Critical Convictions

April 2010

Can anyone convey, with a modicum of objectivity, what impact a book will have on those who read it? Do reviews provide the means by which to convey a sense of how a reader will respond? Words, sentences, and paragraphs are dynamic elements that may reach to the depth of an individual's soul to reveal some inner truth or inflame passions that drive them to imprudent action.

The uncomfortable truth is that it falls to public library staff members to reflect upon, and choose, those works of literature that grace the shelves of libraries and thus become accessible to a diverse group of patrons from all walks of life. Guided by policies that are broad and funding that is generally limited, experience and knowledge of community culture and interests become the tools of choice in collection development. Even so, librarians frequently experience moments of discomfort when items in the collection are called into question.

It is, however, a basic tenet that, although frequently under attack, the freedom to read is essential to our democracy. Throughout our history, reading is perceived to be among our greatest freedoms. The written word is the natural medium for new ideas and the preservation of a free society. Further, the freedom to read is guaranteed by the constitution. In light of the importance of this basic right and because of the significant role that libraries play in preserving it, the American Library Association (ALA) has adopted a “Freedom to Read Statement.” Included in the seven propositions of the Statement are the following:

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.

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, oraesthetic views as a standard for determining what should be published or circulated.

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. .

The Mathews Memorial Library Collection Development Policy supports the ALA Statement by affirming: “The policy of the Mathews Memorial Library is to acquire materials for the collection that serve the interest and informational needs of Mathews citizens.”

Information policy is a sacred contract between information brokers, stewards and stakeholders. It can be as heady as champagne or as mundane as locally brewed beer. Its origins are as ancient as Greece and as new as tomorrow’s news reports. It is an eternal good, wrapped in the principles of democracy, yet vulnerable to even the slightest shift in politics. Nonetheless, the freedom to read is likely to remain an eternal good and will, in the end, persevere.