Julius C. Jefferson Jr., an information research specialist in the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., touted librarians as helping people to discern truth from lies Monday during a speech at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

Jefferson, who served as the keynote speaker for National Library Week at the John Brown Watson Memorial Library System at UAPB, celebrated librarians for championing intellectual freedom and for making that freedom available to patrons.

“Librarians provide the keys to critical thinking, which is so important,” Jefferson, who earned a master’s degree in library science from the University of Maryland and a bachelor’s degree in history from Howard University, said. “There is the idea that we have this thing called faked news. You do realize there is no such thing as fake news. There are lies and there are truths. … Librarians provide access to the truth.”

He shared that people are still objecting to books that contain themes of sexuality and homosexuality and that some books are being banned. He lamented this reality.

“There is not a specific place, like in the South, where books are being banned,” Jefferson said. “They ban them in the North. They ban them all over the country. It is not like one big homogeneous situation. It is small communities all over the country. And depending on where you live and depending what the content type is, books are being banned. For a book to be banned, there is usually a challenge process. We are seeing certain state legislatures are moving in a direction to ban curriculums, which is sort of like banning books, like in Arizona.”

Carolyn Ashcraft, director of the Arkansas State Library, praised Jefferson for protecting the written word and assisting people. She elaborated on institutional efforts to ban books within Arkansas.

She said the Arkansas Legislature sought to ban books by historian Howard Zinn, the author of “A People’s History of the United States,” but the legislator who sponsored the proposed bill failed thanks to librarians, historians and Arkansas residents who voiced their opposition.

“But there is always the anticipation that if [the legislator] tries it once, they will try it again,” Ashcraft said. “[A People’s History of the United States] provides an alternative explanation of a lot of historical events.”

Jefferson disputed the notion that librarians are merely handling books and shushing loud people. He also dismissed the notion that librarians are exclusively women who wear their hair in a bun.

He said librarians hold the keys to enhancing critical-thinking skills, defending the freedoms to read, helping immigrants, and facilitating life-long learning. He praised information technology professionals for keeping libraries in operation.

“No matter where you are, you can come to the public library and begin to develop new interests,” Jefferson said. “The library should be a place where we do not ban information and do not ban books.”

During a recent airplane ride, he bumped into a friend who asked him what he does as a librarian.

“It does not matter which way the truth falls,” Jefferson said. “I am going to give you the truth, no matter what.”

He explained that students from elementary school to college need librarians to assist them in their academic careers.

Miss University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Ashleigh Tate gave welcoming remarks and touted libraries as “tools and resources that have always been available to us … as I reflect on the librarians and libraries that contribute to my success today, my heart begins to smile.”

Also at Monday’s event, LaMoya Burks, a library instructor at Texarkana College, discussed the details of National Library Week, which began in 1958 by the American Library Association and individual libraries. National Library Week celebrates librarians and the people who patronize libraries.

“In the mid-1950s, research showed Americans were spending less on books and more on radios, televisions, and musical instruments,” Burks said. “Concerned that Americans were reading less, the American Library Association and the American Book Publishers formed a nonprofit citizen organization called the National Book Committee in 1954.”

The committee encouraged citizens to read, improve wealth, and develop a strong family life.

Ashcraft touted Jefferson for protecting freedom.

“He comes to us today from the Library of Congress, where he leads the knowledge services section and the foreign affairs, defense and trade division of the Congressional Research Service,” Ashcraft said. “He supervisors librarians who provide public policy research assistance exclusively to the members of Congress, to Congressional Committees and to staff.”