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Former President of the United States Barack Obama has published an open letter through the American Libraries Association extending his support to America’s librarians in the face of rising book challenges and growing personal attacks against those who resist them.
In his letter, President Obama underscores the importance of communities being able to have access to information via libraries and expresses his and former First Lady Michelle Obama’s gratitude to librarians for their “unwavering commitment to the freedom to read.”
Addressing “the dedicated and hardworking librarians of America”, he writes: ‘In any democracy, the free exchange of ideas is an important part of making sure that citizens are informed, engaged and feel like their perspectives matter.
‘It’s so important, in fact, that here in America, the First Amendment of our Constitution states that freedom begins with our capacity to share and access ideas—even, and maybe especially, the ones we disagree with.
‘More often than not, someone decides to write those ideas down in a book.
‘Books have always shaped how I experience the world. Writers like
Mark Twain and Toni Morrison, Walt Whitman and James Baldwin taught me something essential about our country’s character. Reading about people whose lives were very different from mine showed me how to step into someone else’s shoes. And the simple act of writing helped me develop my own identity—all of which would prove vital as a citizen, as a community organizer, and as president.
‘Today, some of the books that shaped my life—and the lives of so many others—are being challenged by people who disagree with certain ideas or perspectives. It’s no coincidence that these “banned books” are often written by or feature people of color, indigenous people, and members of the LGBTQ+ community—though there have also been unfortunate instances in which books by conservative authors or books containing “triggering” words or scenes have been targets for removal. Either way, the impulse seems to be to silence, rather than engage, rebut, learn from or seek to understand views that don’t fit our own.’
He points out that the world is watching and that if America, a nation built on freedom of expression, allows certain voices and ideas to be silenced, then why should other countries go out of their way to protect them?
He concludes: ‘That’s why I want to take a moment to thank all of you for the work you do every day—work that is helping us understand each other and embrace our shared humanity.
‘And it’s not just about books. You also provide spaces where people can come together, share ideas, participate in community programs, and access essential civic and educational resources. Together, you help people become informed and active citizens, capable of making this country what they want it to be.’