Intellectual Freedom

I recently received an invitation from Niche Academy offering a free webinar to interested library employees: Practicing Intellectual Freedom in the Library, where the foundations for understanding and practicing intellectual freedom as a librarian were laid out. The webinar was presented by assistant professor in the School of Information Science at the University of Kentucky, repeat presenter at many academic conferences, and multiple publishee (is that a word?) in professional journals like Library Quarterly: the illustrious Shannon Oltman.

For the more experienced scholars and librarians, I’m sure the webinar offered fresh research/analysis of the subject. For myself and other “underlings” interested in climbing the proverbial rungs of the librarian world ladder, it presented a solid introduction to intellectual freedom. For those that missed out on the fun, allow me to summarize …

Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction.

American Library Association (ALA)

Intellectual freedom is essential to our fundamental right of freedom of speech and how that freedom plays out in the communities we serve as librarians.

If you forgot your US Constitutional Amendments, the First Amendment spells out our right to freedom of speech, FYI.

Thus, intellectual freedom and freedom of speech go hand in hand since freedom of speech is absolutely meaningless without the right to access information. Accessing and receiving information is vital in forming and expressing your own opinion. Expressing your opinion => FREEDOM OF SPEECH.

One thing to remember is that the right of intellectual freedom is for ALL. This fact is illustrated by many relevant court cases over the past 75 years:

As all these cases are fascinating and should be researched further. I invite you to dig a little deeper into the foundations of our right to intellectual freedom and how it relates to freedom of speech.

One of the cases in particular struck major interest in me: 1982’s Board of Education v. Pico, where the school board attempted to remove several books that they claimed were “anti-American” and “just plain filthy” from the district’s junior high schools and high schools. A sample of these “inappropriate” books include The Fixer by Bernard Malamud (U.S. National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize) and Laughing Boy by Oliver LaFarge (Pulitzer Prize). A group of five high school students led by Steven Pico filed a lawsuit against the school board claiming a violation of First Amendment rights. The students ultimately won. The Supreme Court decided that school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books.

The ALA created a formal Bill of Rights to govern all libraries, which serves as a guide in determining and implementing services offered to library patrons and emphasizes the concept of intellectual freedom. Although these basic principles should chaperon the service of all libraries, questions do arise regarding the use of these principles in the specific practices of the different types of libraries.

Every library serves a community – a group of people. This community as well as issues involving the interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights and how it pertains to intellectual freedom varies among the different types of libraries: public libraries, school libraries, academic libraries, and special libraries. For instance, public libraries generally serve a town or county and may come across issues involving minors in the library and how it affects intellectual freedom. On the other hand, academic libraries (like mine) serve faculty, staff, students, and sometimes alumni/local public and may sometimes come across an issue with collection development and how it touches intellectual freedom.

Sidebar, it is extremely important to have a collection development policy in place for your library, regardless of the type of library in which you work. Not only does this policy provide guidance for the creation of a library collection, it also honors the right of intellectual freedom. This includes “controversial” items. Ensure that an item is not rejected immediately because it may be controversial to some of you patrons by setting out to create a diverse and appealing library collection with multiple perspectives. It’s perfectly acceptable to not like something in your collection, but your personal feelings on the material cannot be the basis for exclusion. I’m not going to include the collection development policy for the Troy University libraries because it is quite lengthy, but is accessible at www.troy.edu/libraries if you feel so inclined.

This, of course, was just a brief overview of the concept of intellectual freedom. Shannon Oltmann has a book coming out this year, though, that will delve into all the deets involving intellectual freedom. Please keep an eye out for it!

You’re probably wondering what this topic has to even do with my current role in my library. After all, I am only a library assistant. Collection development is not in my wheelhouse. The materials that I order for our acquisitions have already been determined according to our collection development policy. AAh, but I do manage our lease book account. The Dothan campus of Troy University (where I work) takes part in a lease book program with one of our vendors: we can select 10 new popular books to keep in a specific section of our collection for about 2 years before they must be returned. I collect faculty and staff requests, and when there is extra room in the 10-book monthly limit, I add the popular books that I believe students will potentially want to read. Sometimes, a popular fiction book by Stephen King or George R. R. Martin makes the cut. Sometimes, it is a popular political book.

As librarians, we are selectors, not censors. We look for reasons to provide access, not curtail or limit access.

Shannon Oltman

Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. All viewpoints. Even if I don’t follow one. I can’t exclude it just because I don’t like it as long as it follows our collection development policy and the Library Bill of Rights. When asked during the Q&A section of the webinar about how to best reconcile with yourself the possibility that certain materials – that may be thought of as “controversial” or something that you personally don’t agree with – may incite bad behavior, Shannon responded by saying that silencing these “negative” voices may not prove to be a fair solution. Instead, it is important to challenge this by still providing these voices but adding more of the positive voices. Great thought-provoking words. I’ll admit, sometimes I need this reminder when selecting (in particular) political books for our patrons for our lease book program. Below is a sample of what I mean.

This is a current selection of some political books that I have ordered for the popular books section of our library. As you can see, I try to keep all opinions visible and represented to keep the objective of presenting all viewpoints of a debate alive. This is not the easiest thing in the world – Shannon‘s message in this intellectual freedom webinar IS and WAS a needed and essential reminder of our roles as librarians in the world.

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Briefly …

Wow, I really did not expect for so many people to be interested in my first post or to even like it so much. Thank you guys so much for the overwhelmingly-positive response to it. Flabbergasted isn’t the right word, but just go with me. I figured I should post a little bio on myself for those interested before the next real blog post. It feels a bit weird to lay it all out there, but here ya go. Enjoy.

For starters – and probably the most glaringly-obvious – I am wheelchair-bound due to a little something called Friedreich’s Ataxia, a progressive, neurological disorder that affects the muscles in the body. It especially affects your ambulatory limbs (legs and arms), motor skills, and speech. The severity of the muscle loss, which muscles are affected the most, and potential side effects that may present themselves (diabetes, scoliosis, heart disease, liver problems, blindness, and much more) vary among those suffering from this disorder. Friedreich’s Ataxia is super-rare with no cure or treatment at the moment, only treatment for certain side effects if they present themselves in you. Sidebar, Friedreich’s Ataxia is commonly referred to as FA, which I am going to use for the remainder of this article because I don’t want to keep taking the time to spell it out correctly …

Now, the above brief description of FA is for the laypeople like me – just a rundown. If you are curious about the specific, medical, gobble-ty-gook of it all, visit curefa.org. For me, I have experienced mainly muscle degeneration in my legs and arms, motor skills, and speech patterns, with no real side effects. I got lucky on that front – watch me jinx myself now. FA is unfortunately progressive and genealogical. I was born with the disorder, but it didn’t present itself until I was about eight or nine. At that time, I was mostly having trouble with my coordination: my walking and running were becoming clumsy, I was tripping over my feet a lot … that kind of thing. It took until I was 12 years old for enough progression to occur in me to warrant a blood test to prove FA.

Upon graduating from high school, I attended Troy University’s Dothan campus, where I earned my BS in Finance in 2009, followed by MBA in 2011, which were both obtained with honors. My employment with the library world began at Troy University. I am currently a library assistant (for Technical Services) but began as a part-time Circulation library aid. When I was an undergraduate student, the director of the library was teaching a history course that I ended up taking. This director hosted several library events that were open to the students during my undergraduate and graduate studies. I really enjoyed all the events and would try to go to them as much as I could. Also, I was in the library all the time to study during my undergraduate and graduate studies (overachiever? I don’t know the meaning of the word 😉). Throughout all this, I developed a familiarity with some of the library staff members and said library director.

In 2010, whenever I was in my second year of graduate school, the library director offered me a part-time Circulation library aid position. Upon finishing graduate school, I decided to stay on with the library. After a few years, a full-time position opened, and I got promoted to it in 2013. To begin with, this position was library assistant for Technical Services. In essence, I served as assistant under the library’s Technical Services librarian and would focus on managing the acquisitions and processing functions that fell under her. This included purchasing books and other materials requested, paying their invoices, copy-cataloging them, and preparing them when they arrived for the end-user (barcodes, stamps, due date slips, etc.). At that time, our library staff was comprised of almost double the amount of staff members that we have today. I was the only one that did my job, but there were others that handled the foot traffic and assistance of the students.

This library assistant for Technical Services position has since evolved and covers so many tasks to compensate for our reduction in staff members. I am still assistant to the Technical Services librarian and manage the acquisitions and processing functions for her (described above), but now, I also split my time in between doing that job for her, assisting and directing Reference users, creating informative and engaging displays to drum in foot traffic, managing one of our lease book accounts, and assisting the current library director with various projects on occasion. A hat of many sizes for sure.

I have come to discover that my intended career path lies within the library world. I absolutely love my job. Being able to interact with our student body brings immense satisfaction to my life. Don’t get me wrong, serving those that use the library can be a challenge at times. Okay, jeez, stop twisting my arm … it can be extremely challenging every day. You must deal with people at their best and at their very worst. However, the payout that you get when you successfully help out – say – a student who is stressed out in the face of some massive final and in need of a timely solution to solve whatever problem they are facing … oh dude, that’s just the bee’s knees.

On a personal note, I am a huge pop culture nerd. Those within the pop culture nerd-dom would refer to me as a fangirl. Chances are, if there is a TV show, movie franchise, popular musical, new best-selling book, or something of the like that you want to know more about or discuss, give me a call. I find extreme ease and delight in being able to connect with the students and even coworkers in this way. In all seriousness though, I believe this does grant me some level of connection with what is going on in the world and with the people that we serve within the library. Listen up folks, apparently, being a nerd proves advantageous. Snowballing off that, I am also crazy about those furry friends that we call dogs. I have 2 small dogs that are spoiled rotten … and I mean rotten.  Annnnnd just to round this whole thing out, I have been very happily married since 2012. Welp, that’s me in a nutshell.

Little Wheels in a Big World

Fresh from my return trip to my first big library conference, the ACRL 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio, and still reeling from the experience. Lots of firsts came from attending this conference. Not only was this the first library conference in my wheelhouse, this was my first trip to the Midwest and my first trip on an airplane. There were over 3,000 attendees at the conference – I was a small fish in a big pond, to say the least! I had no idea, really, how gigantic the library world was … no concept of the scale of it all.

The feeling of being overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude made me almost wish I could back out. Part of it stemmed from the fact that I am just a library assistant with no library degree right now, not a bona-fide librarian with a degree and all. I didn’t think I was deserving to even be there or that no one would be as small of a cog in the library machine as I am. Wrong! A whopping amount of attendees I met had similar roles as me in their own libraries.  Granted, a good bit of the attendees did have more leadership roles in their libraries – ie. directors and higher-level managers – but I was not alone. In fact, among the 170 scholarships the ACRL awarded to help finance attendance, they gave out support staff scholarships to 19 lower-level library workers (myself included). The total number of scholarship winners only made up less than 10% of all the attendees.

Initially, I was concerned with being one of the only librarians with a disability at the conference and missing out on some important connection or information as a result – small-town complex, ugh. Wrong, again! I met 20 or so other librarians with disabilities of varying roles in their libraries from around the country and made substantial connections with them. I even had the chance of spending time outside of the conference with one of these librarians and our respective spouses.

I was also extremely nerve-wrecked going into it the logistics and transportation issues that constantly arise from traveling as a wheelchair-user. My husband joined me for the conference to act as my aid, which made me feel a bit less worried, but it didn’t eradicate my worry, of course. The disability specialist with ACRL, Tory, was wonderful and helped de-stress what could have be some very stressful moments concerning transportation and logistics, even taking time to squelch my fears concerning the smoothness of the transportation process for certain events. She reached out to me and offered to set certain aids up for me to make my attendance more comfortable and welcoming.

The content of the panel and events were much more engaging and compelling than anticipated. I mean, the first panel I went to addressed the need for fighting for social justice with your work in the library, the ins and outs of it all, and how to handle push-back from upper management if it arises. How awesome is that topic? Never would I have thought this subject would be discussed at a library conference. Boy, was I sorely mistaken.

Through it all, I went to a couple of panel sessions, 2 roundtable events, 2 of the 3 keynote speeches, a reception at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a breakfast event for scholarship recipients. I wanted to go to so much more, but even though my husband was with me the majority of time to push me from location to location, the time it took to travel through 2 or 3 levels of elevators combined with restroom breaks – my sincerest thanks to the ACRL for providing family restrooms! — proved too great to attend everything I wanted. There was so little time in between panel sessions to accommodate travel time for me. And not just me. I heard this time complaint from many attendees without disabilities too. This would be my one main criticism.

Now, I did encounter tremendous difficulty throughout the flying process, but that has not an ounce of anything to do with the conference – more of an issue with the airline (Delta) and their management of passengers with disabilities. That’s a story for another time. Just a warning to those wheelchair-users who plan to fly, be prepared for a bumpy road, literally and figuratively.

In the end, I feel like attending the conference has put me on the path where I belong: enrolling in a masters of library and information science program, which I intend to begin next year (2020). I was really on the fence about taking the dive into the world of time, money, and brainpower that is grad school, but seeing what possibilities can be grasped with such a degree has really sealed the deal. Valdosta State University, here I come!


The Journey Begins…


Thanks for joining me!

This is a blog detailing the journey of a librarian working in a university library with a physical disability: you know, the ups and downs. 

Despite the fact that studies surrounding the issue of diversity within librarianship as a profession are on the rise, only a few have of these studies ave looked a those librarians with disabilities. Librarians with disabilities constitute  such a substantial minority of librarians – 3.7% in the US! ¹

I am determined to put my voice out there for all the other underrepresented librarians and shed light on this part of my life. We are not alone.


¹Oud, J. (2019). Systemic Workplace Barriers for Academic Librarians with Disabilities. [online]      Crl.acrl.org. Available at: https://crl.acrl.org/index.php/crl/article/viewFile/16948/18654              [Accessed 23 Apr. 2019].