Free people read freely: the Freedom to Read, the First Amendment, and libraries as a cornerstone of democracy


If you have never read the American Library Association’s Freedom to Read statement, it is worth your time to read this powerful document. Published in 1953, eight years after the end of World War II, the statement feels timeless, as if it were written today, taken directly from recent headlines about banning books and defunding libraries.

The Freedom to Read statement serves as a foundational document for library work. Public libraries provide access to content for all without prejudicial judgement or labeling. As libraries uphold confidentiality and access to materials, we are upholding your rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution. Timberland Regional Library’s Board of Trustees initially adopted the Freedom to Read Statement in 1972 and its most current version in 2015.

The opening line of the statement sets a clear point: “The freedom to read is essential to our democracy.” The next line underscores that achieving democracy is not easy: “It is continuously under attack.” When a government allows freedom of expression, people may determine their own interests and form their own understanding without government control. The ability to freely choose what to read is unique to democratic societies. It is key to an educated public. It is key to freedom and to reaching the highest ideals set forth under the Constitution, specifically the First Amendment. There is a reason why this is the very first amendment to our country’s Constitution. It is that important.

Recently, Timberland Regional Library received a request to adopt a policy for labeling all books in the collection. This request calls for someone to rate books using the same rating system as films. Libraries already place materials in age-appropriate categories inside the library and in online catalogs. Under the guise of protecting children, book rating systems are a tool for censorship. They suggest that broad access to a variety of viewpoints and topics should be restricted based on the subjective opinions of appropriateness.

What we know about the coordinated groups proposing labeling systems or outright bans is they are purposefully stigmatizing works that address the lives and experiences of people outside of areas considered “appropriate.” The proposed rating system is intended to bias or prejudice attitudes or decisions about reading materials. Besides banning or labeling books, libraries in our state and across the nation are now struggling against being defunded. All because libraries carry titles a group finds objectional to their own personal beliefs. Instead of letting others choose what is appropriate for their own reading, they seek to deny individuals their First Amendment rights. This goes against the very idea of libraries and of democracy itself.   

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Freedom to Read statement. It is as relevant now as it was in the 1950s. It is our hope that you will continue to support this most fundamental of all rights. Celebrate Banned Books Week by speaking up for the freedom to read and remember free people read freely.

Andrea Heisel is director of content and access for Timberland Regional Library.


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  • Southsoundguy

    The author is ignoring the fact that the books intended to be restricted would have been in kids sections and were for the purpose of promoting trans ideology. Yes, it is inappropriate to sexualize children, and no amount of braying about rights and accepting degenerate lifestyles will change that.

    Tuesday, October 3, 2023 Report this

  • davidlee

    I have great, great sympathy for freedom to read. I consider the (banned someplace) Charlotte's Web to be one of the greatest works of Western literature, and I'm saying that with only a little tongue-in-cheek hyperbole. But fellow readers, let's expand our context as we consider this matter. Are there any books YOU would keep out of the library if you had the opportunity to do so?

    Tuesday, October 3, 2023 Report this

  • GinnyAnn

    The First Amendment was put into law first by our founding fathers because freedom of speech and freedom of the press, freedom of government from religious doctrine, and the rights of the people to think for themselves has always been a fundamental philosophy upon which our country broke away from monarchy. We have based our government and principles of laws, supposedly, upon the basic assumption that each of us has the right to think and speak freely without governmental control. When books are targeted for "labeling," or banning, or put behind closed doors for only a few select readers, that right is taken away from the majority. Who gives the power to read to a few people to make the decision about what I can or cannot read? What is "age appropriate?" I remember as a girl wanting to read science books and being told "are you sure you know what those big words mean, little girl?" Of course I knew what those words meant! That's why I wanted to read those books! Just because the adult didn't know what the words meant didn't mean that I shouldn't read those books. So what if a mind is disturbed by a book? That's what books are for, to give minds something to ponder and mull over. That's how people learn. Don't take that power and give it to anyone with an agenda.

    Tuesday, October 3, 2023 Report this

  • Medleelhumanities

    Then the answer must be that books on religion should also be banned, because they may proselytize children and draw them away from the RIGHT way to think/believe.

    The philosophy of book selection by trained librarians is "A book for every reader." Your choice is not the choice of every reader which means that you don't have to read it, but it has to be there for the next reader's choice.

    Tuesday, October 3, 2023 Report this

  • Southsoundguy

    No one ought to be free to push psychotic smut to brain wash children. But that is the natural and logical conclusion of liberalism.

    Tuesday, October 3, 2023 Report this

  • Medleelhumanities

    Beware of the Bible! Loaded with smut to brainwash everyone.

    Wednesday, October 4, 2023 Report this

  • Yeti1981

    It should not be the responsibility of the government to parent. If you don't want your kids reading specific literature, then it is on you as a parent to set those boundaries for your own child, not to use the power of government to parent everyone's children.

    Friday, October 6, 2023 Report this