Intellectual Freedom and Why We Must Fight For It

I’ll be honest, this is personal. And it was personal long before the gatekeepers denied entry of my friend, author extraordinaire S.E. Reed’s 2023 debut, My Heart is Hurting, into the Palm Beach County Library System.

My First Intellectual Freedom Crusade

This goes way back to the Fall of 1999, my first year as an elementary school librarian. My oldest daughter was in fifth grade at the time and on-fire for these two new-ish books, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, that she’d read over the summer. My former struggling reader had gobbled up two three-hundred plus word books—for pleasure!

J.K.’s debut had come out a few years prior, but Harry had just recently made his way across the pond to the US. And it took Harry even longer to reach rural communities like ours. But, he was about to rock ours to its core.

Danielle was determined the school year start with a Harry Potter display in my library’s glass case. Of course, back then there was no Harry Potter merch. We hit thrift stores for stuffed owls. She addressed envelopes to Mr. H. Potter, The Cabinet Under the Stairs, 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey. She crafted a wand out of a tree branch.

She carefully displayed several copies of the first two books atop eager for students to return and discover this magical world that she had.

That’s not what happened.

Within the first few weeks of school, mothers flooded my library, school board meetings and the media, demanding these dangerous witchcraft and sorcery books immediately be removed from shelves. Fingers pointed to me as the witch who’d brought them here.

Fortunately, things were a little different back then. There was a process called a Challenged Materials Committee. It was a pre-set group of the media specialist (me), school personnel, community members, and parents. The individual or individual(s) who challenged was also invited. For the challenge to continue, the challenger had to READ the book and tell what was offensive or inappropriate about it. Well, thanks J.K. for writing books so long. Every parent backed down. But also, by then Harry had started to become a beloved figure to most of the world.

The Current Landscape of Intellectual Freedom

Unfortunately, as a society, especially in certain political landscapes, we’ve not progressed to protect intellectual freedom, we’ve regressed.

No longer are highly educated instructors, media specialists and public librarian’s entrusted to make selections for their readers. They aren’t entrusted to select literature that not only their readers can see themselves in, but also books that challenge the status quo—books that give readers a different perspective. The very thing they were educated in. The very thing politician’s WERE NOT!

Instead, politicians threaten them with their personal ideologies. They are scared to stand up like I did. Because now, there are no Challenged Materials Committees. There is no process. The extreme make the rules. If that had been the case back in 1999 my child may have never overcome her reading struggles. She may have never gone on to become a British Lit Major.

Now classroom libraries, school libraries and public libraries are operating within a framework of fear. We need to rally around them. We need to be the buffer. Instead of challenging books in our children’s libraries, we need to be demanding titles are available.

My Current Intellectual Freedom Crusade

So that story brings me to this one.

I’ve known S.E. Reed for two plus years. I’ve read her book more than once. It’s a heart-breaking story of a child born into a shattered home. The world is stacked against her. Her father’s deceased (that’s a real thing for some kids), her mother is a sex worker (also a real thing for some kids),

At fifteen, she’s broken and hopeless. But something changes. Her principal, teachers, neighbors and friends start stepping up. They flood her with positive messages. Jinny Buffett, you are worth more. They believe in her until she believes in herself. Until she has the strength to break free.

But the Palm Beach County Library System doesn’t believe Jinny’s story should be read. Maybe because one of her best friends is gay. (Reminder to the gatekeepers, gay people do exist.) Maybe because her mom is a sex worker. (Again, also a real thing.)

It makes me wonder why. Maybe they are afraid because here in Florida we have politicians who threaten their jobs over books that aren’t white and straight. But if we don’t fight back, real Jinny’s won’t have the hope they need. Real Danielle’s won’t have the inspiration they need.

Book banning is the floor. The ceiling has yet to be defined. If they start with books, next is movies, TV shows, journalism, bloggers, the list goes on. When we lose our intellectual freedom, we lose our democracy.

Want to know how to help? For starters, request S.E.’s book at the Palm Beach County Public Library, then your own public library, then buy a copy here! There is strength in numbers!

Books are banned because they hold the power to inspire readers, change minds, evolve society.

Craig Thompson

3 responses to “Intellectual Freedom and Why We Must Fight For It”

  1. What a well-spoken and important post. Thank you for this. It is definitely one I’ll be sharing. And yes, I requested the book be shelved at the Boca, Florida library and pre-ordered my own copy. Here’s hoping many others do the same.


  2. […] seen some/most/all of them, but just in case: Public Libraries Deserve Better Than Thistitle Intellectual Freedom and Why We Must Fight For It Patrick Rothfuss announced a new novella—this great bearded glacier has something coming out […]


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