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The Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT) provides a forum for the discussion of activities, programs, and problems in intellectual freedom of libraries and librarians.

The IFRT Members Community group is the central hub for discussion, library and events. It is visible to all ALA members but only IFRT members can participate in the conversation.

  • 1.  Re: Meeting Rooms Interpretation

    Posted Jul 30, 2018 01:54 PM
    In response to Martin's email seeking comments/suggestions on the resolution to rescind ALA's new interpretation on Meeting Rooms, I would like to share my personal opinions as a member of the IFRT round table.

    While I understand the emotional response to the words "hate speech" and "hate groups" and the strong opposition to a document that affirms their existence, I stand by the new Interpretation.

    Just as the 1991 edition was a testament to its time, this new edition speaks volumes of the times that we are living in.

    We can not forget that as librarians, we stand for Intellectual Freedom, we support the First Amendment, and we strive to share information so that we can create a well-informed society. To stay within legal standards, libraries must maintain equal access to resources, and in doing so may have to provide access to groups that are outside of our comfort zones. This is nothing new. What is new, however, is the fact that we are all more cognizant of what we believe in, and in what we can do to create the most welcoming environments imaginable for everyone. 

    For this reason; because our distaste for hate speech and hate groups has become so strong, I feel that we must keep the language the same to serve as a reminder of what we are obligated to uphold, whether we believe in its right to exist or not. 

    When we, as a society, have come to a different place, it will be right to alter the interpretation yet again.

    Sarah Johnson
    Cataloging Librarian/Assistant Professor
    Emporia State University

  • 2.  Re: Meeting Rooms Interpretation

    Posted Jul 31, 2018 09:52 AM
    Hi All!

    I don't actually know much about the controversy, but I do know that the response might not just be "emotional" but rational. It's important to resist framing dissent as emotional, since it's a way to dismiss legitimate criticism instead of engaging with it properly. 

    It is especially important in this case, since hate speech isn't necessarily protected by the first amendment. It is not addressed in the constitution:

    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

    Unprotected speech includes things such as threats, child pornography and "fighting words" (speech that would likely draw someone into a fight or breach of peace, such as personal insults).

    Fighting words, such as racial epithets, fall under this category and are not protected in certain circumstances, but racial or other epithets printed on a sign at protest are protected. Ordinances used to prevent certain types of speech are not allowed

    I can imagine folks might think of certain types of activities and speech as unprotected in certain cases, and it inappropriate and misguided for the meeting room interpretation's language to make it seem as if "free speech" is an absolute right. That's just not historically or legally accurate. It's important not to fetishize free speech. We should understand its origins, its purpose, and who it applied to at the time of its creation. 

    With all of that said, emotional reactions are appropriate too and should be respected, especially when your safety, and the safety or your children are at risk, particularly with the rise of hate groups in number and boldness (neo-nazi groups have risen by 22% since 2017; hate groups have risen too - although peak numbers are from 2011). 

    Targeted attacks, shootings, abuse in public of African-Americans and people of color, not just by hate groups, but by angry, belligerent white folks are rising both in actuality and in media coverage

    That might be hard to understand - to fear for your life and for the life of others - but that's an emotional reality based on facts (historical and in the present) for an entire sect of the population. It's not merely about "discomfort" around ideas - abstractions that somehow remain in the ether. 



  • 3.  RE: Re: Meeting Rooms Interpretation

    Posted Aug 01, 2018 10:43 AM
    Jane'a ,

    Thanks very much for a thought provoking and nuanced reflection.  Your point that hate speech is not necessarily protected by the First Amendment is well taken.  Of course, the First Amendment doesn't list any specific types of speech that are or are not protected.  It's all inclusive until the Supreme Court carves out exceptions.  If anyone is interested (and I'm sure some of you IFRT members are), the Congressional Research Service published a brief but excellent overview of First Amendment exceptions in 2008. It's well worth a read.  Here's the citation.

    Order Code 95-815
    Freedom of Speech and Press:  Exceptions to the First Amendment
    Updated March 17, 2008
    Henry Cohen, Legislative Attorney, American Law Division

    It specifically addresses incendiary speech and its limits -- without specifically referring to "hate speech."  This was 2008 -- ancient history.  See the "Content-Based Restrictions" and "Time, Place and Manner" sections.  For the latter, think behavior associated with speech.

    Best wishes,


    Doug Archer
    Peace Studies, Global Affairs & Political Science Librarian
    University of Notre Dame

  • 4.  RE: Re: Meeting Rooms Interpretation

    Posted Aug 02, 2018 08:22 AM

    Many thanks to Robert Hubsher for the following update.  He let me know that this CRS report "was updated by Henry Cohen in October 2009 and again in September 2014 by Kathleen Ann Ruane."

    2009 version:


    2014 version:




    J. Douglas Archer
    Peace Studies, Global Affairs and Political Science Librarian

    University of Notre Dame
    201D-1 Hesburgh Library
    Notre Dame, IN 46556

  • 5.  RE: Re: Meeting Rooms Interpretation

    Posted Aug 02, 2018 11:33 AM
    Thanks for the amazing citation Doug - super interesting and will be helpful for all of us.


    P.S. I can't believe 2008 was ten years ago!


  • 6.  RE: Re: Meeting Rooms Interpretation

    Posted Aug 03, 2018 08:23 AM

    As the person who asked a question that spurred the changes to the policy that we are now discussing, I find this debate fascinating. I believe there are two issues: who uses the library and what they do when they are in the library. Just because a group is labeled a "hate group" doesn't mean their use of a library meeting room include "hate speech."  And, a group that seems to be okay could easily have a speaker or program that others find offensive or that includes "hate speech." It seems to me that the focus should be on institutional policies that define the allowed uses of the meeting rooms, rather than on who is in the room itself. 

    Public libraries are by definition, open to the public. Yes, we serve vulnerable populations, but we also serve those who are members of the KKK, CVS and other groups that could be called hate groups. We don't have a litmus test at the door or grill a person about their beliefs when we issue a library card. We don't censor the books that they check out and order the fringe books that are patron requested. So why the brouhaha about meeting rooms? 

    Rebecca Lamb
    Adult Services Librarian
    Waynesboro Public LIbrary

  • 7.  RE: Re: Meeting Rooms Interpretation

    Posted Aug 04, 2018 05:27 PM
    Vulnerable groups and KKK are not the same. I think that's the first logical error in these arguments, regardless of our mandate to serving all people. They're qualitatively different in terms of what they have the power to do and the risk they pose. Difference is a fact, something that should be recognized, acknowledged and worked through, not ignored.

    Checking out a book is not analogous to holding an event or using space, for reasons I think are pretty plain. Hate groups don't mean hate speech necessarily - great point from Rebecca - but I can see folks being rightfully concerned with that. Book clubs talk about books, right? Hate groups might engage in hate speech. Pretty common sense concern for folks. 

    I do think though, that thinking through the language is a great idea from Rebecca. Making it clearer by adding to it, or re-thinking the general term "hate group"  might be helpful. It seems to produce some cognitive dissonance for people, and confuse them. The more specific I think we can be, the better. 

    I disagree that we should focus on institution policy in order to avoid the stickier issues. I think using precise language can help us engage with these issues in a better, more constructive manner. Being responsive to folks and respectful of their concerns is possible without sacrificing the mandate library. That starts, I think, with thinking from another person's perspective - regardless of it seems like a non-issue from a policy perspective. 


  • 8.  RE: Re: Meeting Rooms Interpretation

    Posted Aug 06, 2018 02:42 PM

    I think labeling can be an issue, whether trying to define a group as vulnerable or as a hate group. Historically, groups that do not represent the mainstream (and therefore vulnerable) have been labeled as fringe, terrorist, and hate groups by those in power. 

    Grabbing this definition from Wikipedia: "A hate group is a social group that advocates and practices hatred, hostility, or violence towards members of a race, ethnicity, nation, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or any other designated sector of society. According to the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), a hate group's 'primary purpose is to promote animosity, hostility, and malice against persons belonging to a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin which differs from that of the members of the organization.'"

    So, using this definition, PETA, Greenpeace, the American College of Pediatricians (opposes LGBTQ adoptions), some churches, the Nation of Islam, NOW, the Black Panthers, the women's suffrage movement, many historic worker/union movements, and more could be considered hate groups. Some might even say the Black Lives Matters or MeToo movements are hate groups--depending on your position in society or your point of view. Obviously, it all hinges on the organization's "primary purpose," but many white supremacist groups claim their mission is to promote "white culture," not to advocate violence toward others. (An example I have frequently used in this debate is the Sons of Confederate Veterans--they see themselves as a heritage organization, but do have a salute as follows: "I salute the Confederate flag with affection, reverence, and undying devotion to the cause for which it stands." So, is this a hate group? And, they do meet in libraries in many communities.) 

    Regardless, I don't really want to have to discuss the finer points of mission and percentage of hate when booking a meeting room. 

    Rebecca Lamb
    Adult Services Librarian
    Waynesboro Public LIbrary

  • 9.  RE: Re: Meeting Rooms Interpretation

    Posted Aug 07, 2018 11:22 AM
    About twenty years ago an organization then called World Church of the Creator booked the meeting room in the Tabb Library in Yorktown, Virginia.  I had a couple of long phone conversations with the then director.  First, there was no way to keep them out and still have a public meeting room.  (Tabb was fairly new and had been built to feature a really nice public meeting space.)  Second, it was clear that the group was hoping to be denied the space so it could sue.  And failing that, it hoped for protesters to enhance its notoriety.  So the conversation turned to insurance, police presence, policy updating and other practical matters.  As I recall, the actual event was anti-climactic and everyone survived. 

    I bring this incident up because I think most of us don't really expect to be the unlucky library that has to cope.  It took decades to persuade librarians who had never experienced a challenge that, yes, they really did need to adopt a selection policy.  If it has done nothing else, the revised Interpretation has gotten people talking and thinking.  And that is what makes the Library Bill of Rights and its Interpretations worth having.

    Carolyn Caywood