where were you when you first heard about banned books?

Censorship, General Interest, Intellectual Freedom Issues, Privacy

Hi folks. I’m Martin Garnar, current chair of the Intellectual Freedom Committee and this week’s guest blogger for the OIF blog. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on a range of intellectual freedom issues. Today’s topic: your first exposure to intellectual freedom. Do you remember the first time you thought about the following words in a library context?

  • Privacy
  • Banned books
  • Free speech
  • Internet filtering

All of these have been common topics of discussion in intellectual freedom circles in the first decade of the 21st century, and some have been around for far longer. However, there’s always a first time for someone to be exposed to these concepts. Each spring I teach a class titled “Professional Principles and Ethics” for the University of Denver’s Library and Information Science program, and part of what we cover falls under the broad umbrella of intellectual freedom. Many of the students work in libraries and have (at least) heard of the concept prior to my class, but there are always a few who are new to the field and haven’t given much thought to these issues.

For me, it’s always fascinating to watch students grapple with a thorny issue and see where they end up.  Should parents always know what their kids are reading?  Should librarians use internet filtering as a collection development tool?  Should libraries ask patrons to sacrifice privacy in the name of convenience for self-service holds? The discussions are always lively, and it’s interesting to see how students will shift their opinions as the course progresses.

Another benefit to teaching the class is learning what interests the students.  I’m one of those evil professors who assigns a research paper AND makes the students present their topics to the class.  Though some are looking at existing issues through their newly-acquired intellectual freedom lenses, others bring new topics for our edification and exploration.  While you old-timers may have felt like the first list of intellectual freedom issues was nothing new, now I’ll ask you about the first time you thought about the following issues:

  • Public libraries charging an annual membership
  • Traditional cultural expressions and copyright protection
  • The applicability of HIPAA to personal health record

I always learn something from every class I teach.  The same goes for my work on the IFC.  Each year brings new issues and new opportunities for promoting our shared values, though sometimes it takes a while for us to wrap our heads around the latest challenge.  That’s what keeps me teaching, and also what keeps me working on behalf of intellectual freedom — it’s never boring, and it’s always rewarding to talk with new people about this core value.

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