July 2012 Bar Bulletin
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July 2012 Bar Bulletin

Freedom from a Library Perspective

By Rick Stroup
Assistant Library Director


Mention "freedom" around public librarians and the word-association process is likely to generate a host of terms, including "access," "privacy," "censorship" and "equity."

We consider the concepts these words represent components of the larger, fundamental concept of intellectual freedom. As a profession, librarians have worked to protect the rights we believe are implicit in the idea of intellectual freedom. Not surprisingly, the list of what these specific rights are has changed over time and has been significantly influenced by digital technology.

In 1939, the American Library Association (ALA) created its first Library Bill of Rights, which helped to formalize how public libraries should apply the concept of intellectual freedom to their operations. Through its third and fourth policy statements, it specifically created a professional obligation to "challenge censorship" and "cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas." (For the complete text of the ALA Library Bill of Rights, visit www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill.)

In 1967, ALA created its Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) and charged that body with implementing the ALA's policies regarding intellectual freedom. Over time, ALA has also published companion "interpretations" to the six original Library Bill of Rights policy statements, which amplify the broad concepts in these statements and help to further define how they should be applied to specific library services.

The list of current interpretations includes statements about access to digital information, services and networks, challenged materials, economic barriers to information access, prisoners' right to read, and privacy.

ALA sponsors several intellectual freedom initiatives through OIF. Of particular interest to the practicing bar is its Lawyers for Libraries training program. Lawyers for Libraries is designed to provide licensed attorneys who have been retained by libraries with formal training regarding intellectual freedom and its practical application in library services.

Since 1997, OIF has held both national and regional Lawyers for Libraries institutes and plans on putting the program online this year. As OIF's promotional material states: "More and more attorneys are learning about the intricacies of First Amendment law as applied to libraries, and the country's library users can be that much more secure that their rights will continue to be vigorously protected."

If you are interested in learning more about Lawyers for Libraries, please contact the OIF at lawyers@ala.org.

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