[HOUSTON, TX. July 18, 2023] – As a librarian, when the American Library Association (ALA)—the largest, oldest, and most influential organization of its kind in the world—calls, you answer. When ALA is calling on behalf of a former President of the United States, you sit up a little straighter. That is the situation Linda Stevens, Division Director for Programs, Partnerships, and Outreach at Harris County Public Library (HCPL) recently found herself in.
ALA was calling to say that they had recommended HCPL to the Barack Obama Foundation for a collaboration on a campaign in support of public libraries’ efforts to safeguard intellectual freedom, ensure equitable access to information, and defend Americans’ right to read.
“We, of course, jumped at the opportunity,” says Stevens, “Not only was it an honor to partner with the Barack Obama Foundation, but the right to read is a subject HCPL is passionate about and has long been engaged with on social media.”
The Freedom to Read Campaign spearheaded and coordinated by the Obama Foundation is centered on social media--specifically short-form videos. HCPL, along with three other public libraries from across the country have written, filmed, and edited videos in their own style for the project. Each video features an appearance by the former President through the magic of file sharing and editing.
The campaign will unfold this week with a video posted each day by one of the libraries on their own social media platforms. HCPL’s contribution to the campaign, featuring the library’s recurring video “spokesperson,” Curbside Larry, was posted to the library’s TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube accounts (@harriscountypl) on Tuesday morning and quickly garnered overwhelmingly positive response.
The campaign kicked off on Monday, July 17 with a powerful letter in support of libraries, librarians, and the work they do in defense of intellectual freedom from the former president sent to all ALA members.
In the letter, Obama extolls the power of books to bridge gaps between people and foster understanding, empathy, and tolerance. He also decries the resurgence of book bans in the U.S. that too often target books that are “written by or feature people of color, indigenous people, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.”
In the letter, the former President addressed librarians directly: “In a very real sense, you’re on the front lines – fighting every day to make the widest possible range of viewpoints, opinions, and ideas available to everyone.”
The library sees the collaboration with the Obama Foundation as an extension of its own Library for All initiative which seeks to address the needs of underrepresented and under-served communities through library policies, services, and programs with a particular focus on the library’s commitment to fight efforts to ban books that represent those communities. “While the fight over Americans’ freedom to read is happening on the big stage, it is really about individuals and their right to access information and ideas. The library’s primary role is to make sure that the library shelves reflect the full range of human experience and ideas, not just those deemed acceptable by a few” says Stevens.
Watch the other libraries' videos for the Obama Foundation's Freedom to Read Campaign