By: Allyson Mower
Last month ALA Editions released Beyond Banned Books: Defending Intellectual Freedom Throughout Your Library. The book was written by Kristin Pekoll, Assistant Director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) and editor of this very blog! I have written for OIF’s Intellectual Freedom blog for two years now and have corresponded regularly with Ms. Pekoll. I have not yet had the good fortune of meeting Ms. Pekoll in person, however, so when I saw that she had written this book, I knew right away that I wanted to read it and review it. The areas of intellectual freedom she covers had felt unfamiliar, complex, and kind of scary to me — such as displays and databases — so, obviously, I recognized that I needed more guidance on these aspects of intellectual freedom in libraries.
Ms. Pekoll has addressed my fears and uncertainties and helped me overcome them! She has written a very clear, useful, practical, and even a motivational book. It was useful to know that Ms. Pekoll experienced an intellectual freedom challenge as a youth librarian. This set the stage of where she was coming from as an author and as the assistant director of the Office of Intellectual Freedom.
The chapters are organized around types of intellectual freedom issues a librarian could face. Each chapter provides a brief and topic-orienting quote along with a map of the United States pinpointing where recent intellectual freedom concerns related to the topic have occurred. I appreciated this framing and organization style. It will make it easy for librarians and information professionals to quickly and easily get good and reliable information on ways to proceed if/when faced with similar challenges in their library or information/educational setting.
The appendices provide the various intellectual freedom-related statements adopted by the American Library Association. As appendices, they did not add to the overall narrative (as they were not organized to serve that purpose), but they will assist librarians looking for foundational guidance and perspective on how to respond to an intellectual freedom challenge. As stand alone readings, they provided helpful reminders about the ethical principles at play in the profession.
One area where I wanted more context was on the connection Ms. Pekoll made between librarians and the government. The author states, “When decisions are made by a school board, library board, board of regents, provost, mayor, city council, or the teachers, librarians, faculty, and staff they employ, those decisions are made by the government” (pg. 92). Are librarians truly acting in the same capacity as elected officials? I understand the concept and importance of librarians — i.e. employees within an entity that may represent a limited public forum — have a professional duty to protect access to controversial information, but is the process of a librarian’s decision regarding selection, deselection, blocking a commenter, etc the equivalent of making a government decision? I wanted to hear more about that connection.
Overall, the book serves as a valuable guide to very complex ideas and keeps the complexity from being overwhelming by offering concrete examples and an easy-to-follow organization. The book can help guide in real life situations and also help guide librarians in crafting well-informed intellectual freedom policies. I am happy the library where I work has this title in the collection.
Allyson Mower, MA, MLIS is Head of Scholarly Communication & Copyright at the University of Utah Marriott Library. She’s very curious about curiosity, what drives people to uncover information, and how libraries of all types create demand for knowledge. As a tenured faculty member, she researches the history of academic freedom — a kind of intellectual freedom — and the history of authorship and scholarly communication at the institution. She provides the U of U community and the general public with information, tools, and services related to both copyright and publishing. Allyson was a Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2008, was nominated as a 2012 Society for Scholarly Publishing Emerging Leader, and served as the U of U Academic Senate President in 2014. Find her on Twitter @allysonmower.