Getting Involved in Intellectual Freedom: An Overview

by Julia Glynn Warga

Many new librarians are passionate about intellectual freedom (IF), but the many committee choices and acronyms can make getting involved within ALA feel daunting. To help new members jump right into IF, I've assembled a brief (but not exhaustive) overview.,


Founded in 1976 by John Phillip Immroth, the Intellectual Freedom Round Table is the first stop for ALA members who want to become active in promoting awareness and take action on a wide range of issues pertaining to censorship and freedom of expression. According to the IFRT website, the round table was founded in order to provide “a greater opportunity for involvement among the members of the ALA in defense of intellectual freedom; [as well as encouraging] a greater feeling of responsibility in the implementation of ALA policies on intellectual freedom.” Committee responsibilities include planning the ALA Annual Conference program, presenting awards, promoting membership, and publishing the quarterly newsletter.

The IFRT board meets biannually at the ALA Midwinter Meeting and at the ALA Annual Conference. The executive board consists of the chair, chair-elect, immediate past-chair, four directors-at-large, secretary, treasurer, and committee chairs. Liaisons to ALA committees, divisions, and round tables also attend the meetings. Agendas typically include announcements and discussions of pertinent news and updates, as well as round table governance. The executive board meetings are open to all members. (Check the conference program guide for exact times and locations).

If you want to join a committee but are unable to attend conferences, do not worry. Most committees meet virtually. If you are interested in being appointed to a committee, contact me, so I can forward your information to the Vice-Chair, who will be making committee appointments over the summer.

Joining IFRT is the easiest and quickest way to get involved with the profession’s IF activities. Anyone who is a member of ALA may join IFRT. Annual dues for individual members are $15. Student memberships are $5. Membership benefits include a subscription to IFRT Report, the round table’s electronic newsletter.

The Intellectual Freedom Committee was founded 60 years ago. According to the website, their charge is “to recommend such steps as may be necessary to safeguard the rights of library users in accordance with the Library Bill of Rights, as adopted by Council.” The committee’s charge has not changed too much since then. The current charge includes “recommend[ing] such steps as may be necessary to safeguard the rights of library users, libraries, and librarians, in accordance with the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Library Bill of Rights as adopted by the ALA Council.” The IFC works very closely with the Office for Intellectual Freedom and other ALA offices and divisions if expert advice is needed.

The IFC is a Council committee that meets three times a year. The meetings are held at the ALA Midwinter Meeting, the ALA Annual Conference, and in Chicago during the spring. The IFC submits biannual reports to Council on IF-related news and actions from the profession. Committee members are responsible for reviewing policy statements as each relates to the Library Bill of Rights. Any ALA member may attend the meetings.

In the spring, the ALA president-elect appoints members of IFC to two-year terms. To be considered for an appointment, submit an application to expressing your interest. Each ALA division sends an official representative, usually the chair of their IF-related committee or group, to the IFC meetings. The IFC typically has 1 or 2 interns who are also appointed by the president-elect. Committee members must be able to attend the meetings and meet electronically between conferences.

Many ALA divisions have a committee or special interest group responsible for intellectual freedom and censorship issues. These organizations sponsor conference programs, present awards, and provide resources for librarians on censorship and information access. To learn more about division IF-related committees, including how to get involved, see the following list:

American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Intellectual Freedom Committee  
Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Intellectual Freedom Committee
Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) Intellectual Freedom Committee  
Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS) has no standing committee.
Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations (ALTAFF) Legislation, Advocacy & Intellectual Freedom Committee  
Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA) has no standing committee.
Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) Technology and Access Committee  
Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA) does not have a standing committee.
Public Library Association (PLA) Intellectual Freedom Advisory Board
Public Library Association (PLA) Gordon M. Conable Award Jury
Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) Access to Information Committee   
Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) Intellectual Freedom Interest Group

Founded in 1969, the Freedom to Read Foundation is a legal defense organization associated with ALA that supports librarians and libraries fight censorship and defend freedom of speech. Members of FTRF include librarians, publishers, lawyers, and authors.

Anyone can attend FTRF meetings, which are before the ALA Midwinter Meeting and the ALA Annual Conference. FTRF elects a board of directors. Ex-officio board members include the ALA executive director, ALA president, ALA president-elect, and the Intellectual Freedom Committee chair. Each ALA division and round table is encouraged to send a representative. The meeting agendas typically include an FTRF’s general counsel status update on court decisions, an Office of Intellectual Freedom update on state and federal legislation, and a general business meeting.

Anyone may join FTRF. Membership in FTRF is separate from ALA membership. The annual membership dues are $35 for regular members and $10 for students. FTRF has started offering free one-year memberships to students graduating from ALA-accredited MLS and MLIS programs and from school library media programs recognized by the American Association of School Librarians. Benefits of membership include the newsletter, voting for trustees, and a reception for members hosted during the ALA Annual Conference.

If you are interested in becoming active in FTRF, check with your ALA division or round table to see if it they need a representative.

Founded in 1970 in honor of Dr. LeRoy C. Merritt, who promoting intellectual freedom was active in the fight against censorship, the Merritt Fund provides financial assistance to librarians who were denied employment because they defended the First Amendment or were discriminated against. The Merritt Fund is managed by three elected trustees and is a separate organization from ALA.

Anyone who donates to the Fund is invited to participate in the annual election of trustees. All are invited to attend the fundraiser hosted each year at the ALA Annual Conference. Another way to become involved with the Merritt Fund is to be appointed to the Intellectual Freedom Round Table Merritt Fund Promotion Committee.

At the ALA Annual Conference, the Office for Intellectual Freedom hosts the session “Intellectual Freedom 101” where you can meet a representative from the Intellectual Freedom Committee, Intellectual Freedom Round Table, Freedom to Read Foundation, and the Merritt Fund, who will give a brief overview of each organization.

On the Sunday morning during both the ALA Midwinter Meeting and the ALA Annual Conference, the Office for Intellectual Freedom, Intellectual Freedom Round Table, and the Intellectual Freedom Committee host a joint meeting with the chairs of the division committees. Each representative gives an update on recent activities. The hour-long meeting provides insight into the business side of the various IF committees.