By: Lauren Salerno
When you think of professions for agitators, I’m sure librarianship doesn’t come immediately to mind. However, at the core of every librarian I’ve ever known is someone who believes deeply in the right of all people everywhere to have free access to books and information. That often means being on the frontlines when there is a threat to that freedom we hold dear.
There’s no better time than Women’s History Month to get to know one of the fiercest ladies of library and information science – Judith F. Krug.
She doesn’t have her own action figure, but she should. The average American probably doesn’t know that their lives have been touched by the tireless work of Judith Krug. She served as director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom since its inception in 1967 where she advised librarians, teachers, and concerned citizens of all sorts on how to proceed with challenges to materials in their libraries. She once said, “If the United States is to continue to be a nation of self-governors, the people must have available and accessible the information they need to make decisions.” Krug felt strongly that the choice of whether or not to read a book lies solely with the reader and that belief guided her life of action.
In 1969, she became the executive director of the Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF). The Foundation raises money to protect and defend the First Amendment as it pertains to an individual’s right to express and consume ideas without interference from any outside entity. One of the first actions taken on by the FTRF was a grant to assist Missouri librarian Joan Bodger in her case of wrongful termination. She was fired for writing a letter to the local newspaper expressing her support for a censored student newspaper on State Library stationary. Thanks to the support of the FTRF, her name was cleared.
In 1982, Judith helped found Banned Books Week, a week-long celebration of literature deemed too dangerous to read. The annual event celebrated at libraries nationwide brings awareness to the cause of intellectual freedom and gets people to think about the First Amendment as something worth protecting. Events often include read-outs where participants read from their favorite challenged or banned books. The Freedom to Read Foundation now offers a grant opportunity named after Judith F. Krug to help libraries host their own Banned Book Week event.
In the early days of the internet, as it was just beginning to become part of our daily lives, Krug saw the potential for the vast amounts of information that could be accessed and shared via the internet. She fought against filters that would limit that access, especially to our youngest library users. The provisions to block “indecent” or “obscene” content in bills like the Communications Decency Act of 1996 didn’t take into account how putting too broad a filter on content could affect access to health care information or content that was otherwise not pornographic but used words that, when passed through undiscerning filters, would block access. Judith Krug was part of the vocal contingent of free speech advocates that helped strike the bill down in the Supreme Court. She came out just as strongly each time a CDA clone popped up.
In later years, Krug’s attention turned to online privacy. With the war on terrorism in post-9/11 America also came the Patriot Act. It allowed law enforcement to obtain warrants to gain access to patron records based on fairly weak legal standards. It undermined the existing state and federal privacy laws that prohibit the disclosure of confidential information. Through the Freedom to Read Foundation, libraries were given a way to challenge this abuse of power.
Libraries exist to give people choices. We are here to connect people to each other and the world through the open exchange of ideas and expressions. Judith Krug laid down so much of the foundation we stand on as we continue to look at policies and laws that affect us and our patrons. The best way to honor her memory this Women’s History Month and all year long is to remember that the First Amendment is worth fighting for and continue to be unwavering as we work to protect it.
Lauren Salerno works in Youth Services at the Ovitt Family Community Library. She is passionate about developing a new generation of creative thinkers and confident do-ers. Her process art program, Artopia, was listed in best practices for nurturing creativity in children by the Association for Library Service to Children. When Lauren is not making a mess at the library, she is a writer of speculative fiction and creative nonfiction. Her writing can be found in the Los Angeles Times, xoJane, MiTú, and The Rattling Wall. She loves monsters, Star Wars, and Pokemon GO. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and a tiny dog. Find her on Twitter @ParanormaLauren.