My Valentine to the Office of Intellectual Freedom
By: Valerie Nye
This week is a week to celebrate love and tell people how we feel about them. In honor of Valentine’s Day, and in recognition of the challenges we are facing as librarians as we try to inform ourselves and our patrons on issues of fact vs. fiction, intellectual freedom, our inclusion of diverse voices, and protecting the rights of our free press, I would like to take the opportunity to express my Valentine’s Day admiration for the American Library Association and specifically the Office of Intellectual Freedom.
I have been reflecting deeply on the important role the Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) plays in the professional life of librarians, and in our culture as Americans. I had the opportunity within the last year to talk with librarians and journalists about intellectual freedom issues in Barcelona, Spain. Librarians in Barcelona are currently working to create a standard protocol for dealing with challenges to intellectual freedom. They are beginning discussions about the importance of collection development policies (this is not a standard document for libraries in Barcelona). For these librarians, there are not any standard answers when patrons confront them with a challenge to material in their libraries – and yet these librarians do face intellectual freedom challenges, just like we do in the United States. Their quest to create an authority similar to the OIF seems daunting.
Speaking with these librarians and recognizing the monumental work they have ahead, I realized how important the OIF is to the very fabric of the library profession in the United States. The ethical standards created by the American Library Association and work of the OIF are embedded in my professional ethics. Before traveling abroad and speaking to these librarians, it had become easy for me to take for granted all the support and powerful answers the OIF provides.
In the United States, librarians do have a place to turn when we have questions and challenges. We do have professional librarians providing direction on both big and small issues we encounter in our day-to-day work life. We do have a standard of professional ethics that is approved by our ALA councilors and publicized by the OIF.
The OIF represents a set of principles that goes far beyond recommended written policies, ethical proclamations, and our annual celebration of Banned Books Week. The OIF is where words are put into action and support. Even if it is never necessary for a librarian to seek assistance from the OIF during their professional career, the power of the office is important to the business of running a library, communicating effectively with patrons, and working with our governing bodies. The OIF allows librarians to have informed conversations, a common vocabulary, and a place to develop professionally through classes, webinars, and conference sessions.
At this juncture in our history, librarians are going to have to stand up for the First Amendment and intellectual freedom values time and time again. With the support of the OIF, we will stand up for the legal rights of our patrons; we will protect and empower our patrons in their quest for accurate information; we will seek diverse voices and the points of view of people who have been marginalized; and we will work to protect free access to books, government documents, music, and art.
For all these reasons and more, I am grateful on this Valentine’s Day for the support the Office of Intellectual Freedom offers to our profession. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Valerie Nye is the Library Director at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. She has been active in local and national library organizations; recently serving on ALA Council, the New Mexico Library Association, and the New Mexico Consortium of Academic Libraries. Val has cowritten or coedited four books including: True Stories of Censorship Battles in America’s Libraries published by ALA Editions in 2012. True Stories is a compilation of essays written by librarians who have experienced challenges to remove material held in their libraries’ collections. She has an MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In her time away from the library she enjoys road trips in convertibles and kayaking on lakes. firstname.lastname@example.org