Letter to the Editor: Freedoms of speech and information

Since returning from recent travels, I’ve been catching up on local news. As a lifelong library user and former elected county official, I was appalled to read in the Jan. 17 Evening Journal about the interaction between County Supervisor Jack Seward Jr. and Washington Free Public Library Director Bryna Walker. Seward admonished Walker for the library’s handling of a complaint from a parent: The parent was denied access to his/her child’s library circulation/usage record, in accordance with library policies.

Seward was quoted as telling Walker, “ … if you’ve got some policies that go against our beliefs, it could affect your funding.” Rather than resorting to intimidation/threats, Seward would have done well to seek information about intellectual freedom, the First Amendment, Iowa Code requirements, and the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights (www.ala.org).

The Supreme Court and other courts have held conclusively that there is a First Amendment right not only to free speech but also to freely receive information; the right to receive information correlates with the right to speak. (See Lamont v. Postmaster General, 381 U.S. 301, 1965). The First Amendment does not limit freedom of speech and intellectual inquiry to adults.

The Washington Free Public Library embraces the right to free speech, intellectual inquiry, and the associated right to privacy/confidentiality. Its policies reflect:

—confidentiality requirements of Iowa Code Section 22.7 (13);

—Article V of the American Library Association (ALA) Library Bill of Rights:

“A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.”

—principles in the ALA Council document, “Libraries: An American Value,” including:

• We defend the constitutional rights of all individuals, including children and teenagers, to use the library’s resources and services;

• We affirm the responsibility and the right of all parents and guardians to guide their own children’s use of the library and its resources and services; [emphasis mine]

• We protect each individual’s privacy and confidentiality in the use of library resources and services;

The issue/complaint that prompted the inappropriate response by Seward appears to be rooted in a lack of trust and respect between parent and child. Parents who do not want a child to access specific library services or materials should communicate their values to the child, even go to the library with the child, thereby exercising the right “to guide their own children’s use of the library,” as outlined in the principle above. It is NOT up to the library to police or judge the appropriateness of materials usage for any person.

Bottom line: A threat by a county official to potentially cut funds as punishment for a valid, lawful policy, just because that policy offends a few folks’ personal parenting style, is an abuse of power. Seward owes Walker and the citizens of this county an apology.

Signed: Wendy L. Heck, of Washington