Director’s Corner September 2017
Every autumn, public libraries in the United States use Banned Book Week to celebrate free choice, free thinking, and free and equal access to educational material.
Public libraries have the opportunity today to be great equalizers. We move the equal access needle from books to include technology; people can now check out WiFi hotspots, laptops, Rokus, et. al.. It isn’t just in our collections or technologies, however, that libraries help promote fair treatment and equal opportunity, but also in our programs and services. We can assist new residents with English as a second language, or provide information on immigration laws or becoming a citizen. Indeed, as immigrants and other populations continue to be threatened, libraries will play an even more pivotal role than they do now.
When I worked in a community that was 20% Hispanic, I had an employee who asked why I was buying materials in Spanish. She was frequently heard saying, “nobody worried about buying items in a foreign language when my ancestors came here. Let them learn English.” I fought the urge to respond to this prejudice, reminding her that when her ancestors came to this country, they didn’t have our public library system to provide any kind of materials.
Immigration has been a hot topic since the last Presidential campaign. When my ancestors arrived in North America in the 17th and 18th centuries, they were not required to get permits to enter the country or file to become a naturalized citizen. They were not required to speak English. If anything they might have needed to learn the local Indian language.
But now many of those whose ancestors came to America more recently wish to rid this country of anyone who doesn’t look, speak, or think as they do. Today’s media, merely by parroting these views without examination, assist in promoting prejudice and fueling the irrational bias of those threatened by anyone different from them.
And this is hardly the only contemporary political issue American libraries must contend with to pursue their purpose of community service and education. For the second time in the 21st Century, a U.S. President and his staff have made an effort to stop the flow of scientific information coming out of the Environmental Protection Agency.What possible reason could there be for blocking information other than wanting to stop the education of the public? But it is the longstanding stance of America’s public libraries to neither censor the information they provide nor restrict who shall have access to the information.
The book Banned Books: Defending Our Freedom to Read by Robert P. Doyle covers incidents of book bannings from 387 B.C. to 2017. It “provides a framework for understanding censorship and the protections guaranteed to us through the First Amendment. Interpretations of the uniquely American notion of freedom of expression – and our freedom to read what we choose – are supplemented by straightforward, easily accessible information that will inspire further exploration.”
Join with us, not only during Banned Book Week, but all year long as we celebrate free choice, free thinking, and the free and equal access to educational material for all those who reside in this nation.
See you at the library. – Kathy Berggren, Library Director