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My Intellectual Freedom Journey: Reclaiming a Moral Sanction for the Public Sector

James LaRue


Intellectual freedom—the idea that all people have the right to express themselves freely and access the expressions of others—is a core value of librarianship. But every value, every institution, must go through a kind of rediscovery with each generation. This “re-valuing” is necessary and right. Do our institutions serve us, or are we forced to serve them? Do we practice what we say we believe? An example of this re-evaluative process concerns the promise, the vision, of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” But that clear statement of “self-evident truths” was on the one hand immediately contradicted by the explicit endorsement of slavery (3/5ths of a human being), and by the denial of a vote to women. Nonetheless, the underlying idea was so powerful and compelling that subsequent generations returned to it again and again, edging closer to the original vision.

I believe that intellectual freedom is under such a review by librarians now. I believe, too, that the value remains an abiding and powerful call to service.

In this article I will present three snapshots from my own intellectual freedom journey. Each has a context in time that may lend depth of understanding to today’s challenges. Perhaps, too, it will point the way to a new place for intellectual freedom in our work.

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