Libraries Defend the Truth and Preserve History for Young People
One of the aspects of libraries that I love most is that they truly exist for the advancement of their communities. Whether a library serves a school, a university, a small town, or a larger city, it acts as an entity that shares resources and information that is correct. At times, this means that libraries share facts and materials which are not necessarily politically correct; librarians must be concerned with providing truth, as opposed to advancing their personal opinions.
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Sometimes, the fact-sharing, unbiased neutrality that we aim for can be a bit of a challenge because accomplishing it requires us to “step outside of ourselves.” However, I believe that as a librarian, I fill an important role in my service to communities because I’m willing to take the lead and promote access to resources regardless of whether or not materials will be appreciated by everyone. It’s important that we stand by librarians and libraries as defenders of truth because they make it possible for that very truth to exist. And, after all, not everyone agrees with the personal opinions of others. The sharing of perspectives and materials with which one may not personally agree suddenly becomes much more palatable when we realize that our own beliefs are being upheld as well as the beliefs we aren’t so fond of.
I believe that the need to defend the truth and preserve history is probably most notable when considered through the lens of our duty to young people. While librarians are certainly not in the business of promoting pornography, for example, we realize that there are times when young readers and researchers need to understand sex from a biological perspective or should learn to consider sexuality or gender norms within the historical or social context. A great example of librarians coming together to promote the use of a great resource, which contained some sexual content one parent disagreed with, can be found here: Fighting a Challenge to the Collection With a Coalition of Advocates.
While I understand that some parents may have strict policies against certain types of content, I try to stress to these parents that not all parents have the same opinions and that ultimately, they decide upon the rules for the materials their children and teens consume. Furthermore, when selecting materials for young people, librarians try their best to weigh benefits against risks. For example, I might select a book by a popular author of young adult material even though the book contains mildly explicit content because the book has great literary and cultural value and because the novel also shows the consequences of engaging in unsafe sex or illicit drug use.
While not all parents would agree with my choice, I’m focused on the majority of parents and teens who would benefit from having access to such material. It can be in our best interest to allow children to explore popular topics and situations which they are bound to face, and providing an opportunity to learn about consequences via reading is often preferable to leaving young people to find themselves facing consequences and learning “the hard way:” through personal experience.
Diversity is another topic which I believe is important for young people to have the ability to explore through the library. While it’s highly unlikely that your librarian would select Mein Kampf, for example, as a shelf staple because it is a personal favorite, there are reasons she makes the volume available. Not only does Hitler’s work provide historical context for individuals studying the Holocaust, it helps us to understand the psychology of an individual who became so focused upon hatred that his grievous misdeeds changed the world.
So, while I would neither pull a racist book with great historical significance from the shelf, nor advance its propaganda, I believe it has a place in our libraries. In the case of this type of literature, I would also encourage parents to have open discussions with their children about racism and its consequences before and after reading the material. Books alone cannot raise a knowledgeable, open-minded, and culturally accepting individual. The job also falls upon parents, as well as teachers and librarians, and we lead the way through our actions. Instead of fearing history and its many truths and perspectives, we must show our children to face the truth and to use the knowledge they gain to build a better and more tolerant world.
As well as historically significant works that can be used to promote cultural differences and advance us a society, contemporary materials which promote diversity have an important place in the library as well. These materials, too, can become topics of debate, often by those who would diminish the importance of creating a diversity-rich environment at the library. Check out Right-Wingers Are Taking Over Library Boards to Remove Books on Racism for more news on this topic.
While most individuals would probably agree with the practice of providing foreign language books to serve people from a variety of cultures, there are those who oppose the practice. As a professional librarian, I know that your background, including your language, should never stop me from providing you with resources and services that you are confident you can comprehend. As an American, I want all members of my community to have access to information, to have opportunities to learn and advance and to share ideas with one another.
When we limit the ability of a group to achieve, grow, and contribute, we do ourselves a great disservice. School libraries are more than just books and databases and public libraries are more than places where we circulate materials and attend programs. Libraries are, in a sense, us. Public and school libraries consist not only of the buildings at which we learn and the materials we learn from; they are also made up of the individuals who use and share resources, bringing their own experiences and wisdom to the table.
The more we welcome diversity and reward truth, the more we, as well as our children, can glean from the library. I encourage you to see and use your library as a hub of the community, as well as to act as a guiding figure for young people, who need accepting role models with open hearts and open minds. Support your library and librarians by patronizing the library and help your child grow into a strong adult by providing the guidance that she needs. Librarians form an important part of your child’s life by providing materials and services and we count on you to decide what is right for your child and to allow us to serve you.
Neither librarians nor parent-guardians can fulfill their roles easily without supporting the other. It’s a beautiful relationship. Help us promote truth and preserve history by making library visits and clear communication a part of your home. Let’s work together to help the next generation learn from the mistakes and successes of our own.
If you’re interested in learning more about how libraries preserve history, check out one of these articles:
- New toolkit from University Libraries helps communities tell their stories
- Public history and public libraries: A natural affinity
For more information and stories about how libraries defend the truth and promote diversity, navigate to one of these links:
- To Tell the Truth: Public Libraries in the Fight Against Misinformation, Disinformation
- Most Americans — especially Millennials — say libraries can help them find reliable, trustworthy information
- Breaking News Will Not Break Us: Mental Health and Libraries During COVID-19
- Meet the Southern librarians fighting for racial justice and truth-telling
- Gateways to Cultural Diversity: Libraries as multicultural hubs