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Columnist
Fierce defender of First Amendment will be deeply missed
By Sarah Long | Columnist
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Published: 7/6/2009 11:25 AM

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Judith Krug died in April and it's still difficult for librarians who knew her to comprehend it.

"It's hard to find words that adequately describe Judith," said one of her colleagues. "Perhaps force of nature comes closest."

Krug was the longtime director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom and executive director of the Freedom to Read Foundation. She fought censorship on behalf of libraries for more than 40 years.

When I first came to librarianship about 40 years ago, the professional culture was committed to each person's right to read the books of his or her choice. But the deep commitment to First Amendment rights or to intellectual freedom was not very overtly expressed. Krug changed all of that by her work.

Robert P. Doyle, executive director of the Illinois Library Association, expressed it this way: "It wasn't that Judith just generated media attention, which she did. Rather she set about the arduous task of coalition building. She reached out to publishers, booksellers, authors, school administrators, teachers, journalists and lawyers both individually and through their associations. She built coalitions based on a common belief in free expression and commitment to intellectual freedom. At ALA, she worked tirelessly with members to fight censorship efforts. Krug evolved a sort of 'case law' of precedents and policies and set up structures of support for libraries and individuals who were involved in censorship incidents."

Many librarians around the country can testify to Krug's practical hands-on support.

Here's a comment from James Perkins, library media specialist in Baldwin, Wis.: "Judith Krug personally assisted me with a censorship case in my former school district. It was the first challenge to materials in my career and her assistance in the matter was critical to overcoming the challenge. I will be eternally grateful for her help."

Krug was equally at home on the loftiest of stages. She testified before the U.S. Congress and in the courts. In fact, she participated in almost every Supreme Court case of the past 40 years related to libraries and free access to information. She was comfortable with the media and was a sought-after speaker for crowds of any size or description.

Krug was smart in every sense of the word. She heard librarians express their concern that a commitment to freedom of information was usually only seen when library materials were challenged. So in 1982, she created Banned Books Week to celebrate the freedom to express one's opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular. Like other Krug-led initiatives, BBW is sponsored by a coalition including the American Booksellers Association, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of American Publishers, National Association of College Stores and the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. BBW is celebrated the last week of September.

Personally, Krug was extremely charismatic and was always stylishly dressed. She had a gorgeous smile that she flashed generously and a wicked sense of humor. I can't imagine her ever being at a loss for words.

Krug once said: "We do have our work cut out for us. The world we live in leads me to believe that librarians and trustees must strongly and often reaffirm their role in the 21st century. We must continue to strive to provide to all of our users in the multitude of communities we serve the information they need and want regardless of format. Bringing people together with information is our reason for being."

Listen to my podcast with longtime associate of Judith Krug, Robert Doyle, at librarybeat.org.