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Freedom Libraries

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Fascinating look at a topic I knew nothing about Freedom Libraries this would be perfect for classroom discussions about the Civil Rights movement .#netgalley#freedomlibraries
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I found this a fascinating view of an aspect of time in American history that is largely undocumented. We know much about the Freedom Riders and the fight for equal rights during the Civil Rights Movement, but until I read this book I did not know about the freedom libraries. Knowledge is power. And the fight was long. Those who opened freedom libraries in various states ensured that African Americans had opportunity and access.
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A truly fascinating look into a little-explored topic. Many people don't remember or never learned of these libraries that were so important during the heyday of the civil rights era. A great book for anyone looking in American history, civil rights history or library history. It is very readable despite being a scholarly type book and well-researched.
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In Freedom Libraries, Mike Selby remembers and honors the volunteers and patrons of the numerous libraries set up to serve black populations mainly in the southern states during the civil rights era and later.

During that period of history, the institutionalized racism of many southern towns extended to library services. Books and learning programs were specifically curated at whites-only libraries in order to propagate the disgusting ideology of white supremacy in addition to keeping the black population illiterate and subjugated.

"Pattie Mae McDonald operated a "Freedom Library" out of two rooms of her modest home. This was enough to earn her and her family terror and attempted murder."

The volunteers and anyone who was brave enough to visit the freedom libraries, set up in private homes and wherever a semi-safe space could be found, were subject to shootings, harassment and arrest by local authorities, and even fire bombings. Some gave not only of their time but also their lives to keep the freedom libraries going. It is a frightening and dark moment in library history that, I feel, has been largely forgotten, until now.

"The right to vote would be everything for African Americans. The right to read would be something else entirely. Voting would make them citizens; libraries would make them free."

In addition to remembering the bravery and sacrifice of those involved with the freedom libraries, this book illustrates some of the particular problems of librarianship that came along with the creation of the libraries.

Sadly, the American Library Association did little, if anything, to assist in the creation of freedom libraries, even though their written policies were against segregation. Very few of the volunteers who ran the organizations knew anything about cataloging and maintaining library collections. There was no money for curating books or creating community programs. Yet, somehow, the freedom libraries persevered in both expanding their collections and offering a wide variety of enriching and educational programming in the midst of life-threatening situations.

This perseverance may have had something to do with the uniquely fluid characteristics of libraries themselves. As Selby points out, after the firebombing of the McComb Freedom House: "With the building still smoldering, the after-school youth just waited on the ground outside. The children somehow knew what many adults in the twenty first century have difficulty grasping: the fact that a library is a service, not a collection. A library exists for the librarians and patrons, not the other way around."

Highly recommended for readers who like to remember forgotten moments in history and for anyone who knows, or would like to learn more about, the power and life-changing reality of public libraries.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a free digital copy of this book.
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This is an extremely important book for library science and civil rights history. I graduated from library school a little over a year ago. We discussed the perception of librarians as white women and the stereotypes that librarianship can hold. In a class on the information professions in society, we spent a week on the need for diversity and multicultural perspectives in the profession. I wrote a final paper on the concept of libraries as 'neutral' or apolitical spaces. At no time during my research, or in my two years in library school, did I ever learn that the Alabama, Louisiana, and Georgia Library Associations were expelled from ALA for refusal to desegregate. These stories of segregated libraries, Freedom Libraries, and integration in libraries need to be told. We as a profession need to admit those mistakes and work to ensure that entire populations are not being systematically and violently excluded from basic library resources. 

I received an ARC of this book through Netgalley.
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An unsung chapter in the Civil Rights Movement comes to life with all the drama, terror, determination, and dignity it deserves. As a Southerner, and a librarian, I wouldn’t have thought I needed to be schooled by a Canadian about my own people. But I was, and I think we all need to know about the courageous, brief existence of thriving libraries for African Americans alongside the marches and bombings. 
The author says that when he attended the University of Alabama library science program, he was told that these libraries did not exist. However, new information came to light in 2008, and he began collecting interviews. Along with the Freedom Riders, people were sent from the North, often with little training, to set up libraries and community centers with donated books. In Mississippi and Alabama, libraries were supposed to be segregated, but there often were no libraries at all for African Americans. In fact, there were barely any libraries at all. “Extensive poverty led many persons to prefer low taxes rather than libraries.” 
Northern donors sent thousands of books South, many of which were unusable, but the librarians tried really hard to get what they needed: lots of children’s books, especially those with Black characters, and all the African American literature and Afrocentric history they could find. Library staff provided literacy and civic instruction, tied in with the voter registration effort. “Part of the [civil rights] struggle was to get control of your past away from those who would define you, those who put you in a subservient position to begin with,” said one former librarian. “I think that is one reason why the libraries were so important.”
Supremacist violence has been well documented: the fire hoses, dogs, beatings, burning crosses, etc. David Halberstam called it “America at its ugliest.” The libraries experienced threats, random shots fired in the windows, and even firebombing. The workers were in terrible danger, often picked up by law enforcement and jailed on bogus charges. One of the librarians at the Meridian, Miss., Freedom Library was Rita Schwerner, wife of Michael Schwerner, who was to become one of the victims of the Mississippi Burning murders.
As much violence and ugliness as there is in this book, there is also the inspiring hope and courage and success that makes me want to tell everyone to read this. “Jim Crow was America at its worst. Public libraries are America at its best. Bridging these two were the Freedom Libraries, which revealed the nightmare of library service in a segregated society, therefore aiding ‘a democracy aspiring to complete itself.’”
There is no doubt that the Freedom Riders who came South to help with the Civil Rights movement were heroes; however, at least at the beginning of this story, they are all white people, so there is the element of the ‘white savior’ about them that is a little bit problematic. Later on, African Americans began to take the lead on establishing and maintaining libraries in their communities, so it gets better.
I did find some problems with the text and some abrupt jumps in subject matter, but since I read an ARC I don’t know if they will be smoothed out in the editorial process. For example, Michael Schwerner is mentioned, and then the people at the Meridian Library are trying to figure out how to memorialize him and the other two men killed that summer. The Freedom Summer Murders is a well-known chapter of history, but the facts need to at least be presented. A better job is done integrating the Selma, Ala., library project with the Selma March and the work of Martin Luther King.
Still, the book’s flaws should not deter anyone. Everyone, especially my library colleagues and information science students, should read this book and understand that library work has never been about shushing. It will always be about activism. There have always been people who felt threatened by the spread of knowledge and ideas, and the struggle against the forces of ignorance will never end.
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This is a great topic for a book and it deserves a solid, scholarly, complex treatment. It does not get one in this book, which jumps around chronologically within chapters. includes anecdotes and asides, and displays a lot of hero worship by the author for his subjects. Simply stating--in often gushing tones--the importance of these libraries and telling dramatic stories about who in the Civil Rights movement learned to read where and how they got their library cards doesn't approach the kind of depth at which the freedom libraries should be studied, analyzed, and presented. I hope one day there is a book that does that.
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Unfortunately this book was archived before I got the chance to read and review it.  I will pay attention next time to make sure to review it on time.  Thank you for the opportunity.
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I got an ARC of this book.

I was having a conversation with someone the other day about how much history is just unknown. Unless you know what to look for and who knows things, so much is either forgotten or covered up. Libraries are some of my favorite places. When I move into a city, the very first thing I do is get a library card. Libraries have always been this safe place and they are everywhere, I am always in awe of them. I have never thought I had taken them for granted until I read this book.

Libraries are everywhere now. Not too long ago, they would have only existed for me and not my little brother. I would have gotten the school that didn't fill with sewage, when he wasn't as lucky. Sometimes it is hard to think about these things since I have not experienced them and because they are truly atrocious attempts to continue to oppress and overpower a community. I think Selby made a good choice in including pictures of people in the libraries. Those pictures made it so they came to life and felt real. Pictures can really make a history come to life, for better or for worse. 

The book covered such important topics from segregation to library late fees. I learned so much. I have a better respect for libraries and the programming they offer. I have even more mixed feelings for the ALA. My feelings about late fees might not have changed, but they might be maturing. These libraries existed without late fees. They did so much for the community. They became a place of learning for all who needed them. They were the libraries of my dreams. 

Overall, this book was incredible. It would be a bit hard to follow if you don't know about the Civil Rights movement. If you read March Vol 1-3, then you should be caught up on some of the major events and groups that also play a role in this book. The writing at times was very much point blank and devoid of feeling. Chunks of chapters could have been written as bullet points. I wish there was more detail and context for some of the events. More detail would have made this a five star read from me. It is a really important book and really should be on display in every library to show how important libraries can be to a community and to be a goal for libraries to strive for.
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A moving peek into the Civil Rights Movement, Freedom Summer, and the story of Freedom Libraries. This is a look into the much overlooked part of the Civil Rights Movement and something I wish very much was part of all ML(I)S student curriculum. This feels a critical gap in our history and is a must read.
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I do feel that the information presented was important, however, as a book on history I feel that it was sloppy in presentation. The book jumped around quite frequently in the stories and felt like it needed a strong editor with experience in historical subjects.
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So many stories go untold. So many truths remain hidden. Certain areas of history that you weren’t even aware of become visible and it has the ability to shift the world as you see it. I considered myself well read in regards to the events of Freedom Summer and the works of Civil Rights activist that summer of 1964. Not a scholar or researcher but I had done my due diligence to be knowledgeable of a history, that as a Black woman, has affected my life in so many profound ways. But I have never heard of the Freedom Libraries and their significance to Freedom Summer until I came across this book. Now a whole new chapter of the racial injustices Black people have suffered in this country has been opened to me and I won’t lie, I was distraught while reading this. I love reading and always have. The thought of not being allowed to access books is terrifying and heartbreaking to me. To read of the lengths people went to prohibit Black people from having access to books is so frustrating. But right on par with the history of the United States 

Selby did an excellent job providing information on the history of Freedom Libraries. It’s obvious that this book was thoroughly researched with a goal of providing as much information as possible about not only the existence of the libraries but those who worked tirelessly to run them. These Freedom Libraries became community hubs, many turning into Head Start programs. They became places for Black people to learn, not only how to read but about their history. Freedom Libraries stressed having books written by Black people so readers could see themselves reflected on the page. They reached out to young and old alike. And they were seen as a threat. Freedom Libraries were attacked, bombed and mobbed but people kept coming because in a time where Black people weren’t allowed to go into white libraries, they became a place of hope. 

I’m so grateful for this book. It is extremely well written, concise and thorough. You can tell this book was handled with care and meant to respect and honor those who fought so hard to bring access to books to everyone. Highly recommending this book.
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I received a free copy of this book for the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I had never heard of Freedom Libraries until reading this book. There is so much of our history that has been covered and hidden for myriad reasons. Authors like Mike Selby help to rip the veils from our eyes so we can learn the other part of the story, the side that is not beautiful nor patriotic, but it is a part of our country's history, nevertheless.

While the book is very informative with so many people who were involved in helping get books and information in the hands of African Americans, many of them became leaders in the Civil Rights Movement, it felt like a disjointed read. It felt jumpy, starting in a time frame and then bouncing to other times. Throughout the book, the flow of the story felt disconnected and unpolished. I am not certain if this was the author's purpose, as a way to emphasize the roughness that surrounded establishing these libraries.

My other issue with my digital copy was knowing where to continue reading when there was a picture with a caption. There was little distinction, if any, to let the reader know where to continue the paragraph. This contributed to the interrupted flow of the book.

Despite the flow and unpolished feel, I have not been able to cease talking about this book to others. Knowledge is power and for this reason alone great measures were taken to keep knowledge away from an oppressed people. Freedom Libraries were monumental to our history and I am grateful that this author has taken the time to tell us about them.
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Set amidst the turmoil of the Civil Rights era, concerned individuals of all ethnic groups found a way to bring literacy and education to African Americans in the South.  In 1964, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) decided to take books southward and create libraries for African Americans who could not us the segregated, “Whites-Only” libraries.  And this is in an era when the libraries, despite federal law, were desegregated on paper but found other ways to keep non-whites out. This led to the Freedom Libraries movement over that summer.  Northerners and other supporters donated millions of books to establish the libraries.  Volunteers came from college  campuses nationwide plus from other supporters. While many were African American, Whites and Latinos also joined the effort.
 
Upon arrival in the south, the method of implementing the libraries differed by each states uniqueness.  However, there were commonalities.  Often, it was hard to find a location to set up a library in as people feared for their property.  Both the volunteers and the library users were harassed.  The former were often attacked just going out in public.  Those who were white were often accused of sleeping with their African-American counterparts.  The volunteers were also often arrested for the slightest perceived violation or for outright fabricated reasons in an effort to stop the libraries.  The libraries themselves were also targets as many were set on fire or bombed, often hurting users or volunteers in the process.  On the bright side, all implemented literacy programs and did their best to register voters.  This helped those of all ages learn to read and enjoy reading.  The programs for young children eventually evolved into Headstart programs.  And this touch of literacy lead to a desire for more education and that lead to more desire for fully equal rights, not just equality on paper.
 
This book opened a whole new world of the history of libraries to me.  Even in my history of libraries class, the Freedom Libraries were not covered.  Previously, I knew libraries were fewer and farther between in the south and were affected by segregation, but this is the story of how libraries finally affected the populations that needed them the most in a hard-to-reach area, with the culture being the largest barrier.  And it shows that the Freedom Libraries went far beyond the call of duty for most libraries of their era by hosting literacy programs and handling voter registration, something I do not remember public libraries offering much of when I was growing up (but I grew up in a rural area, so admittedly urban libraries may have been doing those programs/events).  Given that Freedom Libraries are not covered in library school coursework and the lack of diversity in the field (it’s Caucasian-dominated), I think this should be a required reading to teach this missing history and empathy to another large group of Americans.

I'll add a link to my blog once this review is also posted there later this month.
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I really wanted this book to be better. Though it is deeply researched and about a fascinating topic, the prose is messy and feels like a rough draft. Perhaps the proof I was provided with is REALLY uncorrected and the final published version will be more polished. That said, I definitely learned things I did not know about Freedom Libraries and the sacrifices people made trying to bring books to underserved communities, which is always a story worth telling.
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This is an incredibly well-told, concise history of some horrible, horrible stuff. As a library employee who strives every day to make the space I work in more inclusive and welcoming to everyone, this hit me in the worst way. The sheer, unmasked, unabashed racism of it all, from fraudulent arrests to straight up murder was too much - not from a historical perspective but from a contemporary one, especially in light of the details surrounding the Amber Guyger case (I try not to get too newsie in my reviews, but that was on my mind the entire time) as well as the Queens library that cost $41 million and is completely inaccessible to disabled patrons, which is a different kind of institutionalized marginalization.

So yeah. This was rough.

But it's extremely important that people know this history so that they can better understand the state of the world today, and Selby does this really well, telling a coherent and powerful story that pulls the reader in even as it doesn't shy away from any of the details. A tough read, but worth it.
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This is a fantastic collection. Even if I wasn't a librarian I would recommend this to other readers. Great overall.
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Libraries have always been meeting places, especially for groups that are marginalized or need to organize. Freedom Libraries were used during the Civil Rights movement to provide a safe space for these activities plus learning for school. The topic is very interesting, but the writing style isn't the best. It would have been better if the author had focused more in depth, rather than jumping around so much.
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Civil rights activists during the sixties traveled to dangerous and highly segregated southern towns in order to register voters and increase literacy.  One of their initiatives was the creation of Freedom Libraries.  These libraries would not only offer access to books but also serve as a place for gathering, learning and literacy.  The work was dangerous and many volunteers paid with their lives.  I think any book that reminds us of our horrific history is important and this laid out just some of the atrocities inflicted on the African American community and civil rights activists.   This book does often introduce stories and then skip to the next quickly which is confusing at times, however it is still one that I recommend.
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"A library is not a collection of books. Nor is it a building." Being a librarian, libraries are obviously very important to me and while I do know that there is was more to this world than books and the places where they are housed, I feel like that can even get lost for me. This book did a great job of reminding me why libraries are important and why libraries should be political and why we need to be.

As a 21st century Canadian, the stories told in this book were very untold and I learned a lot through this book about the fight to provide library services in communities where there weren't libraries at all, or where the African American communities were not allowed to use the libraries that were there. This was a dangerous job, but it provided essential services and hope. 

I liked how this story brought you through the different states, showing how each one needed to be approached so differently and how communities fought against these Freedom Libraries and how the people embraced them. It showed the importance of communities spaces, but also how donated books aren't always the best.

This was a great book that taught me something new about history and refocused my library view.
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