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TL v62n3: Karyn Storts-Brinks
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It's My Opinion!

Intellectual Freedom


Karen Storts-Brinks


Thirty Years of the Freedom to Read

The American Library Association is gearing up (and providing resources for you to do the same) for a big anniversary of Banned Books Week. The 30th annual celebration of this event is September 30 - October 5, 2012, and a standalone ( website is among the available promotional offerings this year.  There is also a new home on the web for the Freedom to Read Foundation, a crucial champion in the ever-present struggle to protect patrons’ access to information.

According to ALA data, “More than 11,000 books have been challenged since 1982. While every year brings challenges that seem to follow the same old themes (see “Challenges by Reason” here), the vehemence with which members of our communities feel compelled to remove available materials for all readers has not grown stale, unfortunately. And the challenges we know or are able to read about are disturbing enough without considering how many there may be that most people never hear about. The ALA suggests that for each challenge reported there are as many as four or five which go unreported.

While librarians certainly understand how critical it is to assert our significance and increasing relevance to our communities and our patrons, most often what happens is that we quietly (and brilliantly) do our jobs, and the more effective we are in our respective libraries the more efficiently our programs and services run, and the more invisible we become in our roles because we have worked hard to create a fluid entity that seems to “run itself”. We may be maintaining excellent documentation that charts the many facets of what we manage to accomplish every day in the face of all brands of opposition (lack of staff, time, funding, community support, material resources...), but if that documentation is never seen outside of our library walls or beyond our communities, it is not adding to the collective public sense of the significance of libraries and librarians.

One of the ways you can be sure the anti-censorship facet of your librarianness is part of the public mindset is by submitting an Online Challenge Reporting Form EVERY time a book is challenged in your library. Dealing with a challenge on the community level is never easy, and in our era of instant, global communication it seems that more and more cases of censorship hit the media and gain national (or even international) attention as a matter of course, which can be daunting. Librarians trying to do the right thing also have an obligation to their personal lives and loved ones, which may make them disinclined to be vilified (or even praised) in the media. But please remember the following words from the ALA: “part of the Banned Books Week celebration is the fact that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available. This happens only thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who stand up and speak out for the freedom to read.”


Karyn Storts-Brinks is the librarian at Fulton High School, Knoxville, Tennessee.





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