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Libraries: Strongholds of the First Amendment


This interview is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment, hosted by Lori Walsh.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is about much more than the guarantee to stand in a public space and speak your mind.

Deborah Caldwell Stone, director of the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom, reminds people the First Amendment protects something essential to who we are as human beings.

"It really needs to go further than that to respect the dignity of every individual to have the right to read and think and speak as they like as part of their humanity," Caldwell Stone says. "I try to expand that conversation to remember that what we're talking about is the ability of every person to express themselves and define themselves in works of literature and what is published in the world."

This is national Banned Books Week. The American Library Association publishes a list of frequently challenged books each year, tracking the trends of moral panics and attacks on libraries and library offerings.

This year, the LGBTQ themed George by Alex Gino, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie all made the Top 10 Most Challenged Books List.

Some books on the 2020 list have appeared before (hello, old friend, To Kill a Mockingbird). Others are newcomers and reflect trends in nationwide censorship efforts.

"A large number of challenges are coming in to these books that deal with Black American history, with the history of racism, or addressing racism in society, often under this claim that they represent Critical Race Theory, which is not accurate," Caldwell Stone says.

The South Dakota Library Association holds its annual conference on Sept. 29. The conference features speakers and sessions that discuss access for library patrons to information and technology. The organization also connects South Dakota librarians with resources for protecting intellectual freedom in their communities.

Lori Walsh is the host and senior producer of In the Moment.
Chris is a producer for In the Moment.