American Freedom

We are blessed to live in a country where freedom to express our thoughts and beliefs is accepted instead of persecuted. Articles III and IV of the American Library Association’s “Library Bill of Rights” read as follows:

Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility
to provide information and enlightenment. Libraries should cooperate with
all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression
and free access to ideas.

This document, which was first drafted in 1939, has been amended several times, most recent being in 1996. However, the core message remains the same. The full text and history of the Bill is available online at
http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill in the latest edition of the Intellectual Freedom Manual.

Almost every author who has eventually attained prominence in the literary world has also encountered resistance at some point in his or her career. John Steinbeck’s masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath, was deemed controversial due to language and socialist sympathies. It is one of the most common titles placed on banned book lists. On the other hand, it is considered to be one of the greatest books ever written because it brought the working conditions of migrant workers to the forefront of the public conscience. It encouraged discussion about this and other important socio-economic topics. Without the written works of Steinbeck, the plight of the American farmer in 1930’s Dust Bowl America might not have been fully understood.

Famous children’s author and illustrator Shel Silverstein was placed on banned book lists for controversies surrounding A Light in the Attic. The book was said to contain suggestive illustrations inappropriate for young readers. In 1985, a group of concerned citizens from Beloit, Wisconsin challenged the right of school libraries to make this book available because, according to the group, the poems encouraged children to break dishes! Whether we agree with this logic or not, do we really want another group to have the right to say what our children can or cannot read?

Freedom of speech, and the right to express our own beliefs, is a wonderful gift that our countries forefathers bestowed upon us in the United States Bill of Rights. Drafted by James Madison, the First Amendment states that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press….

Libraries have been available for hundreds of years in countries all around the world. They all function under unique sets of standards and belief systems. Many of the world’s citizens do not benefit from the same freedoms as us. We are fortunate to have the right to utilize the services of one of the greatest institutions in the world, the American library system.