“Freedom keeps open the path of novel and creative solutions, and enables change to come by choice. Every silencing of a heresy, every enforcement of an orthodoxy, diminishes the toughness and resilience of our society and leaves it the less able to deal with controversy and difference,” from the Freedom to Read Statement of the American Library Association (ALA).
In our times, as in every time, there are tensions between traditionalism and modernity, modesty and license, and public and private means to ends.
A recent locus of such tension is Random House’s ceasing publication of Theodor Geisel’s, aka Dr. Seuss, early picture books: And to Think That I saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer.
For me, the tension is: may a publisher or copyright holder just unilaterally remove a book from print?
American librarians and publishers have staked out an ambitious foundation towards addressing this and other tensions, in the courageous and elegant ALA Freedom to Read Statement.
The current version of The Freedom to Read may be discovered in the Advocacy portion of the American Library Association’s website, as well as in the printed ALA Intellectual Freedom Manual.
Despite a few revisions over the years, this document has survived pretty well intact since 1953.
The Freedom to Read Statement sets forth the roots of community conflict in apt terms: “It is inevitable in the give and take of the democratic process that the political, the moral, or the aesthetic concepts of an individual or group will occasionally collide with those of another individual or group.”
Community conflict is a good thing, as instances in which books are challenged present opportunities to reassert basic principles of librarianship.
These principles include that “the answer to a ‘bad’ book is a good one, the answer to a ‘bad’ idea is a good one” and that “freedom is no freedom if it is accorded only to the accepted and the inoffensive.”
Perhaps making every student a librarian, via a fierce defense of The Book, could start with you, today.
Challenge the librarian within you to read or re-read the Freedom to Read Statement, right now.
Reaffirm, to your own mind, that the freedom in the book that the librarian defends defines librarianship as a wubbulous and professional calling, worthy of the public’s trust.
Anything less is just unworthy of the term “librarian,” in the tweetle beetle battle of life.
Joseph Davis ([email protected]) is the head librarian at The Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank located in Arlington Heights, Illinois.