Monday, September 17, 2018

Interview with James LaRue, Director, American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom

1.       James, how do you view your role at the ALA?
    • The Office for Intellectual has three main areas of responsibility:
      • Support for challenges. We get about a call a day from libraries whose services - collections, programs, meeting room use, exhibits or displays, databases, etc. - are being challenged (meaning someone wants to remove or restrict access to them). We provide support to those front line librarian in many ways: media relations, policy interpretation, letters to boards, elected officials, or community, but mostly just the human contact to tell them they are not alone.
      • Thought leadership. We carry the torch for free expression. We work with committees of librarians to put out statements, guidelines, policies, and procedures addressing all aspects of the First Amendment implications of library work. We publish a weekly electronic newsletter, a blog, and a journal. We give talks, workshops, and webinars. See
      • Leadership development. Through those committees and activities, we try to recruit and grow a new generation of intellectual freedom champions.

  1. What should be done to inform the public not only of which books are being banned and by whom, but to explain why no book should be banned?
    • The purpose of Banned Books Week is exactly that: an annual celebration of the freedom to read, and a look around at current threats to it. It reaches a lot of people.
    • Beyond that, many libraries offer programs in which people actually read, often aloud, the books others want to hide from them. It's eye-opening.
    • We emphasize the fundamental perspective that the First Amendment not only guarantees your right of free speech, but also your access to the speech of others. That's one of the great values of librarians: We stand up for those rights.

  1. How is free speech being threatened by President Donald Trump?
    • Back in January of this year, the White House sent a cease and desist letter to Henry Holt and Co., the publishers of Michael Wolffe's "Fire and Fury." In response, the publisher moved up the publication date. In September of this year, he called "Fear" by one of America's most respected journalists, Bob Woodward, a "work of fiction." At this writing, it is the number one bestseller in the nation. Also in September, Trump called upon the Justice Department to investigate the author of an anonymous editorial in the New York Times. That hasn't happened, as far as we know. And of course, Trump's repeated attacks on mainstream media as "fake news" are well known. All of these represent attacks on free speech. None of them have been particularly successful, although there's some indication that trust in mainstream media is taking a hit.

  1. How do we counter fake news and unjust accusations of something being fake?
    • It's always been hard to find out the truth. It takes dogged persistence, the careful weighing of evidence, and some careful probing to find out how reliable a speaker or writer may be. Librarians can help. On the Internet, before liking or passing along a wild story on Facebook or digging too deep into a suspicious website, I advise you to do a quick search on a fact checking website, such as Snopes or Generally speaking, if it's too bizarre to be believed, maybe you shouldn't.

  1. Does it surprise you that books still get banned in 2018?
    • No. Usually, the issue is parents of a 4-6 year old, or a 14-16 year old. They see a shift: their children are growing up. Suddenly, parents want a return to innocence, usually in the name of safety. Any parent can relate to that. But as someone once told me, you can't childproof the world. You have to try to world proof your child. Reading helps.
    • But there are also more pernicious attempts to suppress various political, religious, or other human perspectives. Those efforts pave the path to tyranny.

  1. Are there books that libraries and schools are justified in not making available for patrons or students?
    • Generally speaking, libraries buy books on the basis of the reputation of the author, the reputation of the publisher, critical reviews, and public demand. Not every book is right for every person. But surely ignorance is more dangerous, in the long run, than knowledge.

  1. How should one celebrate Banned Books Week?
    • Read a banned book! Write a letter to the newspaper in support of your library, and the right of everyone to investigate the world around them. Go listen to a talk from someone you don't agree with, and ask a lot of questions.

  1. What can be done to improve literacy in America?
    • I've been citing a 2010 study done by Mariah Evans of the University of Nevada, Reno. She and others conducted research into 27 countries over a period of 20 years. She found that regardless of the income level or education of the parents, getting 500 books into the home of a child between the ages of 0-5 was an good as having two parents with master's degrees. Early literacy, early exposure to language and story, is strongly correlated with health, longevity, freedom from incarceration, educational attainment, and income level. Books unlock children's brains.

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America and participated in a PR panel at the Sarah Lawrence College Writers Institute Conference.

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