First Library Bill of Rights?

Q. When did ALA first adopt the Library Bill of Rights?

A. The first Library Bill of Rights was approved by the ALA Council at its meeting on June 19, 1939, during the Annual Conference in San Francisco.  It was modeled on a similar statement written by Forrest Spaulding, librarian at the Des Moines Public Library.  A news item in the ALA Bulletin (precursor to American Libraries) in the December 1939 issue states, “Forrest Spaulding of Des Moines has been appointed by the Executive Board as chairman of a special committee on censorship, following the recent banning by a number of libraries of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.  The committee is to report on existing censorship and to formulate a statement of policy for the board’s consideration.”

In her chapter (historical overview) in the 7th edition of the Intellectual Freedom Manual, Judith F. Krug reviewed the history of ALA's development of its strong advocacy of intellectual freedom in some depth.  She describes the “wavering” position of ALA during the 1920s and 1930s, noting that there was concern voiced about censorship in 1924, 1929, and in 1934 … but not against the Hitler regime, when it ordered books burned in 1933.

Although the original document focused on unbiased book selection, a balanced collection, and open meeting rooms, it reflected the climate of the times.  The preamble to the first document started, "Today indications in many parts of the world point to growing intolerance, suppression of free speech, and censorship affecting the rights of minorities and individuals..." The Library Bill of Rights has evolved over the years, with several revisions and amendments, as well as interpretations, which may be found on the ALA website.

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