Freedom to Read

  FREEDOM TO READ & FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

SCOPE:

Intellectual freedom - including freedom to read and freedom of expression - is a basic right in a democratic society and a core value of the library profession.  The American Library Association actively defends the right of library users to read, seek information, and speak freely as guaranteed by the First Amendment.  (ALAction 2005 - Key Action Area)

KEY ACTION/PRIORITY AREAS: Intellectual Freedom, Equity of Access
RELATED ISSUES:  Internet Content, Digital Divide, Fees for Service, Privacy

CURRENT GOALS:

  • Policy 1.3 - ALA will promote the protection of library materials, personnel, and trustees from censorship; the defense of library personnel and trustees in support of intellectual freedom and the Library Bill of Rights, and the education of library personnel, trustees, and the general public to the importance of intellectual freedom.

EMERGING ISSUE(S) OR TREND(S):

  • Privacy

KEY UNITS/MEMBER GROUPS:

  • ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom/Intellectual Freedom Committee
  • ALA Washington Office/Office for Government Relations/Committee on Legislation
  • ALA Divisions
  • ALA Intellectual Freedom Round Table

KEY EXTERNAL ALLIES/COALITIONS:

  • Freedom to Read Foundation
  • LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund
  • Media Coalition
  • Association of American Publishers
  • American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression

KEY ACTIVITY/POSITION DEVELOPMENT MILESTONES:

  • 1938 - ALA adopted the Library's Bill of Rights.
  • 1940 - The ALA Committee on Intellectual Freedom was established.
  • 1948 - The Library Bill of Rights was adopted. (subsequently amended in 1961, 1967 and 1980).
  • 1953 - ALA endorsed "The Freedom to Read" statement, along with the American Book Publisher's Council, American Booksellers Association, Book Manufacturers Institute, and Commission for the Defense of Democracy through Education (of the National Education Association).
  • 1955 - The School Library Bill of Rights was approved:  "... School libraries are concerned with generating understanding of American freedoms and with the preservation of these freedoms through the development of informed and responsible citizens...."
  • 1961 - The Library Bill of Rights was amended to include: " The rights of an individual to the use of a library should not be denied or abridged because of his race, religion, national origins, or political views."
  • 1967 - The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom was established.
  • 1969 - The Freedom to Read Foundation [501(c)3] was established, with ALA governance links.
  • 1977 - The Speaker (development began in 1975), a fictionalized film account of a speaker denied an opportunity to speak on his offensive theories of race, was viewed by the ALA Executive Board, which requested that it not be issued until the IFC and the Membership had an opportunity to view it at ALA Annual Conference in Detroit.  The decision was later reversed and the film was released. Controversy continued into 1978.
  • 1982 - A "Banned Books" exhibit was presented at the American Booksellers Association conference, with assistance from ALA and others.  ABA subsequently asked ALA and others to co-sponsor or endorse a continuing Banned Books Week.  The ABA, ALA, and NACS (National Association of College Stores) held the first Banned Books Week iin September 1982, "celebrating the right of each individual to choose the books that he or she wants to read."  Additional sponsors were later added, including the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Society of Journalists and Authors, and Association of American Publishers.  It was endorsed by the Center for the Book of the Library of Congress.
  • 1983 - ALA OIF assumed primary responsibility for production of Banned Books Week educational and promotional materials.
  • 1986 - IFC issued a "special alert" to librarians, advising them to prepare for censorship attempts following The Report of the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography. The "special alert" noted: "...while the Commission encourages people to 'object to the objectionable' and 'to tolerate the tolerable,' the inherent message of the First Amendment is tolerance for the objectionable."
  • 1989 - ALA (and others) filed suit to enjoin enforcement of the Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act of 1988.  The U.S. District Court struck down most provisions of the law.
  • 1989 - ALA Council approved an Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights: Access for Children and Young People to Videotapes and other Nonprint Formats.
  • 1991 - ALA Council approved, as ALA policy, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the U.N. General Assembly: " Everyone has a right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers."
  • 1996 -ALA filed suit challenging the constitutionality of The Communications Decency Act, part of the Telecommunications Reform Act of 1996.  The Act was aimed at keeping "indecent" material from anyone under 18; the term "indecent" was not defined in legislation.  The ACLU also filed suit; the two suits were subsequently consolidated under the title ACLU v. Reno.  A lower court declared CDA unconstitutional. 
  • 1997 - In a 9-0 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Communications Decency Act unconstitutional and affirmed that "communications on the Internet deserve the highest level of constitutional protection."
  • 1997 - The ALA Council approved the "Resolution on the Use of Filtering Software in Libraries."
  • 2000 - The Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was signed into law December 21, to take effect April 20, 2001.  The act placed restrictions on use of funding available through the Library Services and Technology Act, Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the Universal Service discount program ("e-rate"), in the form of requirements that schools and libraries have acceptable use policies and technology to block certain material from being accessed on the Internet.
  • 2001 - The ALA Executive Board voted to file suit to prevent implementation of CIPA in public libraries, noting that "no filtering software successfully differentiates constitutionally protected speech from illegal speech on the Internet."  ALA filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on March 20.
  • 2002 - CIPA, as it applied to public libraries, was permanently enjoined by a three-judge panel.
  • 2003 - The U.S. Supreme Court, in a plurality decision, overturned the lower court and upheld the constitutionality of the Children's Internet Protection Act.