Judith Krug Dies; Fought For Intellectual Freedom

Judith Krug, director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom for more than 40 years, died following a long battle with stomach cancer. She was 69. Robert Doyle, executive director of the Illinois Library Association, shares his memories of Krug.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Librarian Judith Krug devoted her life to the principles that we have the freedom to read what we want, where we want.

Ms. JUDITH KRUG (Librarian; Former Director, American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom): Our responsibility is to make sure that the people in this country have full and open access to the information that they want and they need, whether or not anyone else in the country likes what they want to see.

BLOCK: Judith Krug was the director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom for more than 40 years. She started a tradition you may have heard of: Banned Books Week.

Krug died last weekend of cancer at the age of 69. Her longtime friend and colleague Robert Doyle is executive director of the Illinois Library Association and a board member of the Freedom to Read Foundation, which Judith Krug helped establish in 1969.

Mr. ROBERT DOYLE (Executive Director, Illinois Library Association; Board member, Freedom to Read Foundation): She was an articulate, irrepressible voice for the First Amendment, and certainly an unforgettable force within the library profession. And I would say that an entire generation of librarians committed to the First Amendment, what the library profession refers to as intellectual freedom, was really forged and shaped by Judith Krug.

BLOCK: Where did her commitment to this come from? Did she tell you?

Mr. DOYLE: Well, she did. I think it was forged at a very early age at her home where they valued and respected a diversity of opinion and felt it a sacred obligation to protect and defend free speech.

BLOCK: Judith Krug told a great anecdote to the Chicago Tribune a few years back...

Mr. DOYLE: I know. I love that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Well, why don't you tell us the story? She was reading a sex-ed book under the covers at night, and her mother walked in.

Mr. DOYLE: Yeah. Yeah. The images of a flashlight and in the dark, and her mother walks in and pulls the blanket back, and I'm sure as a 12 or 13-year-old, you know, very embarrassed, and her mother looks at the book and said, oh for God's sake, will you turn on the light so you don't ruin your eyes?

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: So free speech in her household from an early age.

Mr. DOYLE: Yes, exactly. So that goes back to your, like, where did it start? I think it started there.

BLOCK: What was Judith Krug's idea when she started Banned Books Week in 1982?

Mr. DOYLE: I think the purpose of it was that many people thought that we were very reactive to situations. In other words, if there was a problem or a challenge, we would provide help and assistance at varieties of levels. But we weren't addressing the issue to the general public.

We weren't engaging in a conversation about what the First Amendment means and what its importance is. And the attempt with Banned Book Week was to start that discussion, to encourage debates, mock trials, to encourage people to think about what that concept is, the First Amendment, and what its importance is.

BLOCK: Given the number of fights that Judith Krug got involved with over censorship and free speech, fights that went all the way up to the Supreme Court, I'm thinking that she must have had to have quite a thick skin. She probably made a number of enemies along the way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOYLE: Yeah. I think you're absolutely correct. I think she found, on both sides, people complaining about her and people hoping that she did not voice her opinions in such an articulate, consistent and strenuous manner.

BLOCK: Robert Doyle, thanks very much for talking with us.

Mr. DOYLE: Well, thank you, Melissa. And I also want to say on behalf of the library community and Judy's family, we thank you for remembering her.

BLOCK: Robert Doyle, the executive director of the Illinois Library Association, remembering Judith Krug, the director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom for more than 40 years. She died over the weekend at age 69.

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