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Freedom to Read Act

The Freedom to Read Act: We’re (thankfully) not in Nazi Germany anymore

If a book exists, people should be able to read it.

It sounds so simple, but we’ve seen instances where it’s frowned upon to get a hold of any book that is deemed as inappropriate.  Especially books that are banned in elementary schools for being a little too forward or a little too magical (think Harry Potter).  Various groups have stopped at nothing to get rid of them.

It’s hard to think that at one time Sigmund Freud’s work was considered inappropriate.   The Nazi Book Burnings in 1933 was one of most systematic cultural cleansing ever engineered.  I read a very interesting post on AbeBooks.com about the 75th Anniversary of this date in history.  They cite Wolfgang Herrman as “the most infamous librarian in history” and, I couldn’t agree more.  The black list contained an index of Germany’s brightest minds and pioneering authors.  All it took was an out of work librarian with a doctorate degree–and very mad–to compile this.

To re-quote Ray Bradbury:  “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
(1).  The black list I talk about is on this page–in German.  You can use Google/Bing/Babelfish to translate this URL:  http://www.berlin.de/rubrik/hauptstadt/verbannte_buecher/

The List of Propositions

The ALA’s site has a list of rights that define this act:

1. It is in the public interest for publishers and librarians to make available the widest diversity of views and expressions, including those that are unorthodox, unpopular, or considered dangerous by the majority.

–This is very important.  For example, a public library should carry books about all religions even those considered taboo by the community.  Here’s a kooky example:  a conservative county library in Nebraska should have books on Wicca–and, alternatively, a branch library in Los Angeles should make available books about celibacy.  Just because people want to get the information, doesn’t make them a part of that information.  We need to fuel intellectual curiosity.  We need to give access to ideas/intellectual property that we may personally value as “wrong.”  I don’t judge a book by its cover and, I certainly do not judge others.

2.  Publishers, librarians, and booksellers do not need to endorse every idea or presentation they make available. It would conflict with the public interest for them to establish their own political, moral, or aesthetic views as a standard for determining what should be published or circulated.

–We don’t have to pimp everything just because we think it’s hot.

3.  It is contrary to the public interest for publishers or librarians to bar access to writings on the basis of the personal history or political affiliations of the author.

–Yes, why be a hater?  The ALA goes further and explains, “No society of free people can flourish that draws up lists of writers to whom it will not listen.”  Hmmn.  Drawing up lists.  Didn’t I just read about one?

4.  There is no place in our society for efforts to coerce the taste of others, to confine adults to the reading matter deemed suitable for adolescents, or to inhibit the efforts of writers to achieve artistic expression.

–I read anything I could get a hold of.  From Playboy to Proust, I believe that I haven’t been tainted or marked in some way for having read it.

5.  It is not in the public interest to force a reader to accept the prejudgment of a label characterizing any expression or its author as subversive or dangerous.

–This is a dangerous thing to do.  I remain neutral when dispensing information.  I do not make faces at people checking books out on the sexual genitalia of whales.

6.  It is the responsibility of publishers and librarians, as guardians of the people’s freedom to read, to contest encroachments upon that freedom by individuals or groups seeking to impose their own standards or tastes upon the community at large; and by the government whenever it seeks to reduce or deny public access to public information.

–Thank god I work at a sex education library/archives.  It’s judgement free and full of books, materials and resources that other places would deem inappropriate.  What a wonderful place to be.

7. It is the responsibility of publishers and librarians to give full meaning to the freedom to read by providing books that enrich the quality and diversity of thought and expression. By the exercise of this affirmative responsibility, they can demonstrate that the answer to a “bad” book is a good one, the answer to a “bad” idea is a good one.

–A volunteer didn’t want to shelve our books on Paglia because her personal beliefs about her (see #3) were not favorable. This person deemed work by this author to be “bad.”  I put all of Camille’s books back on the shelves.


(2).  The full statement is found here:  http://www.ala.org/offices/oif/statementspols/ftrstatement/freedomreadstatement

About Tess McCarthy

Tess McCarthy got her MLIS from San Jose State University's School of Library and Information Science and she worked in a variety of information settings. Tess currently leads her own consulting firm in the management of digital and physical library and archives around the world. As a corporate digital image archivist, she mastered Digital Asset Management she developed and led trainings in image cataloging. She's comfortable using pronouns like she, her, they & them. When she's not organizing the world's greatest archives and libraries, she's writing and illustrating. Tess got her teeth cut in archives processing unique collections. From the Center for Sex & Culture's archival materials to the Hoover Institution, she's seen it all. At the Hoover Institution, she focused on processing, arranging, describing and writing the finding aids to several WWI and II collections. As the former archivist-in-residence at San Francisco's Center for Sex and Culture, Library/Archives she surveyed and inventoried some of the most lively manuscript collections. Her interests in the information field area are: special libraries/collections, archives; manuscripts, digital archives, digital assets, images, DAM, collection management, old maps, zines, human-computer interaction, reference/user services and, information-seeking behavior.


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