Director’s Blog October 2023

The King County Library System is excited to launch a campaign this month called Celebrate the Freedom to Read.

While the campaign ties in with a nationwide Banned Books Week, October 1-7, KCLS is focusing not on particular books or challenges but on the public library’s critical role of building communities and offering deep and broad access to ideas and information. Our message is a positive one, focused on choice: All patrons have the right to read, view and/or listen to items of their own choosing, within the law, and to get engaged and connected with their local library.

This access and freedom—which does not exist in many parts of the world—is indeed something to celebrate! The Library System’s extensive collection offers something for everyone, with an emphasis on the word “offer.” KCLS makes available a huge range of educational and entertainment resources. Patrons can choose, or not choose, to take advantage of these offerings.

Why are we launching this campaign? I’ve been a librarian for 35 years, working in various parts of the country, and I know that book challenges are nothing new. But there has recently been a surge in censorship efforts, both nationally and in some areas of our state.

According to the American Library Association (ALA), there has been a 20% increase in documented challenges to individual books. Between January 1 and August 31 of this year, there have been 695 attempts to censor library materials and services, and 1,915 documented challenges. Last year during the same period, there were 1,269 challenges.

The challenges reflect well-organized opposition to some books, particularly those dealing with LGBTQIA+ themes and race. While most of the opposition is from parents concerned about school libraries, public libraries have seen challenges as well. Efforts to close the Dayton Library in Columbia County, Washington were recently ruled as unconstitutional, but had opponents won, it would have been the first public library in the U.S. to close due to challenges over materials.

Earlier this year, our Board of Trustees approved a Material Evaluation Policy, which affirms a core KCLS value of intellectual freedom, and the Library System’s commitment to facilitate and safeguard equitable access, privacy, and an extensive range of constitutionally protected opinions, perspectives and viewpoints.

The policy also confirms parents’ rights to determine what is appropriate for their children to read, view and hear, and establishes a process by which to voice concerns. The policy states: “While we support the inclusion of a wide selection of materials to meet the diverse and varied interests of our communities, we recognize the individual’s right to express concerns about materials in our System.”

The Celebrate the Freedom to Read campaign is not about defending certain materials, but about reminding people of their First Amendment Rights under the U.S. Constitution, and KCLS’ role in upholding those rights. The campaign honors intellectual freedom as giving people the right to think for themselves; to seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction.

We are encouraged by an ALA poll last year showing that 71% of Americans oppose efforts to remove books from school and public libraries.

Please join us as we celebrate the freedom to read, and get involved with your local library. Feel free to discuss intellectual freedom with our staff, and volunteer as a Friend or tutor with Study Zone or other programs.

Be sure to check out our Celebrate the Freedom to Read website for staff-curated booklists, author talks, and other activities and campaign events.

Above all, head to your local library and celebrate your freedom to read—this and every month!