While book challenges are a perpetual issue within the library world, recent decisions by many school boards to remove supposedly “obscene” titles from their library collections with little justification seems to signal that this is a growing problem that won’t subside anytime soon. It’s with this increasing intolerance in mind—and the accompanying threats to the employment of library staff who might wish to defend intellectual freedom—that this toolkit for the Merritt Fund has been created.
The Merritt Fund, established in the memory of Dr. LeRoy C. Merritt, is devoted to the support, maintenance, medical care, and welfare of librarians who, in the Trustees’ opinion, are:
- Denied employment rights or discriminated against on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, color, creed, religion, age, disability, or place of national origin; or
- Denied employment rights because of defense of intellectual freedom; that is, threatened with loss of employment or discharged because of their stand for the cause of intellectual freedom, including promotion of freedom of the press, freedom of speech, the freedom of librarians to select items for their collections from all the world’s written and recorded information, and defense of privacy rights.
Perhaps the most important thing to know about the Merritt Fund is that applications can be filled out online or via a paper form (using this PDF), which can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to the following address:
Trustees LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund 225 Michigan Ave, Suite 1300 Chicago, IL 60601
In addition, the Publications and Communications of the Intellectual Freedom Round Table has created shareable graphics. Use them in your own social media posts (or take inspiration from some of IFRT’s posts here and here and here), mention them at conferences, print them and use them in displays at your workplace—any sort of publicity brings awareness to the vital work that the Merritt Fund does to combat censorship.
Another useful tool is this freely editable Google Slide (additional information is included in the speaker notes). Place it at the end of any PowerPoint presentation you might have on the importance of protecting intellectual freedom. Actually, use it at the end of any presentation! Fighting censorship is one of our profession’s most significant values and can be tied to most subjects.
The Freedom to Read Foundation has created a promotional video for the Merritt Fund. In just 90 seconds it highlights the need for the Merritt Fund as well as the easy ways to donate to the help other librarians.
Lastly, consider donating to the Fund here. Simply Click the ALA Offices tab, then go to OIF (acronym for Office for Intellectual Freedom), and find the LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund. Your donation will directly help people who have been unfairly targeted by school boards, state legislators, and anti-free speech employers.
The hope is that this toolkit can be used not only as a starting point for library staff that might find themselves in difficult employment situations, but also as an opportunity for library workers to familiarize themselves with the great work that the Merritt Fund does to protect all of our rights to free speech. Sometimes the only way to confront a growing movement of intolerance is to foster an equally strong countermovement, dedicated, as one can guess, to tolerance. The Merritt Fund does this work every day.
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.
Michael Kirby is an Assistant Professor/Reader Services Librarian at Kingsborough Community College. He received his MLS from Queens College, the City University of New York and serves as the 2021-2022 Publications and Communications Chair of the Intellectual Freedom Round Table.