As a change from all the news stories we’ve been watching about the immigrant crisis on the border between Mexico and the U.S., perhaps it’s time to celebrate some of our immigrants. Not all of them entered the country willingly or even legally, but many of them have enriched our society.
This week some newspapers carried the story of the death of Zoia Horn who died at the age of 96 in Oakland, California. In the 1970s her actions started a movement that has revitalized the library profession. During the hectic anti-Vietnam War period, she refused to testify or give out information about the library borrowing records concerning an alleged plot by antiwar activists, including Daniel Berrigan. She was surprised and shocked to discover that the FBI had been tapping her phone to try to find out whether she knew about the plot. For her refusal to testify, Zoia Horn was imprisoned for a short time, but more importantly she made people aware of the danger of government intrusion into the privacy of communications between individuals.
Although the American Library Association did not support Zoia Horn’s refusal at first, the organization later honored her for her work in supporting intellectual freedom. Libraries have been in the forefront of institutions that defend the privacy of their clients and refuse to make borrowing records available to government agencies. Today we worry about large tech companies that are under pressure to share information with various governments. Libraries have shown the way in which institutions can protect citizens against unwarranted intrusion. They have led the way by erasing records of past library use as soon as they are no longer needed and by refusing to be bullied into removing useful materials that may be offensive to some members of the community. The stereotype of the mousey little librarian has been disproved over and over again by the steadfastness of library support of intellectual freedom over the years.
For the last thirty years Zoia Horn worked in the cause of intellectual freedom. She has been honored by the California Library Association which named its intellectual freedom medal after her. You can find the autobiography of Zoia Horn in the Open Library of the Internet Archive. It makes lively reading for anyone interested in the history of the twentieth century. Horn tells the story of how she and her family left Russia and emigrated to Canada when she was eight years old. Their final destination was the United States and they found a friend willing to smuggle them across the border. Their entrance into the country was not quite according to immigration laws, but their lives enriched America. We should keep that in mind when we consider how immigrants at our borders should be treated as they try to find their path into this country. Many of them would surely become valuable citizens and make our lives better just as Zoia Horn did.