Thursday, April 16, 2009

A great librarian died this week. Judith Krug was the director of the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom from its establishment in 1967 until her death on Saturday, April 11, 2009. One of the inspirations for my own professional involvement in the intellectual freedom community, Judy was my colleague, mentor, and hero for 25 years.

Most librarians have a basic belief that our primary job is to enable library patrons to find the information that they seek in our collections. But we also quickly find out that following through on that belief in our practical, day-to-day lives is not always easy. People who work in libraries tend to be interested in the world around them and to care passionately about issues.

Ms. Krug helped many of us understand that our personal opinions are irrelevant when we are selecting materials for library collections. Our responsibility is to represent the broad range of ideas and beliefs of our communities and ensure that every library user can find information that supports his or her interests and beliefs, whether or not we personally agree with them.

Every librarian that believes in intellectual freedom imagines defending a challenge to a book like Huckleberry Finn, The Grapes of Wrath, or Catcher in the Rye – great books that perennially make the lists of the most challenged books in the United States. No such luck in real life! After I became the Director of the Downers Grove Public Library, the first book that a patron asked that I remove from the collection was a book that supported a political view that I personally opposed, and that promoted a course of action that I believed was morally wrong. I complained to Ms. Krug about having to defend this book. “Congratulations!” she said. “Now you understand what it means to be a librarian.”

Perhaps the most important lesson that we learned from Ms. Krug is to ask a concerned patron, “Does the library also have information that supports your point of view?” If the answer is “no”, we need to identify material that does support that patron’s beliefs and make it available in the collection. If we are doing our job, every patron will find something in the collection that he or she objects to. And every patron will find something in the collection that supports his or her beliefs and interests.