Since 1876, the American Library Association has been the professional organization for North American librarians, and provides standards of practice for the profession. To that end, the ALA released the Library Bill of Rights in 1939, and the Freedom to Read Statement in 1953. The ALA has revised these two documents many times since then, and they continue to serve as guides for ethical practices in libraries.
At the Ketchikan Public Library, it is easy for us to focus so much on the books, programs and services we provide, that we forget the principles underlying what we do and why. Developing the Library's current 2023-27 Strategic Plan — and responding to recent Library controversies — has led us to reflect on the foundations of our work.
Some have said that the Library should be a haven, a safe place — and they believe it is no longer safe. I disagree. The Strategic Plan outlines the Library's sustaining values, starting with, "[W]e provide opportunities to explore world traditions, cultures, beliefs and means of artistic expression." The Library is a place to safely explore new ideas, new scientific discoveries, new points of view, and new modes of personal and artistic expression, even if these are controversial or unpopular — actually, especially if they are so. By acquiring books and other materials with a wide range of viewpoints and perspectives, librarians provide a collection where people of any age can learn and grow.
In today's world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find reliable books and other resources on a variety of perspectives. News and entertainment outlets too often promote one point of view at the expense of others, and broadcast stories that validate and strengthen that point of view.
The Library is one of the few places where people can find resources that express a variety of opinions, including those that are unpopular and controversial. To perform this vital function, the Library must not sanitize its collections, programming or services to protect people from unwelcome opinions, modes of personal expression, or different points of view.
After all, the objectionable idea of today is often the received wisdom of tomorrow. The group that is vilified today may be the respected and valued citizens of tomorrow. To quote another of the Library's sustaining values, "[W]e make everyone feel welcome, heard and acknowledged." The Library's mission is to serve and represent the community — all of the community, and every group in it.
The Ketchikan Public Library's 2023-27 Strategic Plan is available at the Library or on the Library website: https://www.ketchikanpubliclibrary.org/strategic-plan-2018-2022
For more information on the American Library Association's Library Bill of Rights and Freedom to Read Statements, go to: https://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom
Pat Tully is the director of the Ketchikan Public Library.