The Freedom to Read

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?

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Why I Love Libraries: Celebrate National Library Week

It’s National Library Week!  As a librarian, of course I am going to encourage everyone to visit their library this week and share the love with friends and family.   The American Library Association is also recognizing several other areas of librarianship during the week with special events:

Follow on Twitter at #nlw12

Join the conversation on Facebook with atyourlibrary.org

Aside from loving books, reading, stories, the written word, and being a librarian, etc., I would not be able to call myself a bibliophile without being a library patron.  Many would argue I’m a bibliomaniac, which is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as someone with an extreme preoccupation of collecting or admiring books. Yep, that sounds like me.

When I tell people I am a librarian and I went to graduate school to become a librarian, I often get that inquisitive look back with the question, “what did you learn?” or “I don’t read” or “I haven’t been the library in years.”

If you haven’t been to a library in years, months, weeks, days, hours, go and take a 30 minute visit this week!  Not only are you positively supporting your city services and seeing your tax dollars be used for great use, you are telling the world that libraries matter!  It is more than just a building with books.  You say you don’t read but do you watch movies?  Check out a DVD for free.  Are you doing genealogy research about your family?   Talk to the reference librarian for better resources than just Google and learn how to effectively use Ancestry.com.  Many libraries even have subscriptions to sites like Ancestry.com that you can access with your library card.  Do you have children and want to help them make friends or find activities other than homework?  Bring them to storytimes, playtimes, craft sessions, video gaming programs and more for free.

The library is also a place that is no longer managed by the stuffy, old, grumpy lady with her hair in a bun and ugly shoes and glasses.  That’s quite a bit of negative adjectives to describe such a person, and it’s unfortunate so many people still associate the library with this image.  Most likely, it’s because of a bad experience they had while in school and so never went back to the place.  So you say, you don’t read and haven’t been to a library in years.  Could it be because you were one of these kids?  Hopefully most of the libraries in your area have moved to a friendlier, warmer, and more inviting atmosphere with librarians who know their ‘stuff’ and have a passion for helping people embrace their inner bibliophile.  It probably wouldn’t hurt if they have really cool glasses and trendy shoes.

Why do I love libraries?  I love to read. I love to explore.  For bibliophiles like myself, I love going to the library and just wander through the non-fiction stacks looking at the titles.   Dewey Decimal is a great invention because it organizes subjects according to interest.  Yes, libraries still use Dewey Decimal, mostly for non-fiction, and I hope they continue with this grand tradition because it works!  If I had a dog, I would probably name him Dewey.  I absolutely love the wander, it helps me dig deeper into topics I may have thought about but never really explored.  In fiction, the wander is a little tougher for me because I want to read everything on the shelves so I tend to get lost.

Why do I love libraries?  I love to bring my laptop and surf the internet, perhaps do some writing or reading in a completely different environment than the coffee shop or my living room.  It’s quiet, but not annoyingly silent, with just enough distractions.  People are usually friendly and I have unofficially joined the ‘reading room newspaper’ club at my local library.

Why do I love libraries?  I love that such a simple concept became such a unique place in our world where you are granted permission based on the honor system to borrow books, movies, music, and the internet.

Why do I love libraries?  I love that my local library is a place only 5-10 minutes from my house.  I love that I can ride my bike there or drive.  I love that it is the best way I can ‘go local’ in every sense of the word.

Why do I love libraries?  Somehow it became trendy, popular, and cool to be a nerd.  I love libraries because I can embrace my inner nerd.  I can admit to reading the encyclopedia at home when I was a kid because I had read everything else we owned.  I think we are all nerds at some point in our lives and the library is the best place where we can all just be ourselves with no judgements and no apologies for what we enjoy.

Check out this site for even more information on why people around the country love libraries. 

Embrace your inner bibliophile.  Embrace your inner nerd.  Embrace what makes you YOU and check out your local library this week.   Help celebrate National Library Week with one small visit, and I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.  I would love to hear why you love libraries in the comments!

Spark and Spirit

Old Books taken from Wikimedia Commons

Sparked by the love of books and reading, a spirit for knowledge, and a quest to continually find truth in matters both mundane and controversial, librarians have found themselves at the center of a new world unlike one they have been historically trained to uncover for the people. Guided by a much different principle of service, one that is free of any profit or personal gain, librarians hold a unique desire to give of their skills and knowledge, perhaps a gift to those they serve.

Enthusiasm and excitement are two words that come to mind when I think of my experience in graduate school.  My professors embraced such feelings in a very genuine way and it has certainly influenced my decision to enter the library world.  I hope to become the librarian that acts as a conduit between the world of knowledge and the expanding social world surrounding our everyday lives.  What I remember most about the library as a child is that of the summer reading program and wandering the stacks to find a new book to read.  A self-proclaimed booknerd, I found the library as a place where there was always a new discovery.  As a librarian, I hope to be able to create or influence that same feeling in patrons, one of spark and spirit that engages them in a way they perhaps didn’t know existed and provide my gift of skill and knowledge, enthusiasm and excitement.

Perhaps my goals are idealistic, but I have to believe that we as librarians entered this profession because of an underlying desire to learn and teach in a way that reaches all people of a community.I am so thrilled to enter such a profession where ideals and ethics are valued, where service is for a greater good, and where a librarian can make a difference.