My first full-time position as a librarian was at a library in Cleveland Heights. On the first day, it was emphasized that I “treat everyone with the same level of respect and service.” We served a truly diverse population, including Black, orthodox Jewish, and the entire socio-economic spectrum. To give you a better sense of our patrons, one of our regulars was musician Nathaniel Ayers, whose story was portrayed in the film The Soloist.

The Heights was an interesting area to mature as a librarian, and in 1998, it provided me with one of the seminal moments of my professional development.

Walking into the magazine section of my library, I found the director, Steve Wood, talking to a community member who was upset we subscribed to Playboy­ (which was not kept in the magazine section to be found by anyone, but behind a service desk where it had to be requested by patrons). At the time, Steve was among Ohio’s leaders in intellectual freedom, and he never shied away from hard conversations, including the one I had stumbled upon. After listening to the individual’s various concerns, he finally said, “A library should have something in its collection to offend everyone.”

I’m not about to suggest that Rochester start aggressively seeking out offensive materials, but I’m not saying we shouldn’t either.

Over the past few years, I have watched our intellectual freedom come under attack both politically and in our educational system. And as I have been working on our strategic plan and thinking about the University of Rochester Libraries’ mission, my experiences as a librarian in Cleveland came rushing back.

When I think about what we do, why we do it, and who we do it for, the content of the resources on our shelves and in our collections—controversial or not—seems beside the point. And that’s because we’re not here to dictate discourse; we’re here to provide the means of idea exploration. We’re here to provide knowledge and access.

Making information accessible is chief among our services. Although we’re still doing the work that will shape the libraries’ work, environment, and culture for the next several years, I can tell you that we are committed to offering and providing access to diverse and inclusive materials and collections that enable learning, facilitate teaching, and provide the catalysts for research the makes the world ever better.

Kevin Garewal
Vice Provost and Andrew H. and Janet Dayton Neilly Dean
University of Rochester Libraries