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Intellectual FReadom and Combating Censorship

Efforts to remove or challenge books from public libraries and public school libraries and curriculums have a long history in the U.S. but the trends today are troubling. Book challenges generally used to be brought by parents genuinely concerned about something they’d read or that their child had struggled with, but increasingly, motivated national political groups like Moms for Liberty and No Left Turn in Education are putting out lists of books that they think should be banned everywhere, and parents (sometimes without even reading the books in question!) are taking them to their local school boards to request their removal. Librarian of the College Diane Skorina offered her take on the recent challenges in the Methacton School District and in a local news article. State legislation regarding what can and cannot be taught in Florida and Tennessee are bold steps towards what she and Instructional Technology Librarian Matt Good consider dangerous state-sanctioned censorship. Matt has his own story as a former middle-school librarian faced with an administration that increasingly began to mistrust his experience and expertise. As librarians at Ursinus, we seek to protect intellectual freedom which the American Library Association defines as “the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction.” Students in Diane’s “Don’t Teach This: Censorship and the Curriculum” class considered these issues in the Fall of 2022.

Of the four questions posed as part of the Quest Core Curriculum at Ursinus, two stand out as excellent starting points for considering issues of intellectual freedom and censorship: How should we live together and How can we understand the world? For students to answer these questions in an informed manner, they must be able to explore the successes and failures of humanity, the good and bad ideas that have shaped the world, to gain an always incomplete but perhaps more holistic understanding of humankind and its foibles. Censoring thoughts or ideas that some groups may find objectionable prevents individuals from gaining a better understanding of the world in which they live – their own local communities, the wider American culture, and the world beyond America – so they can fully consider how people should live together; if prevented from confronting the breadth of human ideas – even distasteful ones – their understanding of the world, and their ability to make decisions in their lives, become limited.

The collection development policy at Myrin Library refers to four documents to uphold the principles of intellectual freedom:

Intellectual Freedom Principles for Academic Libraries

Library Bill of Rights

Freedom to Read Statement

Freedom to View Statement

We encourage all of you to read these documents, stay aware of what’s going on in your own local communities, and come talk to us if you want to consider these issues with the librarians here in Myrin.

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