The Freedom to Read can mean many ideas to different people. One meaning I want to explore is that we as individuals literally have the absolute freedom to read. We can enjoy the simple act of reading and know that no one can take that act away from us.
As educated women, we have an advantage over those who haven’t had the same opportunities. We not only have the capacity and skills to read from a variety of sources and topics, we also have the responsibility to use what we’ve learned by engaging and entertaining in what others have put into the written word.
As a librarian, I have seen many times simple cases of children and adults who simply can’t read or are struggling to read. Unless we are a part of the education system or work with undereducated people, we may not see literacy as a problem. The Freedom to Read may not exist for this part of the population because they don’t carry the necessary skills or haven’t had the support to become lifelong readers. There are informative resources especially helpful in determining illiteracy rates for a particular area. In Illinois for example, (where I live) according to the Secretary of State:
“The American Community Survey indicates that 474,082 of Illinois residents over the age of 25 have less than a ninth grade education. Another 634,000 residents have between a 9th and 12th grade education, but have no high school diploma. That means there are 1.1 million people who do not have a high school diploma. Source: American Community Survey, 2010“
While it doesn’t surprise me that this happens, it is baffling to me that in the year 2012 people are not finishing high school and obtaining an education that will help them succeed. Literacy becomes a huge component in this number, and there are many factors involved in why this problem occurs. If you are interested in obtaining more information about the topic of literacy and education in our country this, try this website.
As Americans, we are protected by a very important Amendment in the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution. Article 1 provides 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; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Focusing on the Freedoms of Speech and Press, both affect our ability and our individual freedoms to read. Without these two rights, we would not have publishing companies or newspapers or bloggers like us putting ideas and opinions out in the public sphere for others to see, hear and ultimately consider that we have something important to say. As a librarian, I find myself frequently coming across this topic and addressing how far this Freedom to Read can be extended. Essentially, without such a freedom would mean many children and adults would be subject to censorship. Yet, censorship, despite our freedoms and the Bill of Rights still exists across the country.
Most recently, the adult romance novel Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James has been a target causing huge controversy because of its erotic nature and has been deemed ‘mommy porn.’ Libraries in Mobile County, Alabama refused to buy it or continue lending it because it claimed to go against its selection policies. After reading the first book, getting hooked and quickly reading the second and third books, sure it’s erotic. I can also understand why women across the country want to read it and discuss it with their friends. You simply have to discuss it because it is so controversial! I think this is what makes the power to read, the freedom to read what we choose a marvelous topic. Regardless of whether someone else thinks a book is trashy or poorly written, the Freedom of Speech and Press makes it possible for us to read the book in question and make our own judgements.
Each year, the American Library Association produces the Top Banned Books lists and celebrates them in Banned Books Week. I find myself often gasping not with shock that people want them banned, but that the idea of banning even becomes a possibility in a country which was founded on personal freedoms. Also check out the Freedom to Read Foundation whose purpose is to protect free speech and press for libraries and librarians.
There is a Voltaire quote I remember made famous from the Superman movies where the uncle is telling Peter Parker, “With great power, comes great responsibility,” and it’s always stuck with me. Reading, the ability to read, the freedoms to read, and the power this gives us as individuals means we have great responsibility to share our words and ideas. Embrace the challenge and consider that you have great power to share and freedoms unlike any other in the world. What does the Freedom to Read mean to you?