Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Intellectual Freedom

"A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone." This quote, said by Jo Godwin, may be one of the truest things ever to be said about libraries. No library can be truly complete, cannot provide a well-rounded and comprehensive education to all, without containing books that offend certian people. Because no two people are alike, what is offensive or vulgar to one person, is beautiful art to another. A librarian cannot have an opinion one way or the other, but must simply collect the materials to suit the needs of their patrons.

This is a concept a lot of people don't understand about librarianship. They don't understand how a librarian can remain entirely impartial on the removal of a book (such as Harry Potter or Heather Has Two Mommies) or the guy watching porn on the computer in the corner. Non-librarians don't understand how we can stand by and watch some sort of injustice (whatever that may be) go by. However, this so-called impartiality doesn't really exist. A librarian seeks to serve its patrons and provide the freedom to read (or listen or watch) regardless of age, sex, gender, or race. This freedom is one of the greatest gifts we have. It protects you from being judged, ridiculed, or criticized because of your choice of reading material. And a librarian is the protector of this freedom. So librarians aren't impartial; they care deeply about protecting this important right. It's a massive responsibility, but one I feel honored to uphold.

I think this is the most important thing taught in library school. It's more important that cataloging or reference or even better technology skills. The foundation of understanding that every person who enters into a library has the right to read whatever he or she wants is something that isn't easy to learn or accept, especially when the library you grew up may not have felt that way. Just as it is not the librarian's job to babysit your children while in the library, it is not her responsibility to decide what is inappropriate for your child to read. That's your job as a parent. So don't ask us to restrict, don't ask us to judge. Because we won't. Because we believe that everyone has the freedom to read.

For more information about the American Librarian Association and the Freedom to Read Foundation, visit

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