Protecting Your Freedom to Read

by on September 24th, 2014

Protecting Your Freedom to Read

During Banned Book Week we have many interesting programs and displays to offer (http://blog.icpl.org/2014/09/22/iowa-city-public-library-celebrates-banned-books-week/), but it’s also a good time to think about the role public libraries play in supporting the full range of first amendment rights.

It’s easy for us to take for granted that materials expressing many viewpoints and opinions are available in our public library, and that we can use those materials without fear that we will be monitored, chastised or punished. Many people have fought bitter and sometimes dangerous battles to protect the right to say and read what you want. Librarians have lost jobs for purchasing and circulating information that someone didn’t approve.

The very form of “government” of most municipal libraries in Iowa, a semi-autonomous library board, was designed to create a barrier between the politicians (city councils) who are more likely to be swayed by public opinion or current political trends and the information providers (library staff) who work to represent all points of view through collections and hold confidential who uses what (a confidentiality that is also protected by state law in Iowa). The Library Board sets policies, has budget authority to spend money as they approve, and hires a library director. Typically other city departments’ budgets, policies and hiring/firing of executives are under the authority of the City Council and/or City Manager. The primary reason for an independent library board is to ensure that an enraged phone call from a constituent to a City Council member, or a demand from law enforcement does not result in a book being removed from the collection, or records being turned over without a subpoena.

Over the years we have had a variety of complaints about materials people did not think were appropriate – and that they should be kept from some group of people, usually children. Staff who select library materials continue to work to ensure all points of view are represented.

So, look at the books you take home and consider that there is someone who probably thinks some of them shouldn’t even be in the library. It’s not hypothetical.

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