As I write this message to our current and future IFRT members I am sitting in my office at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a welcomed feeling after a year of lockdown due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. As I look back over the past year I can recall how fearful I was at the beginning of the pandemic. There were so many unknown variables about the virus, which made many of us feel unsafe and scared for ourselves, our loved ones and our community. Although the scientific and medical communities are still discovering new elements of this disease we have much more knowledge than we had one year ago, and with that knowledge we can make wiser and safer choices on how to go about our daily lives.
In addition to the unknowns regarding the virus, there was more unsettling information revealed to us during the pandemic. Over 30 million households in the United States do not use the Internet. These households are mostly low income families, people of color, people with disabilities and rural and tribal communities. During the pandemic I taught an online graduate course for an LIS program. Although I was aware of these disparities on an intellectual level, I witnessed it first hand in my class as some students in rural areas did not have the infrastructure for proper wifi service and some students, who were temporarily unhoused, could not afford or find a place to access the Internet.
In my opinion the most important step to achieving intellectual freedom is access to information. In January of 2021 ALA passed a Resolution in Support of Broadband as a Universal Right. As the resolution states, “broadband is essential for life tasks including education, workforce, healthcare, and is a fundamental element of an inclusive and sustainable world.” In addition to these essential tasks, an increasing amount of vital information now lives only online, including government resources. There is no intellectual freedom if only certain members of society can access vital information. However, intellectual freedom is not just impaired by a lack of access, but also the lack of skills to navigate information in multiple formats. This includes digital literacy and information literacy. COVID misinformation spread rapidly online, specifically targeting the communities hurt most by the pandemic—the elderly and communities of color. Promoting digital and information literacy are methods to fight the spread of misinformation.
2020 has also brought to the forefront the intersection between intellectual freedom and social justice. Across the country there are legislative proposals, book challenges and petitions to suppress the teaching and discussion of the historical impact of structural racism in the United States. Recently, PEN American released a “Joint Statement on Legislative Efforts to Restrict Education about Racism and American History,” co-signed by ALA and ARL. In this statement they recognize that, “knowledge of the past exists to serve the needs of the living. In the current context, this includes an honest reckoning with all aspects of that past. Americans of all ages deserve nothing less than a free and open exchange about history and the forces that shape our world today...To ban the tools that enable those discussions is to deprive us all of the tools necessary for citizenship in the 21st century.”
My personal focus as Chair of the Intellectual Freedom Round Table will be on supporting and providing resources for universal broadband access, as well as increasing digital and information literacy. Also, to assist those facing challenges against the suppression of information regarding critical race theory and the history of racism in America. There are so many intellectual freedom issues to tackle, which is why one of my top priorities, as Chair and as a member of the Membership Committee, is to not only increase the number of IFRT members but to increase the number of active members within the Round Table. To make positive change we need a strong, engaged membership with interests, knowledge and resources that touch all areas of intellectual freedom. Intellectual freedom issues impact every aspect of our work and our lives, and we hope that you will join us in our activism to support positive and substantial changes in our profession and in our world.
Sincerely, Rhonda Evans
The Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT) provides a forum for the discussion of activities, programs, and problems in intellectual freedom of libraries and librarians; serves as a channel of communications on intellectual freedom matters; promotes a greater opportunity for involvement among the members of the ALA in defense of intellectual freedom; promotes a greater feeling of responsibility in the implementation of ALA policies on intellectual freedom.
- Provides broad opportunities for ALA members to become involved in the support of freedom of access and freedom of expression in libraries
- Supports librarians involved in censorship controversies
- Monitors intellectual freedom developments affecting library and information services
- Provides a forum where ALA members involved in intellectual freedom activities on the state and local level can discuss programs, activities, and problems
- Organizes conference programs on topics related to intellectual freedom
The American Library Association (ALA) Council established the Intellectual Freedom Round Table in June 1973. At the 1973 Annual Conference in Las Vegas, IFRT was organized as the associations's membership-activity program for intellectual freedom. The activities of the round table supplement the OIF's educational program and offer opportunities for ALA members to become active in the association's intellectual freedom efforts.
The IFRT sponsors three intellectual freedom awards. The annual State and Regional Achievement Award, given by the IFRT since 1984, was revised in 1991 and replaced by the Gerald Hodges Intellectual Freedom Chapter Relations Award in 2009. Formerly presented to a state intellectual freedom committee. the award has been expanded to include "state educational media association intellectual freedom committees, state intellectual freedom coalitions, legal defense funds, or other such groups that have implemented the most successful and creative state intellectual freedom project during the calendar year. The IFRT established the John Phillip Immroth Memorial Award for intellectual freedom, given annually in memory of the cofounder and first chairperson of the Round Table, "to honor notable contributions to intellectual freedom and demonstrations of personal courage in defense of freedom of expression." Biennially, the IFRT sponsors the Eli M. Oboler Memorial Award, presented for the best published work in the area of intellectual freedom.
Office for Intellectual Freedom
225 Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60601