We, the Librarians of the United States
Librarians don’t rock the boat — they steady it.
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Summer is a busy time for Americans — especially those interested in our country’s history. And if you haven’t developed that interest yet, visit your public library. You can find all the historical information you need to learn more about our nation’s founding!
Even better, many libraries provide exhibits and special events to help patrons learn more about historic moments in our collective past and the documents that remind us of our founders’ courageous efforts and the rights and freedoms we enjoy because of them.
This piece focuses on two enduring documents penned when our nation was born: the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
Libraries Celebrate American Independence
Do you know that although the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, delegates didn’t start signing until August 2, almost a month later? Much of the interval between consisted of numerous drafts and revisions and a second engrossment of the final version.
Several of the founders wished to make it a religious holiday. As future president John F. Kennedy stated in 1946:
“The informing spirit of the American character has always been a deep religious sense. Throughout the years, down to the present, a devotion to fundamental religious principles has characterized American thought and action.”
Independence Day is now associated primarily with fireworks, parades, barbecues, fairs, picnics, concerts, baseball games, family reunions, speeches, and ceremonies (including some with religious significance).
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Modern Libraries Recognize Independence Day
Modern libraries compile lists of books on the holiday — especially fiction and non-fiction books to help kids and adults relate to the revolutionary events of the late 18th century. For example, the New York Public Library’s list covers topics such as:
- The African American Experience
- American Founding Era Papers
- American Memory
- America’s Historical Imprints
- Biography in Context
- U.S. History in Context
- Plus, documents held throughout several digital collections
For kids’ books, they recommend Independence Day by Rachel Koestler-Grack. For adults, we recommend 1776 by David McCullough, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis, and Frederick Douglass and the Fourth of July by James A. Colaiaco.
Buffalo, New York’s Central Library, the Lasalle, Illinois Public Library, and likely others will take a different direction with crafting celebrations on July 3. LaSalle announces that kids and adults should “Join us for a special ‘Crazy Drop-In Craft Day,’ of 4th of July themed activities … all you need to bring is your creativity! For all ages.” Buffalo says, “Join us outside on the Reading Park Ramp to make patriotic crafts and celebrate Independence Day!”
Of course, Independence Day itself is a federal holiday, so public libraries are unstaffed. You’ll need to take in all you can before the picnics and fireworks begin!
Libraries Uphold the U.S. Constitution
The U.S. Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787, and ratified the following June 21, when New Hampshire became the ninth of 13 states needed to “seal the deal.” After ratification, Congress set dates for the first federal elections and the Constitution’s official implementation.
The Constitution’s groundbreaking First Amendment was implemented as part of the Bill of Rights to guarantee “freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely” and publish, read, and view what they wish.
In recent years, several public libraries and library organizations have adopted their version of the First Amendment to reflect their position more precisely. This is especially true when challenged by divisive “hot-button” issues, like censorship.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) states that “Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are ‘offensive,’ happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship often comes from both the government and private groups.
In one very prominent example, having made it through Congress, the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) went into effect on April 20, 2021. CIPA mandates blocking technology for public libraries seeking Universal Service discounts (E-rate) for internet access, service, or internal connections. It also applies to those pursuing Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds to buy computers and pay for Internet access.
United States v. American Library Association
In 2001, the American Library Association (ALA) challenged CIPA in a Pennsylvania circuit court. The following year, a special federal panel ruled the law violated the First Amendment.
Nonetheless, on June 23, 2003, in United States v. American Library Association, the Supreme Court reversed the panel’s decision in a 6–3 ruling that the law must be reinstated. Instead, the Court said that libraries had to forgo federal funds if they wanted to offer unfiltered computer access.
Coalitions have recently reignited book-banning controversies, fanning the flames more than at any other time in the recent past. One group, No Left Turn in Education, has surged, now featuring more than 60 “inappropriate” books on its website, including those with “radical and racist ideologies.” Nearly every book listed features Black or LGBTQ characters.
Librarians Don’t Rock the Boat — They Steady It.
Public librarians have understood these values since their role is steeped in the constitutional mandates that have formed our national ethos — no matter how many individuals and groups want to tear it apart. Public librarians are patriotic institutions, busy helping patrons, planning community events, and assisting those in need.