“Your Rights, Your Libraries” panel discusses impact of community libraries

First Amendment Days events will take place across campus from April 11 to 15.

First Amendment Days events will take place across campus from April 11 to 15.

Eleanor Chalstrom

On Tuesday, First Amendment Days hosted the “Your Rights, Your Libraries: The First Amendment and the Freedom to Read” panel in conjunction with the Ames Public Library and Iowa State University Library.

The expert panel discussed how libraries and communities can operate to ensure diverse literature and free speech are protected in their spaces. The panel was created in reaction to the hot button controversy regarding library content, especially in schools. 

The panel moderator was Julie Roosa, an assistant professor and First Amendment Specialist at the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication. 

Among the panelists was Sam Helmick of the Iowa City Public Library, Sheila Schofer, the director of the Ames Public Library, Robin Sinn, director of Collections and Open Strategies at Iowa State and Erin Miller, Director of Teaching and Learning at Ames Community School District. 

The panel discussed various topics, from inclusive literature to how communities can assist their libraries in engagement and resources. 

“So if you think about it, your identities are those reflected and then how are they reflected? Sometimes we see negative stereotypes,” Miller said. “We need to think about not only if there is a certain identity in a book, but how it is being portrayed.” 

Miller said the Ames Community School District communicates with teachers, students and families about what literature they would like to have to emphasize inclusion and representation. 

Roosa related libraries to the recent book-regulation movements that are occurring nationwide. 

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you,” Helmick said. “This is exactly what libraries were supposed to do: open up the world of information and debates of concepts so that we could come forward as a democracy with the strongest ideas possible in our moment in time.”

The panelists spoke on what support public, university and school libraries need to fulfill their regions. 

“I think continuing to use us, support us and being vocal,” Schofer said. “Making sure that your elected officials know how important it is so our funding continues to be strong and healthy … making sure that you are a part of how the libraries reflect what you want it to reflect because it belongs to all of us.”

The panelist also informed the audience that issues in the publishing industry can often sway what literature is available to communities. They agreed that the conglomeration of major publishers can sometimes snuff inclusive voices. 

“I don’t want to buy more published content,” Sinn said. “What I want to do is have the money to give organizations that are building the infrastructure to help make publishing more open instead of having to go to the big publishers.”

First Amendment Days is a weeklong event that brings awareness to First Amendment Rights and media freedoms to the Iowa State campus.

A full schedule of First Amendment Days is available on their website