Intellectual freedom stories from a shifting landscape

For Immediate Release
Fri, 05/01/2020


Rob Christopher

Marketing Coordinator

ALA Publishing

American Library Association

CHICAGO — Intellectual freedom is a complex concept that democracies and free societies around the world define in different ways but always strive to uphold. And ALA has long recognized the crucial role that libraries play in protecting this right. But what does it mean in practice? How do library workers handle the ethical conundrums that often accompany the commitment to defending it? Rather than merely laying out abstract policies and best practices, “Intellectual Freedom Stories from a Shifting Landscape,” published by ALA Editions, gathers real-world stories of intellectual freedom in action to illuminate the difficulties, triumphs, and occasional setbacks of advocating for free and equal access to information for all people. Edited by Valerie Nye for ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), this important new collection offers insight to LIS students and current practitioners on how we can advance the profession of librarianship while fighting censorship and other challenges. The personal narratives inside explore such formidable situations as:

  • presenting drag queen story times in rural America;
  • a Black Lives Matter “die-in” at the undergraduate library of the University of Wisconsin-Madison;
  • combating censorship at a prison library;
  • hosting a moderated talk about threats to modern democracy that included a neo-Nazi spokesman;
  • a provocative exhibition that triggered intimidating phone calls, emails, and a threat to burn down an art library;
  • calls to eliminate non-Indigenous children’s literature from the collection of a tribal college library; and
  • preserving patrons’ right to privacy in the face of an FBI subpoena.

Nye is the Library Director at the Santa Fe Community College. She previously worked as a library director at the Institute of American Indian Arts and as a library consultant at the New Mexico State Library, where she started researching and training others on intellectual freedom and banned books. She coedited (with Kathy Barco) the book “True Stories of Censorship Battles in America’s Libraries.” ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) works to safeguard the rights of library users in accordance with ALA’s Library Bill of Rights and the First Amendment, with the support of the Freedom to Read Foundation, an affiliated legal defense organization that protects and defends the First Amendment. OIF is charged with implementing ALA policies concerning the concept of intellectual freedom as embodied in the Library Bill of Rights, the association’s basic policy on free access to libraries and library materials. Established in 1967, the office provides guidance, information, and resources on a range of intellectual freedom subjects related to libraries and provides confidential support to anyone undergoing a material or service challenge.

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