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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.

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Freedom to Read Statement

  • 1.  Freedom to Read Statement

    Posted Sep 14, 2023 11:00 AM

    ALA announces Listening Sessions on revising Freedom to Read Statement

    For Immediate Release
    Thu, 09/07/2023


    Betsy Gomez

    Assistant Director of Communications and Public Outreach

    Office for Intellectual Freedom



    CHICAGO - The Freedom to Read Statement is the best known of ALA's documents supporting the principles of intellectual freedom as embodied in the Library Bill of Rights. The Intellectual Freedom Committee is conducting a review of the document. American Library Association (ALA) members are strongly encouraged to attend one or all of the upcoming listening sessions focused on revising the Freedom to Read statement. 5 listening sessions will be held this fall, focused on specific themes:

    Freedom to Read Listening Sessions:

    • Wednesday, September 27, 1:30-3pm Central Time; Theme: First Amendment
    • Thursday, October 5, 2-3:30pm Central Time; Theme: Disinformation and Misinformation
    • Friday, October 13, 1:30-3pm Central Time; Theme: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
    • Thursday, October 19, 2:30-4pm Central Time; Theme: Challenges to Materials and Authors
    • Wednesday, October 25, 2-3:30pm Central Time: Theme: Youth Access to Materials

    At these virtual sessions, attendees should plan to share their thoughts on how well the current statement addresses these themes and what changes may need to be made to the statement. The discussions will focus on big picture ideas, rather than wordsmithing the statement. Each session will also include a brief overview of what the Freedom to Read Statement is and how it has been revised in the past.

    These sessions will be facilitated by members of the Intellectual Freedom Committee's task force focused on revising the statement. This subgroup is tasked with gathering ALA member input in the fall of 2023. This task force will summarize their findings, then submit the findings to the Office of Intellectual Freedom for consideration of incorporating findings in a revised Freedom to Read Statement.

    The Freedom to Read Statement was first published on June 25, 1953, by the ALA and the American Book Publishers Council (the forerunner to the Association of American Publishers). It was published in response to censorship efforts that soared during the McCarthy era. It opens with an observation that is still relevant today-that while the freedom to read is essential to our democracy, it is continuously under attack. The Office of Intellectual Freedom reports that the total number of attempted book bans and restrictions in 2022 - more than 1,200 challenges - is nearly double what it was in2021.

    The Freedom to Read Revision task force includes: Deborah Caldwell-Stone, Director of the Office of Intellectual Freedom; Paul Flagg, member of the Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC); Johannah Genett; Karen Gianni, program director of Freedom to Read Foundation; Eric Gomez, member of IFC; Katia Graham; Eldon "Ray" James, member of IFC; Lesliediana Jones, Chair of IFC; Joyce McIntosh, Assistant Program Director of Freedom to Read Foundation;  Michael Miller; Jennifer Nippert; Aimee Strittmatter, Tracey Thompson.

    About the American Library Association
    The American Library Association (ALA) is the foremost national organization providing resources to inspire library and information professionals to transform their communities through essential programs and services. For more than 140 years, the ALA has been the trusted voice for academic, public, school, government and special libraries, advocating for the profession and the library's role in enhancing learning and ensuring access to information for all. For more information, visit www.ala.org.

    Eldon James

  • 2.  RE: Freedom to Read Statement

    Posted Sep 14, 2023 07:28 PM
    Does anyone have background on why this is being discussed now?

    I have heard some concerns since we're in the midst of a challenge crisis. 

    I do worry that it makes the person seem uncertain. 

  • 3.  RE: Freedom to Read Statement

    Posted Sep 14, 2023 09:38 PM

    The IFC has launched  its review of ALA policies in preparation for the 11th edition of the Intellectual Freedom Manual.   The Freedom to Read Statement has always been evaluated as part of that process.   The working group is aware that if any changes are recommended, there would need to be consultation and consensus with the other signatories to the statement. 

    Deborah Caldwell-Stone
    Director, Office for Intellectual Freedom
    American Library Association

  • 4.  RE: Freedom to Read Statement

    Posted Sep 15, 2023 09:17 AM
    Thank you for this context!

  • 5.  RE: Freedom to Read Statement

    Posted Sep 26, 2023 02:25 AM

    Deborah Caldwell-Stone & The Membership

    It would have been better if there was something like an outline about how a member-based resolution can be changed and how it operates within the existing system. The idea of "signatories" is a interesting characterization. Presuming that the Freedom to Read Statement is a member-based resolution, a countervailing means is required and thus only another member-based resolution could qualify any changes. This is an important element of any deliberative society and our notion of due process, and in this case it would require a vote of the ALA Council and the "AAP Freedom to Read Committee" (1,2,3, &4)

    There is nothing wrong with reviewing documents on a regular basis but there is an interesting distinction to be made in our case: Are we looking to change a document to fit what we believe or are we looking to understand a document for what it is? The only practical change anyone would want to make to The Freedom to Read Statement of 1953 is where that "something" would make the document better. Making it better is --unfortunately-- a matter of wordsmithing and nothing else despite all protestations to the contrary. I've seen the words and the wordsmithing and I'm sharing the same right here and right now (attachments & citations below) but I am not seeing the same thing being shared elsewhere. What, truly, are we discussing?

    Our problem is found in the first proposition of The Freedom to Read Statement and the two highlights I make:

    1. It is in the public interest for publishers and librarians to make available the widest diversity of views and expressions, including those that are unorthodox, unpopular, or considered dangerous by the majority.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Creative thought is by definition new, and what is new is different. The bearer of every new thought is a rebel until that idea is refined and tested. Totalitarian systems attempt to maintain themselves in power by the ruthless suppression of any concept that challenges the established orthodoxy. The power of a democratic system to adapt to change is vastly strengthened by the freedom of its citizens to choose widely from among conflicting opinions offered freely to them. To stifle every nonconformist idea at birth would mark the end of the democratic process. Furthermore, only through the constant activity of weighing and selecting can the democratic mind attain the strength demanded by times like these. We need to know not only what we believe but why we believe it.

    When all other propositions flow from the first we are left with relative roles, places, and positions of certain facilitators or institutions of larger society. The challenge we have is about how we maintain an equilibrium or a balance among competing ideas, beliefs, practices, or any some such. Who is the determinator of what is good and what is bad? 

    5.  It is not in the public interest to force a reader to accept the prejudgment of a label characterizing any expression or its author as subversive or dangerous.

    The ideal of labeling presupposes the existence of individuals or groups with wisdom to determine by authority what is good or bad for others. It presupposes that individuals must be directed in making up their minds about the ideas they examine. But Americans do not need others to do their thinking for them.

    Intellectual freedom and censorship get mixed up often but the essence of our problem here is that we have failed to understand these points of distinction whereas censorship against things "that are [considered] unorthodox, unpopular, or considered dangerous by the majority[.]" is exactly what is contrary to the point of understanding: We want to have the ability to understand what we believe and why we believe it. It is not that contrary beliefs, opinions, or experiences do not exist but about the ability to examine these things in turn. Censorship denies the ability to examine things --even if these ideas are wrong, we want the ability to examine why they might be wrong.

    Intellectual freedom is the first thing lost in a battle of censorship and the notion of what is right and what is wrong. Intellectual freedom is not an answer per se but a process from whence we are empowered to act; to examine; to deliberate. Only by way of the process of give and take are we able to understand what we believe and why we believe it.

    The modern challenge of censorship is not about wordsmithing intellectual freedom but rather about understanding what we believe and how we come about said belief and whether or not free and fair debate was allowed in the process. Ultimately, the challenge is not about wordsmithing. The Freedom to Read Statement is about how we leverage (or propagate) fundamental and existential understanding (over time immaterial) in order to better humanity. The issue is not about how someone may identify or be identified but about how such identity came to be. The issue is not so much about sexuality but about how such entrenchment in a binary gives way to marginalization among a known variable. The issue is not so much about racism but rather about how race is a social construct that denies known science. Disability is not as much a consequence as it is the inability to understand said consequence among the masses. The issue is not about what someone might believe in any of the above issues but rather about their ability to examine these things in turn.

    The first proposition given in The Freedom to Read Statement is also the first premise and those who have no understanding of its meaning have no business changing --or otherwise wordsmithing-- its meaning vis-a-vis belief and what we believe in. The Freedom to Read Statement is not about one belief or the other but about the many variables of belief and about how we maintain an equilibrium among the diverse nature of humanity.

    I have general objections to the processwhere we have structured meetings but no structured data; I object to the presumption that people know what we are talking about. The "signatories" are not only deliberative bodies within the ALA itself but among the many organizations that have "adopted" The Freedom to Read Statement. It is no exaggeration to say that there exist about 123,000 libraries among 59 state administrative associations where The Freedom to Read Statement has been adapted as a guiding principle. We need to be a bit more deliberate and transparent about what we are doing and how we are doing it. Isolated silos of discussion do not a whole make.


    Nobody appears to have shared the original documents and the subsequent revisions of past and as your longtime non-librarian ALA member I will oblige by including one link and one resulting text where we are now apparently "debating" the notion of "intellectual freedom". The .pdf link (2) gives the long form and the full text (3) that is copied and pasted immediately below gives the short form. The first link gives the most cited verbiage in full and this includes the preface to proposition (We need to know not only what we believe but why we believe it.)

    (1) Current ALA format:


    (2) Originals & Revisions:


    (3) The abbreviated result of the 2004 revision, full text:

    The freedom to read is guaranteed by the Constitution. Those with faith in free people will stand
    firm on these constitutional guarantees of essential rights and will exercise the responsibilities that
    accompany these rights.
    We therefore affirm these propositions:
    1. It is in the public interest for publishers and librarians to make available the widest diversity of views and
    expressions, including those that are unorthodox, unpopular, or considered dangerous by the majority.
    2. Publishers, librarians, and booksellers do not need to endorse every idea or presentation they make
    available. It would conflict with the public interest for them to establish their own political, moral, or
    aesthetic views as a standard for determining what should be published or circulated.
    3. It is contrary to the public interest for publishers or librarians to bar access to writings on the basis of the
    personal history or political affiliations of the author.
    4. There is no place in our society for efforts to coerce the taste of others, to confine adults to the reading
    matter deemed suitable for adolescents, or to inhibit the efforts of writers to achieve artistic expression.
    5. It is not in the public interest to force a reader to accept the prejudgment of a label characterizing any
    expression or its author as subversive or dangerous.
    6. It is the responsibility of publishers and librarians, as guardians of the people's freedom to read, to contest
    encroachments upon that freedom by individuals or groups seeking to impose their own standards or tastes
    upon the community at large; and by the government whenever it seeks to reduce or deny public access to
    public information.
    7. It is the responsibility of publishers and librarians to give full meaning to the freedom to read by providing
    books that enrich the quality and diversity of thought and expression. By the exercise of this affirmative
    responsibility, they can demonstrate that the answer to a "bad" book is a good one, the answer to a "bad"
    idea is a good one.
    This statement was originally issued in May of 1953 by the Westchester Conference of the
    American Library Association and the American Book Publishers Council, which in 1970
    consolidated with the American Educational Publishers Institute to become the Association of
    American Publishers.
    Adopted June 25, 1953; revised January 28, 1972, January 16, 1991, July 12, 2000, June 30, 2004,
    by the ALA Council and the AAP Freedom to Read Committee.
    First Amendment of the Bill of Rights
    to the United States Constitution
    The Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on December 15, 1791
    Endorsed by the Board of Library Trustees: August 24, 2009, October 22, 2012, August 22, 2016 

    (4) The Freedom to Read Statement Affirmations, Select Exhibits:

    a) https://highwoodlibrary.org/wp-content/uploads/ALA-Freedom-to-Read_Oct21.pdf

    b) https://www.springville.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2022/02/Statement-03-The-Freedom-to-Read.pdf

    c) https://josephinelibrary.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Policy-3-7-2.-ALA-Freedom-to-Read.pdf

    d) https://www.lpl.org/assets/Uploads/policies/ALA-Freedom-To-Read.pdf

    e) https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/4814051.pdf

    f) https://www.schaumburglibrary.org/about/policies/selection

    g) https://www.brownwoodisd.org/Page/172

    Alec McFarlane
    New Image Associates - Construction Consultants

  • 6.  RE: Freedom to Read Statement

    Posted Sep 26, 2023 08:01 AM

    Hello Alec,

    Thank you to our librarians for tirelessly defending intellectual freedom and fighting against censorship. Their support is tremendously beautiful whenever possible. 

    Librarians provided crucial information about intellectual freedom and censorship even Dr. Emily Knox stood before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee recently… you do not acknowledge librarians who are existence as you are not aware of others, but the focus is solely on Deborah Caldwell-Stone.

    The Freedom to Read Statement was first published in June 1953. It means during that time there was segregation of BIPOC who were not allowed to have public interests, but they did have civil rights and suffrage rights movements in the USA. It is not even a century old.