A People are Free When They Can Read Freely
There is a recurring argument surrounding reading that gets brought up every few news cycles. It is the debate over whether or not people should be allowed to read whatever they want to. Libraries have always defended and supported access to information whether through physical materials, audiobooks, movies, or other forms of media. Reading is not only a personal journey, it is also one of the most effective ways to explore the world and discover new ideas.
Adults and Reading
When it comes to restricting reading, most think of children especially with banned books lists or even Banned Books Week which was created to celebrate the freedom to read that highlights schools and education. However, adults face the same problems in their literary pursuits just on a more subtle scale. This usually looks more like shaming someone for being interested in a particular genre, subject, or even author.
Back in the early 2000s when vampire novels were all the rage or even years later when books like Fifty Shades of Grey were being read by the masses, there was extensive criticism that accompanied the popularity of these books. While it may feel like adults are free to read whatever they want, the constant remarks can really limit the freedom people feel to indulge in their literary interests. Sadly, this can be common for readers. Adults that still read from the young adult section are called immature and have their tastes judged. Those who focus on technical materials may be deemed boring by their peers. Someone who only reads mystery or fantasy novels may be told to get their head out of the clouds and into something that is practical. On the other hand, people who love memoirs and history may find that they are downers for only being interested in such serious or depressing topics. The criticisms are endless.
However, what is important to remember is that anytime someone reads a book, they read it differently from the person next to them and even from the person they were when they read the book the last time. People are always surrounded by different contexts when they pick up a book. If they relate to the setting in one reading, they may ground themselves in the character’s backstory in the next.
We Should All Choose Our Reading
There are a number of reasons why libraries support access and are non-judgemental of the types of materials that members of the community are checking out. The American Library Association makes these points especially clear in their Freedom to Read Statement. People are only free when they can read freely. This rests on the principles of democracy and speaks to the dangers of suppressive conformity.
Reading is one of the essential ways that a community can nurture a creative environment and a free society. It is through reading that people are exposed to diverse viewpoints and feel recognized for their varying expressions and experiences. Libraries function as a guardian of freedom and they all do an incredible job with supplying knowledge and resources to the public while refraining from muddying up the institution and freedom with their personal political, moral, or aesthetic views.
If you need more reasons to understand why reading should be up to personal choice, consider the following:
Reading is a personal experience. People read for pleasure or for knowledge. When it comes to these, only the reader knows what speaks to them.
Reading helps define individuals. Readers are exposed to different worldviews and gain understandings that change who they are. The how of this process should be up to the reader.
If everyone read the same, then everyone would be the same. The diverse world of books allows people to grow into their own in ways that are completely different from others around them.
Children and Reading
The other side of this debate touches on children and the books that should or should not be shared with them throughout their education and as they visit public libraries, bookstores, and other places where books can be found. This topic can be more challenging to discuss but many who have taken a stance on it have centered their opinions allowing kids to make their own choices.
This opinion stems from a couple of perspectives. For one, people believe that in order to create a world of readers who actually enjoy reading, there must be an environment in place that honors reading and the readers which means allowing them to make their own choices. In addition, many argue for creating an environment where a child feels comfortable to come to an adult with any questions they have regarding the material they come across. Books can make kids very thoughtful and smart. When they come across books about topics like poverty, racism, identity, or any other complex, they need to have someone to turn to. Establishing mutual trust between kids and their parents or caretakers makes reading a safer way to learn and explore. Plus, many people argue that when books are restricted, kids can easily turn to the internet which may offer inaccurate and more harmful information.
Chilling Environments for Library Staff
In relation to this side of the debate, many libraries, librarians, and library staff are scared and suffering. This comes from parent and community pressure that has seen educators pull books on LGBTQIA+, race, or sex education. Parents that have determined these books to be inappropriate have intimidated librarians and teachers in a variety of ways.
In Campbell County, Wyoming, librarians are facing legal action from a few parents who have complained about 18 books that are available at the library. The parents have involved the police and filed charges against librarians by claiming the books violate child sex laws. They have also made claims that the library shelves books on witchcraft, satanic rituals, and other topics they are not happy within the children’s section.
Librarians have difficulty doing their job in these situations. There is added pressure, stress, and also fear when those in the community take actions like this against librarians for simply fulfilling the responsibilities of their roles. According to the ALA Freedom to Read Statement, they work “to make available the widest diversity of views and expressions, including those that are unorthodox, unpopular, or considered dangerous by majority.” They do so without needing to endorse every idea that they work to make available.
While there is a lot that forms the basis of this disagreement from differing backgrounds, beliefs, and experiences, it comes down to a limitation of freedom. Reading is an experience unlike any other and what people read can end up being deeply important. People are truly only free when they can freely engage in reading.