Bound to the Word

Back in the summer of 2005, a young Illinois senator named Barack Obama was chosen to give the keynote address at the Opening General Session of the American Library Association‘s Annual Conference in Chicago. The speech was later adapted and published in the August 2005 issue of American Libraries. In it, Obama spoke about his own love of libraries, the role that librarians play in defending our privacy and freedom, and the importance of literacy.

Here is an excerpt from that speech (as good librarians, I’m sure you all know why we can’t post the whole speech, but I’m sure you all know how to find it!):

“…More than a building that houses books and data, the library represents a window to a larger world, the place where we’ve always come to discover big ideas and profound concepts that help move the American story forward and the human story forward. That’s the reason why, since ancient antiquity, whenever those who seek power would want to control the human spirit, they have gone after libraries and books. Whether its the ransacking of the great library at Alexandria, controlling information during the Middle Ages, book burnings, or the imprisonment of writers in former communist bloc countries, the idea has been that if we can control the word, if we can control what people hear and what they read and what they comprehend, then we can control and imprison them, or at least imprison their minds…

What some people may not remember is that for years, librarians have been on the frontlines of this fight for our privacy and our freedom. There have always been dark times in our history where America has strayed from our best ideas. The question has always been: Who will be there to stand up against those forces? One of the groups that has consistently stood up has been librarians. When political groups tried to censor great works of literature, you were the ones who put Huckleberry Finn and Catcher in the Rye back on the shelves, making sure that our access to free thought and free information was protected. Ever since we’ve had to worry about our own government looking over our shoulders in that library, you’ve been there to stand up and speak out on our privacy issues. You’re lull-time defenders of the most fundamental liberty that we possess. For that, you deserve our gratitude…”

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