March 16, 2018

Yvonne Farley | Movers & Shakers 2002

Keeping the Mountaineers Free

Putting intellectual freedom principles into practice

The West Virginia motto is “Mountaineers are always free,” but not everyone is comfortable with freedom: many would prefer people with minority opinions to just keep quiet. That’s why the state needs librarians like Yvonne Farley, sixth-generation West Virginian and descendant of a long line of working-class activists who stood up for their rights and took no guff from anyone.

Farley came to Kanawha County after the violent 1974 textbook controversy died down. Key players in that battle moved elsewhere, but the county is still not a welcoming environment for a free speech activist. Nonetheless, Farley fights the good fight, trying to convince people that a library that stocks trade magazines for the coal industry, for example, really should, in fairness, stock environmentalist magazines as well.

It can still be a tough place to defend books and films some people find offensive, but Farley believes you have to give people a chance to see what the fuss is about, and talk about it, in a variety of book groups and library events. And you can count on her to be there at a Banned Books Week event, reading out loud from Captain Underpants–a book suspected of subversively encouraging boys to act like, well, little boys.


Current position: Senior Librarian/Adult Programming Coordinator, Kanawha County Public Library, Charleston, WV

Degree: MSLS, University of Kentucky, 1985

Active in: ALA Pay Equity and Better Salaries Task Force, SRRT Action Council, West Virginia Library Association, editor West Virginia Libraries, 1984-91, WV Intellectual Freedom Committee

Active in: New York Library Association, Legislative Committee, Chair LAMRT (1995-97), Mid-Hudson Library System, Ulster County Library System

Honors: ALA Freedom To Read Foundation Intellectual Freedom Roll of Honor, 1999, West Virginia Librarian of the Year, 1996

The Internet opened up not only a whole new realm of information but a new opportunity for censors. While Farley was chair of West Virginia’s Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC), she learned that even though the legislature had defeated a mandatory filtering proposal, the governor was proceeding with his plan for mandatory Internet filtering on every library, school, university, and government computer. Her committee immediately mounted a campaign that led to university and public library computers being exempted from required filtering. Libertarian candidate for governor Bob Myers said, “Thank God, librarian Farley Farley and other library activists protested to prevent this mind control by government.”

The IFC received the SIRS State and Regional Achievement Award for this. Accepting the award, Farley said, “Sometimes it seemed like a losing fight and that we were in way over our heads, but in an election year we stopped the governor from putting mandatory filtering in all West Virginia libraries because of a united and informed library community, as well as strong support from other groups in our state–especially the newspapers.”

Farley, whose daily work is answering questions, believes everyone has a right to information on every side of public issues. Disregarding the politically charged atmosphere surrounding these issues, she has set up programs to tell people the background behind the terrorist attacks and the Arab-Israeli conflict. She feels that if you give people opportunities for civil discussion of their differing viewpoints, you can bring out the best in them.

Farley is just as passionate about fairness for people as she is about fairness for ideas. She sits on the board of the American Friends Service Committee’s West Virginia Economic Justice Project and is a member of the American Library Association’s presidential task force on pay equity and better salaries. In an article in the January issue of American Libraries, she pointed out that many librarians in West Virginia would make better money and benefits at Wal-Mart. Even if the present generation of librarians is willing to accept that, she believes the younger generation we need to recruit into the profession won’t; they’ll look for careers where professionalism is rewarded.

Decent salaries may be her hardest sell of all, but, then, others who have tangled with Farley have learned that it’s not a good idea to mess with a mountaineer.