Historically, the library has been a home for books, a place of research and reading and learning. But the library has never been stagnant, and, over the years, as an institution it has evolved and developed into much more. Oh, there are still books – lots and lots of books, and people still come to the library for research and learning, but now the library represents a wide variety of things to many people.
At my library just this week there has been a crafting time, a scavenger hunt, a STEAM program, a therapy dog program, and a story time; in the next week there will be a concert, a summer reading party, and two different book club meetings. We offer programming of all kinds for all ages including both educational programming and entertainment programming. And we don’t just house books. The library also has audio books, movies, music, board games, activity packs, yard games, tools, puzzles, a whole slate of digital materials services, and countless other materials and services available to patrons. We have local groups who meet within the library; we have kids who come here every day after school; we are involved in local community events; we team up with other libraries to hold countywide events and programs. In essence, the library functions as our community center. But the library backbone has always been books.
I recently attended the American Library Association Annual Conference in Washington DC. It’s the first time the conference has been held since covid, and it was so wonderful to be able to meet together again. The conference brings together librarians, book publishers, authors, and vendors of various bookish-related products in a way where there can be wonderful conversations, collaborations, interactions, and discovery. And one thing that everyone has in common: wide support of libraries.
One conversation that kept coming up over and over again throughout the conference was the prevalence of book challenges and attempts at censorship libraries are dealing with across the country. Throughout history, in instances where book bans and censorship were attempted or implemented, the consequences were tragic. And the book community is armoring up to mount a strong defense in support of authors, readers, and the First Amendment. And one of the main places being defended is libraries, because libraries welcome readers, support authors, and champion the First Amendment.
Several author/publisher panels dealt with this subject, and one concern voiced by authors was that the recent attacks on books would cause authors to begin to self-edit, to not write books they felt inspired to write for fear of them being challenged.
Intellectual freedom is paramount to society moving forward. Individuals being able to have free and unrestricted access to information is invaluable. True. But tied in to that is the fact that when libraries are attacked because of books a particular individual or group doesn’t like, it endangers all the other services that community members count on the library for – their safe place in the city, their access to internet, their opportunity to socialize, their educational opportunities – their community lifeline. Libraries are important. Libraries are timeless. And they deserve to be defended.