Monday, July 13, 2009

Freedom to Read

There is hope for the universe. We have librarians to thank.

Last night I attended a bang-up party given in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Freedom to Read Foundation. And my sense of optimism was soundly reawakened, as I sat and listened to speeches from Judy Blume, Scott Turow, the Treasurer of the Freedom to Read Foundation (he closed the night with a smart speech peppered with several great jokes, including one about Albert Einstein misplacing his ticket on a train - the young conductor repeatedly assured him that it was fine, Dr. Einstein, you don't need your ticket, until Einstein, looking up from his search for the ticket beneath his seat, declared "Young man, it is no longer a question of the ticket. It is a question of where I am going."), along with many well-deserved tributes to Judith A.Krug, the fearless force behind the foundation, who was honored posthumously for her incredible body of work.

Among my favorite moments: Judy Blume's story about the young man who was given one of her books as a Bar Mitzvah present, and his mom cut out the pages that she deemed inappropriate, despite his turning 13 years old. Several years later, Blume asked the young man about the book. Oh, he said, I read the whole thing -- I just went to the library and took out their copy. Yeah Number One for libraries preserving our access to materials.

And Scott Turow describing a summer spent delivering mail in Glencoe. Once he'd learned his route well enough to speed through it and also learned that he was persona non grata at the post office until his 8-hour shift had ended (otherwise making it look bad for the rest), he spent every afternoon at the library reading Joyce's Ulysses. More than this, I appreciated Turow's reminder that while anti-censorship tends to be the concern more of the liberal political left, that preserving the ideas and rights of the conservative right is as important as protecting those of the liberal left, because without equal protection, there is no real freedom of thought. And his comment that being able to read and write, to express one's thoughts in a clear fashion, is fundamental to our workings as a world.

On the way into the benefit, which was held at the new Modern wing of the Art Institute, I listened to a piece on Fresh Air about the Internet, the decline of print mediums, and the average - read, short - attention span of the college-age reader. At first I was sad, when, for example, the author being interviewed noted that a 30-second ad on the Internet might be too long for most users. And then he talked about the approaching end of the newspaper as I know it - something tactile, able to be spread out on the table as I eat breakfast on Sundays, foldable, transportable - and I thought, what are we coming to when the newspaper will be extinct? But then he said something that, again, gave me hope: that the book, as a technology, works very well, and that he doesn't see the book going away. People like its size, its form, its paper-ness. And the Kindle and the computer and the audio book can't match it for ease of use and appeal.

So, let's all thank librarians. They protect our right to think. They stand watch over our right to materials. They advocate for our access to diverse points of view, both popular and unpopular. And they provide a haven for the universe of the book, which offers a home to all at the best and the worst of times.

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