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Intellectual freedom

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>Intellectual Freedom generally deals with the right to say, do and think without restrictions. Libraries provide access to ideas, no matter how unpopular. It deals with access to and expression of ideas. A formal definition of intellectual freedom authored by the American Library Association (ALA) describes intellectual freedom as "the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored” (ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom 2007). Believed to be a static foundation of the American Library Association since the organization’s inception, the ALA’s support of the individual’s prerogative to access intellectual materials without restriction has only existed as a formal ALA declaration since the 1930s (Bobinski 2007, 87). The Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) was created in 1967 by the ALA to educate information professionals and the public on the importance of intellectual freedom and act as a coordinator for professional activities related to this core value of librarianship (Bobinski 2007, 89).

Censorship of Library Materials[edit]

The primary influence of the ALA’s transformation from ambivalence to an unwavering supporter of intellectual freedom was in response to the censorship of certain publications (Krug 2003, 1379). Censorship refers to the “deletion or excision of parts of published materials but also efforts to ban, prohibit, suppress, proscribe, remove, label, or restrict materials” (ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom 2007). The American Library Association’s discord over the removal or restriction of certain materials was engendered by the organization’s belief that in a true, democratized society, individual’s must possess the right to autonomously access materials of varying viewpoints to make educated decisions, and such rights are protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (Krug 2003, 1379).

The first documented protest regarding censorship by the ALA was in response to a 1934 pamphlet entitled, You and Machines by William Ogburn. The pamphlet’s circulation was protested by the Civilian Conservation Corps due to the outfit’s trepidation that the work would disrupt the current economic and political structure in the United States (Krug 2003, 1379). The ALA however, adopted a more formal opposition to censorship in 1939 when John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath spurred considerable controversy. Accused of purporting socialist ideals, the work was banned in many libraries across the U.S., and acted as the primary catalyst for the formation of the Library Bill of Rights and the Intellectual Freedom Committee (Krug 2003, 1380).

Library Bill of Rights[edit]

The Library Bill of Rights (originally, the Library’s Bill of Rights) was officially formed in 1939 to promote the unbiased procurement of material selection, a balanced collection, and open meeting rooms for the public. Since the document’s birth, a number of amendments have been put forth to bolster societal changes in library practice (Krug 2002, 1380). In 1944, the Library Bill of Rights passed an amendment protesting the banning of materials that are “factually correct,” even if the material is seen by a segment of the public as worthy of censorship . In 1951, the Library Bill of Rights also provided an amendment to protect non-print media as a response to the censorship of films thought to possess a pro-Communist canon (Krug 2002, 1380).

Later additions to the Library Bill of Rights include the 1971 Resolution on Challenged Materials, which supports the right of individual libraries to keep challenged works on their shelves unless the material is deemed unprotected by the First Amendment in a court of law, and a series of amendments protecting the individual’s right to material regardless of race, religion, national origins, political views, age, and background (Krug 2002, 1381). In recent years, three additional amendments have been appended to the Library Bill of Rights which include “Access to Electronic Information, Services and Networks,” in 1996, the 2000 amendment “Intellectual Freedom Principles for Academic Libraries,” and in 2002, “Privacy” (Bobinski 2007, 90).

The Intellectual Freedom Committee[edit]

In 1940, the American Library Association assembled the Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) (formerly, the Committee on Intellectual Freedom to Safeguard the Rights of Library Users to Freedom of Inquiry). In accordance with the Library Bill of Rights and the Bill of Rights ensured by the U.S. Constitution, the IFC sought to protect the rights of library users to obtain materials deemed "subversive" (Krug 2003, 1380). The primary duties of the IFC include policy recommendations on matters related to intellectual freedom, to formulate guidelines that aid libraries and librarians in the defense of matters related to intellectual freedom, and to act as a watchdog for potential legislation which may affect an individual or organization’s right to intellectual freedom (Krug 2003, 1380).

Free Access to Library Materials[edit]

Another basic tenet of intellectual freedom involves the provision of universal, free access to library materials in the community served. Recognized by the initial draft of the Library Bill of Rights, this formal statement of free access to information bolsters the individual’s right to benefit from library services regardless of race, religion, national origins, and political views. As an addendum, “social views” and “age” were added to encompass other potential minority groups, and in 1971 at the request of the Task Force on Gay Liberation of the Social Responsibilities Roundtable, this statement was amended to include “origin, age, background, or views” (Krug 2003, 1381).

In recent years, the provision of free access to all has been challenged by numerous pieces of legislation. In 1996, the Communications Decency Act (CDA) signed into law by President Clinton, sought to restrict the access of “indecent” material to any person under 18 years of age. Although a following suit filed by the ALA and ACLU rebuffed the act, the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) passed in 2000 was unsuccessfully challenged by the ALA (ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom 2002, 30).

Confidentiality of Library Records[edit]

Much like the confidentiality agreements between doctor and patient or lawyer and client, the ALA supports the position that patron records (i.e. circulation history) should also be kept confidential. In 1970, after U.S. officials sought permission to review the circulation records of patrons who have borrowed materials related to explosives and guerilla warfare, the ALA devised the Policy on Confidentiality of Library Recordswhich instructed librarians to make such information accessible only after the generation of a court order (Bobinski 2007, 88). Another confidentiality concern arose in 1987 when the FBI began requesting patron information to enable the outfit to detect “suspicious looking foreigners” through the Library Awareness Program (Bobinski 2007, 88).

The issue of confidentiality has received renewed attention since October of 2001, after Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act made personal information like medical, business, and library records available to the FBI with the possession of a search warrant (Kranich 2003, 132).

Intellectual Freedom and the Librarian[edit]

The American Library Association’s Code of Ethics states, “We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library materials” (Krug 2002, 1383). Instrumental in upholding the principles of intellectual freedom is the role played by the individual librarian. As librarians’ strive to foster the principles of intellectual freedom, professional and legal protections must also be in place. To provide these protections, the ALA has instituted a number of inner-organizational agencies to facilitate the librarian in upholding intellectual freedom rights. Though early intellectual freedom policies and protections were administered by the Intellectual Freedom Committee, the creation of the Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has played a paramount role in safeguarding librarian rights in intellectual freedom issues since 1967.

The Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT), an ALA member organization, also engenders the philosophy of intellectual freedom by keeping members abreast of legal issues and changes within the Office for Intellectual Freedom (ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom 2002, 393).

ALA Intellectual Freedom Resources[edit]


ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom. 2002. Inellectual freedom manual. 6th Edition. Chicago: American Library Association.

__________. 2007. Intellectual freedom and censorship Q & A. Chicago. (accessed 17 October 2006).

Bobinski, George. 2007. Libraries and librarianship: Sixty years of challenge and change, 1945-2005. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Kranich, Nancy. 2003. Impact of the USA PATRIOT Act on free expression. Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom 52 (4): 132, 161-63.

Krug, Judith F. 2003. Intellectual Freedom and ALA: Historical Overview. Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science1 (1): 1379-89.

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See also the Wikipedia article on:
Intellectual Freedom Movement