There are many answers to that question, and my opinion is one of many. However, it’s very much tied to my profession as a librarian: Americans desire the freedom to think and do what they feel is right in their hearts, and not have our pursuit of liberty oppressed. If a person is to think for themselves, the first thing they need is information, and freedom and support to access that information.
That’s what libraries do: create access to information in response to their community’s needs.
In 2022, the American Library Association (ALA) reported a record number of attempts to ban or restrict access to books at libraries. ALA has been tracking incidents of attempted book bans for more than 20 years, and the numbers have jumped from 156 in 2020 to 729 in 2021, to a whopping 1,269 in 2022. All of these attempts have been undertaken with the idea that something does not deserve to be accessed by the public, or that the thoughts contained therein are somehow a danger to others.
These efforts are deeply distressing to library professionals who, at the end of the day, have one mission: keep access to information and resources available so that people can think for themselves. It is our job to provide a wide range of materials that support a wide range of thoughts, needs, and perspectives.
While challenges have ranged over the years from everything to To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee and Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck to the Harry Potter series and The Holy Bible, the past few years have seen a rise in challenges that target LGBTQIA+ perspectives and those featuring characters who are people of color. Sometimes I think what we’re really fighting over is whose story gets to be told.
Everybody’s story is important and deserves space, and those stories create the mosaic of our collective experience. It has long been the library’s job to protect freedom to read. Our community’s support to continue doing so has never mattered more.