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Letter: Intellectual Freedom at Play in the Library

Published: Friday, March 28, 2014 5:57 p.m. CDT

To the Editor:

As part of the celebration of the Brookfield Public Library’s Centennial year, each month the young adult bulletin board will highlight a specific decade since the library opened its doors.  In February, the bulletin board highlighted the 1920s, and along with other images, included a picture of Al Capone with the caption: “Al Capone controlled organized crime in Chicago during the 1920s.” The information provided on the board was factual, made no reference to the ethnic heritage of Al Capone, nor did it detail or glorify Al Capone’s crimes or activities. The inclusion of the picture was in context with the rest of the display. 

This excerpt from the Chicago History Museum aptly explains why Al Capone has remained infamous over the decades:  “Al Capone is America's best known gangster and the single greatest symbol of the collapse of law and order in the United States during the 1920s Prohibition era. Capone had a leading role in the illegal activities that lent Chicago its reputation as a lawless city.” 

Had the library acquiesced to the request to remove the picture of Al Capone, it would have set a dangerous precedent, which begs the question, “Who decides what is appropriate?”  Should an individual community member decide what is appropriate on behalf of the entire Brookfield community? Should one person decide what is available for others to view and read? We would also have to assume, then, that the library would be asked to remove the very popular children’s series by Gennifer Choldeneko: “Al Capone Does My Shirts,” “Al Capone Shines My Shoes” and “Al Capone Does My Homework.” 

The library is a wonderful example of basic American freedoms on display; what we refer to as intellectual freedom. Its print and digital collections and walls feature popular, mainstream and esoteric titles and images. And yes, the collections contain something that would offend most anyone. Censorship in all of its forms is a slippery slope and has no place in Brookfield’s library. The world is not something to hide from our children, but rather a laboratory for us to teach them in. Our society continues to evolve by examining the past. History is full of horrific events and unsavory people. By sanitizing the history presented to children, we withhold the truth of the world and fail to prepare them for it. 

Jennifer Perry

President, Brookfield Public Library Board of Trustees

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