July 15, 2017

Of Freedom and Libraries

I thoroughly enjoyed the July 4 celebration at Pullman’s Sunnyside Park. The City of Pullman and Pullman Chamber of Commerce deserve high praise for such a well-run event.  Sitting in the sun, hamburger in my hand, and my family lounging by my side, I looked out across the lawn at everyone gathered and felt a surge of pride.  I was proud to be an American, proud to be part of Pullman’s celebration, and proud to be sharing an event with so many other people from different countries. A family from Libya was to my left, a family from China to my right, and in front of me was a group of men from the Middle East playing a board game.  As I exchanged conversation with my lawn neighbors, I wondered whether the freedoms they are enjoying in the United States ran in contrast to what was afforded to them in their native homeland. 

Adopted from South Korea, and born a girl, I sometimes wonder how different my life would have been had the adoption never occurred.  I know I would not have been better off as the same freedoms, rights, and advantages I grew up with in America would not have been available to me, at that time.  

I thank our founding fathers for creating our Charters of Freedom:  the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights as these foundational documents endowed me with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I am grateful to live in a country that holds these rights sacred, supports freedom of choice, empowers individual expression, and resists acts of censorship and suppression.

We should never take these freedoms for granted.  Library patrons from different countries have shared how special, but shocking, it is for them to come to the United States and immediately have so much freedom, so many rights.  They are astonished they can open a library account for free and borrow whatever they like, no questions asked.  They are impressed by the wide range of subjects the library is “allowed” to cover.

This is not an accident.  Libraries uphold and defend our constitutional rights. Similar to the Charters of Freedom, the American Library Association adopted the Freedom to Read, Freedom to View, and Library Bill of Rights statements. Guaranteed by the First Amendment, these statements affirm a library patron’s right to receive equitable library service as well as read, view, and otherwise seek information without judgment or censorship. Here are some excerpts from these statements with full text available at www.ala.org:

  1. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.
  2. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues.  Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
  3. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information.
  4. Liberty of circulation is essential to insure the constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression.
  5. Libraries protect the confidentiality of all individuals and institutions using film, video, and other audiovisual materials.

Every aspect of public library service is rooted in these principles, in defense and preservation of your rights.  Libraries are one of the most democratic of institutions.  As Americans, what better place for us to celebrate our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of our own happiness than in a public library.

Joanna Bailey
Library Director

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