While in federal prison, Eldon “Ray” James decided to become a librarian. Despite his age and circumstances, he made that happen by graduating from the University of Texas at Austin School of Information in 2007. By amazing serendipity he made Dr. Loriene Roy his advisor. The year he graduated, ALA chose Roy as ALA president and she took him to Washington as a part of her presidential party and introduced him to ALA and particularly a group called the Prisoners Forum, an interest group and the Association of Specialized Government & Cooperative Library Agencies (ASGCLA, formally, ASCLA), where this ex-con found a family with correctional librarians.
One of those librarians shortly thereafter asked him to help write “Prisoners’ Right to Read: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights” and help move it through the ALA. That experience led to the Intellectual Freedom Committee, Intellectual Freedom Round Table, and the Freedom to Read Foundation. ASGCLA needed a liaison to all three and he volunteered. FTRF welcomes liaisons on its committees and before long James was serving on all three intellectual freedom groups. Now semi-retired, James works as a researcher and Freedom of Information Act specialist for a private company in Austin, Texas.
1. What made you want to be a part of the IFRT?
I came to an IFRT board meeting at Midwinter Boston 2010 thinking it was the Intellectual Freedom Committee. I was working on getting the Prisoners’ Right to Read passed to read at the time and we were scheduled on the IFC agenda. My mistake proved fortuitous since I discovered a group of people who were passionate about intellectual freedom and finding ways to work together toward a world without censorship. I wanted to join in that energy.
2. What is your favorite part about being involved in IFRT?
Of the organizations in ALA that work on intellectual freedom issues, IFRT is the most agile. It does not take too long for good ideas to be implemented. The free student memberships were implemented (successfully) in less than a year. That’s an example of the Round Table’s agility. A growing group of active members envision a program or improvement and with other members’ support bring it to life in a short time. IFRT is also welcoming and allows new members, if they are interested, to move into leadership positions.
3. Have you joined any IFRT programs recently? What was your favorite?
I have attended almost all IFRT meetings and programs in the last year. I really enjoyed and learned from the Frosty Windows, Frosty Mirrors: Representation, Labeling, Discoverability, and the Chilling Effect webinar in February. The issues of intellectual freedom and social justice were in sharp focus for me at the time as I was working on two IF/Social Justice groups—FTRF and IFC—and that program helped clarify some ideas for me. I really enjoyed the All Members Meeting in April because it gave attendees a chance to network almost as well as an in-person meeting.
4. If you could meet your favorite banned book character, who would you meet and why?
Lyra Belacqua — Lyra Silvertongue — is the heroine of Philip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials. In His Dark Materials Lyra is a young girl who lives in a world similar to ours but different in critical areas. She gets involved in a cosmic war between Lord Asriel on one side and The Authority and his Regent, Metatron, on the other. She is brave, resourceful, kind, and humane. I would like to talk to someone as adventurous as her.
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.