The freedom of speech and to express oneself is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United State’s Constitution. Yet, in many cases the amendment is violated by the censorship. In her essay Intellectual Freedom, Libraries, and Censorship Judith F. Krug proves logically that everyone has the right to get any information he or she might want to know whatever the information is and whether is trustworthy or not because lack of this information leads to ignorance and misunderstandings; libraries are the ideal places therefore to distribute such information and librarians are the people, who protect and warrant the execution of the First Amendment. The need for libraries grows in the modern society because politicians, religious organizations and other mighty people and institutions restrict people’s rights on getting the information by labeling it “offensive” or “inappropriate”. But all those persons and organizations should remember that “popular government without popular information is a prologue to a farce or a tragedy” (Krug 191).
The global situation in our today’s world dictates us the rules of equity and tolerance. All the people on the Earth should be treated equally and respectfully. Tolerance is the fundamental of all the democratic laws. The equal treatment is guaranteed by the United States Constitution as well as it is considered to be the example of the democratic documents. No matter what skin color, sexual orientation, gender or religious beliefs the individual has he or she has the same rights as others. Several committees and institutions control the implementation of the equal rights and freedoms to everybody. It is guaranteed by the laws and it is the way it should be in every country, which is considered to be the democratic one. Another way the equality can be achieved is the policy of non-offensiveness. The modern world is extremely tolerant. Lots of laws are implemented to protect children from the offensive materials on television, radio and mass media. Besides, lots of restrictions are made in public places to protect children and minors from offense.
The level of tolerance is extremely high in the developed countries. It can be observed even in changes in school programs. For example, there were several tries to censor the book Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger because it has lots of scenes dealing with “sexuality and profanity” (Kent). According to those, who want to censor the book, young adults are not supposed to read such a book. Yet, “we all live through those issues”. The list of the top 100 most challenged novels of the 20th century includes books, which are recognized as classical and thought-provoking. These are such books as Gone with the Wind, The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984 and many others (Kent). But they should be censored because they includes scenes of violence and racial or gender inequality.
Thus censorship is the back side of the government’s tries to treat everybody in an equal and inoffensive manner. The issue of censorship is one of the most widely discussed issues in the modern world. It is still unclear how the censorship can be implemented without violating the First Amendment to the constitution. In this issue “lays the dichotomy and absurdity of the censor’s viewpoint” (Kent): the amendment guarantees the freedom of media and speech whereas the censorship is aimed to protect individuals from their own ideas about the way of life they live. On one hand, censorship is needed because information people encounter daily may consist of tons of untrustworthy and offensive ideas, which have no grounds behind them except the aim to insult or disorient the person. And from this point of view the censorship is very important for children and young adults because in many ways they cannot rely on their own moral beliefs as they experience lack of moral education. They cannot distinguish the bad from good from the first sight and therefore censorship might be a helpful tool to lead them in a right way.
On the other hand, it is not the special institution or government who should censor the information the individual deals with. It is the responsibility and liability of the individual or his or her parents to censor his or her information flow. The fundamental principle of the First Amendment is that the government cannot prohibit the expression of any thought or idea only because the society finds “the idea itself offensive or disagreeable” (Kent). Thus the censorship should not be a top-down decision but rather a bottom-up one. So, the individual should decide for himself what he is supposed to read, to say or to do. This is actually the definition of the “intellectual freedom”. It is the ability to think and to express the ideas taking into account only personal restrictions. From the ability to say what you want starts the ability to act in a way you want. And this is the way of the personal development.
The crucial role in this development play book the people read. Books both educate and entertain them. They form tastes and notions of morality. They provoke people to think on the inner and outer world. The easiest way to access books is the library. Therefore libraries and librarians play a vital role in the educating of culture and morality in people.
Librarians are also the guardians of the First Amendment as they provide people with any information they might need disrespectful of what or who these people are. Libraries cannot be substituted by any other institution. Newspapers provide information but it can be biased by the opinion of journalist or editor. Schools educate but the program is aimed to fit for many purposes at once (American Library Association xvii). Therefore, the library is the only institution that provides the thought provoking information without any restrictions.
It is always hard to find a balance between two controversies. In this case, on one hand, a censorship is needed to protect people from offense and on the other hand this protection leads to violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The solution lays in conservation of the oldest societal institutions in the world – libraries. Libraries provide free access to information and let people think on their own about what is wrong and what is right, what to be considered as offensive or not. It is not about violating the society’s norms on morality. It is about having the opportunity to choose and to get deeper knowledge on what is criticized by this society.
American Library Association. Intellectual Freedom Manual. 7th ed. ALA Editions, 2006.
Kent, Oliver. “Libraries Must Protect the Freedom to Read.” Forbes. 7 Aug 2010. Web. 20 Feb 2012.
Krug, Judith F. “Intellectual Freedom, Libraries, and Censorship.” The Signet Book of American Essays. Ed M. Jerry Weiss and Helen S. Weiss. New York: Penguin Group, 2006.