This afternoon, I was at one of the suburban public library branches that I work with as marketing and programming coordinator helping them train and set up a series of video game programs for the new year. One of the games I was helping them learn how to use was Just Dance 2015. We decided for their New Year’s program that was focused towards families, especially those with young kids, we were going to limit the song choices to speed the program up and have less downtime. So we mostly picked oldies and pop songs, and then we moved on to the next game. It wasn’t until I got in my car later on that I hit myself with a string of questions:
- What do we mean by “family-friendly”? What kind of family are we talking about?
- Did we exclude that song because we were worried about its implied content or because we really don’t think its right for this program? Or was it a little of each? Or am I just being paranoid?
- I wonder if we’re going to catch anyone in the crowd who might complain because of some dance move or song choice. I mean, that would be dumb, but it could totally happen.
Needless to say, these questions didn’t occur to me or anyone else (that I know of) while we were in the room. We were focused on planning a program as efficiently as possible before moving on to the next thing. We just needed to get things done, and considering every intellectual freedom angle is something that we subconsciously didn’t think we had time for.
Discussing intellectual freedom is a gift. Having the time to consider options and weigh exactly how a decision is going to play out is a gift. And it’s one of that often times, libraries simply don’t believe that they have the luxury of giving themselves. With staff stretched so thin, with money so tight, with so many programs going on, and with so little time in the day, many days (heck, many months) the goal is simply making it through while providing good service to the communities we serve.
I know that I like to think of myself as an aspiring super librarian. I would like to think that I consider my community absolutely before providing consistently perfect service. But I know for me, and probably for many others out there, there are times when issues like intellectual freedom simply aren’t front of mind. And whether that’s because we’re too busy (probably), we think intellectual freedom is a negative act like standing against censorship or book banning (possibly), or we don’t think it’s a big deal (perhaps), these concerns get swept aside. We forget that intellectual freedom is just as much standing for something: actively advocating for people’s right to free expression, speech, assembly, and privacy. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.
So as 2015 draws to a close, I encourage myself and all of you out there who may have seen yourself a little bit in this article to give yourself a gift in the new year: a moment to breath, slow down, and think how what we are actively doing is influenced by our professional ideals. These aren’t ideas that were just meant to be learned in school and never used again. They are the cornerstone of who we are and what we do. As the OIF blog starts to publish again in earnest, I encourage you to stop in regularly to read about what is going on and the thoughts of our writers about various intellectual freedom issues. Follow the District Dispatch from the Washington Office. Join IFRT. Get involved with intellectual freedom so that it can inform all the decisions that have to be made in day-to-day library work. It comes up more often than you think.
I’m going to work harder so that the pertinent issues occur to me when I’m still in the room. So the future is going to be better, and I look forward to seeing it.
John “Mack” Freeman is the Marketing and Programming Coordinator for the West Georgia Regional Library. He is a past recipient of the Freedom to Read Foundation’s Conable Scholarship, and a 2015 ALA Emerging Leader.