residing in Los Angeles. Her artwork has been exhibited internationally and featured in many publications such as Art in America, Art Forum and Hyperallergic. Her art works can also be seen in textbooks, such as American Women Artists in Wartime, Paper Politics: Socially Engaged Printmaking Today and The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes. Fiorito has received international media attention for her Trumpocalypse billboard in Phoenix, Arizona. She has received many grants for her public art projects, including a Pollination Project Grant, A Well Fed World Grant and a LUSH Charity Pot Grant. Another current public art project, Got Drought?, toured California from 2015-2017 and will debut in Phoenix in October.
FM: Ms. Fiorito, do you consider yourself a library user? If so, what role do libraries play in your life?
KF: Yes, I have a library card and occasionally I check books out. I like checking out actual books instead of doing digital research, of which I do a lot. Sometimes you can’t find books online that you can easily get at the library for free. I like not having to spend a lot of money on books but at the same time getting to take home a big stack. There is something about having a book in your hands that can’t be replicated online.
FM: What do you think lies at the root of censorship? In general? In particular?
KF: I think at the heart of censorship in general is a lack of education — in particular, a lack of education about how democracy works and why we have the First Amendment. I believe education is crucial for a successful democracy with an educated populace, where individual voices and opinions can be heard.
FM: Ms. Fiorito, what do you see as the overriding issue, or issues, in intellectual freedom today? In the current political climate have your intellectual freedoms been affected?
KF: The consolidation of wealth has put power in the hands of the few and allowed large conglomerates to control our media in their interests. Corporations control the flow of information, and social media has made information a commodity. This allows corporations to not only control what is being broadcast but what is seen on social media. Opposing points of view are disavowed by liable lawsuits or portrayed as ‘fake news.’ Those who oppose their ideas are trolled and intimidated by hate speech. I have been affected by the current political climate as I have become the target of several media outlets, a cease and desist order from a large news corporation and internet trolls threatening my personal safety and security.
FM: How do you see libraries advancing, or preserving, our intellectual freedoms?
KF: Libraries and librarians have long been beacons of free speech, education and equality. They continue to stand up for the rights of all citizens to freedom of information, intellectual freedom and education. With Net Neutrality threatening the freedom of information on the internet, libraries and librarians not only provide access to information and spaces for dialogue, but they are also outspoken advocates for education and public discourse.
FM: Ms. Fiorito thanks so much for taking the time speak to the readers of the Intellectual Freedom Blog. I love your work and its value in today’s world. I look forward to telling more people about what you do.
KF: Thank you.
Frederic Murray is the head of Instructional Services at the Al Harris Library, Southwestern Oklahoma State University. He is a tenured faculty member and as an academic librarian has initiated the growth and expansion of information literacy classes across the campus curriculum. He has presented at state, national and international conferences in the areas of library pedagogy, digital textbooks, and the development of curriculum for Native American Studies. He serves as the managing editor for Administrative Issues Journal, a peer-reviewed, open access journal in its sixth year of publication. He believes deeply in the value of books and the inherent strength found in the human voice. Among his favorite authors are Lenny Bruce, Jimmy Santiago Baca and Carson McCullers. He can be reached at email@example.com