Reflection: What Intellectual Freedom Means to Us

Information Access

By: Linsey Milillo

November and the shift toward winter are times to give thanks, gather friends, families and coworkers together and reflect on the year’s events as well as our hopes for the future. As this first year as a contributor to the ALA OIF blog comes to a close, I’ve asked some of my system colleagues to reflect on what intellectual freedom means to them, personally and professionally. I grew up in a family that valued diversity of opinions and the right to speak one’s mind and have access to information without restriction. At the time, I didn’t know that the actions had a name or ALA-supported philosophy.

IdeaThinking back, I now know that ideals behind intellectual freedom were at work when I heard of fights to challenge school curriculum or to ban song airplay due to questionable lyrics. Professionally, I became a further advocate of intellectual freedom when I began teaching college composition, and later when I shifted my focus to libraries. Teachers and librarians hold a noble and valued station in our society as the collectors of information. We make that information readily available, and it is a right for our patrons to come to us to find unbiased access.

I work for a mid-sized library system; the Lane Libraries is located is Butler County, Ohio, with three branches in Hamilton, Fairfield, and Oxford as well as a Technology Center and bookmobile services. The system has holdings of approximately 349,447 volumes while circulating 2.1 million items annually to 187,347 residents (Library Technology Guides, Lane Public Library, 2016). Like so many other library systems, Lane is made up of a diverse community of patrons as well as staff.  Curious about what many would say regarding intellectual freedom, I asked for input and here are some of the responses:

“I am a teen librarian and have worked in libraries for four years. For me, one of the most important things that the library provides to the public is intellectual freedom. Almost all of the media that is available in print or on the internet is biased in one form or another. Giving patrons a way to find unbiased information on any topic that they wish is incredibly important.” ~Sarah H., Teen Services, 4 years experience.

“For me, intellectual freedom means that people are able to seek out and gain information from various sources without obstacles obstructing that information. People have the right to seek out information free from censorship or opposition.” ~Morgan S., Public Services Associate, 6 years experience.

“Intellectual freedom has always been vital to me, even before I started working for the library. The idea that information would be kept from me based on someone else’s self restrictions is appalling and outdated. In today’s world, information is more readily available than ever, and I am glad to be part of a system that helps people discover the answers to the questions they have. As a father, I encourage my children to seek out knowledge and ask questions when they don’t understand something, That same value should be available to everyone. The right to choose how much we can know about anything is a basic human right. – Adam F., Public Services Associate, 4+ years of experience.

“Intellectual freedom — open access to information for everyone. Libraries allow the same access to information for all people no matter their age, race, ability, or socioeconomic status. And we as librarians are the gateway to the information.”~Tammy B., Children’s Librarian, 16+ years of experience.

“I highly value the ALA intellectual freedom division … and have learned so much from their sessions at my 20 years of attending ALA. This philosophy is a cornerstone of my work with youth service and strongly structures our strategic plan advocating individual rights to access information.” ~Gratia B., Youth Services Coordinator, 30+ years of experience.

“My ideas come from a German song Die Gedanken Sind Frei. It translates to “thoughts are free.” No one can control what goes on in your mind so anyone is free to think what he/she wants. The great thing in America is that we are free (for the most part) to voice our opinions, to write our opinions or to read what we want to read. We can join together with groups to discuss our thoughts. Intellectual freedom needs the absence of censorship where another can preempt my right to have access to information that exists.” ~Rebecca E, Librarian, 17+ years of experience.

“I have worked in public libraries for almost 26 years — which works out to nearly half of my life. I have worked with all age groups in all areas of the library and have been a Reference manager, Circulation manager and a Support Services manager. My views on intellectual freedom have been shaped by my experiences in my personal life and my time in public libraries. Intellectual freedom is a basic human right to have access to unbiased information in a judgement free place. It is the right to become well-informed and to form and share opinions and ideas without fear of reprisal from our society or government.”~Jennifer S., Support Services Supervisor, 25+ years of experience.

While all of us have different backgrounds and job responsibilities, one common factor is our shared philosophy toward upholding ALA’s foundations of intellectual freedom. It is an honor to work with such profound individuals toward meeting the needs of our community!

Linsey Milillo works in teen and adult reference services for the Lane Libraries in Fairfield, Ohio. She’s an avid blogger with interest in reviews, programming and discussing timely issues at the center of library and information services.

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