ALA Midwinter 2017

Mid-Winter Round Up

What an exciting time to be on the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee! Censorship, privacy, equity of access, diversity and information literacy are all hot button issues across the country.  It might be fair to say this is a challenging time as well.   At the ALA Midwinter Conference, this Committee considered how we might safeguard and promote the intellectual freedom of children despite the advent of a more conservative political environment.

"Look back at" superimposed on ALA Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits graphic

Issues considered included:

  • Over-filtering in libraries subject to CIPA. Particularly as the number of school librarians continues to dwindle, the job of filtering content falls increasingly to IT professionals who may not approach the issue with the same level of concern for First Amendment ramifications. This also could create problems of equity access.  Children whose only access to computer use is through a filtered school computer, might not have equal access to information as their more privileged peers who have access to unfiltered information at home.
  • Best methods for providing parents and teachers with First Amendment and Library Bill of Rights information in order to help them cope with challenges to school collections.
  • Revising the “Kids, Know Your Rights” pamphlet so that it will be easy to read and understand, as well as appealing to younger children.

The Committee decided to prioritize work on the most immediate need, re-constructing a more user friendly Know Your Rights pamphlet.

diverse children give a thumbs-up to children's rights


Freedom to Read Foundation

The Conference also provided an opportunity to hear directly from The Freedom to Read Foundation, which represents the interests of the ALA in First Amendment issues.  Theresa Chmara, General Counsel of the FTRF,  brought us up to date on some of the legislative trends we are seeing around the country. Here are some with the potential to impact youth:

  • “Religious Liberty Restoration.” Bills have been proposed in Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Mississippi that purport to protect  a student’s ability to express their religious beliefs in homework assignments and to orally pray or engage in religious activities before, during and after the school day.   Theresa explained that the potential impact of such a law would be to  allow discrimination based on religious views;  the recourse for students who do not wish to hear particular religious content at school events will be to “opt out” of such events.
  • A second type of Religious Liberty bill provides that a public school teacher may express a religious viewpoint and may conduct or participate in any student-led prayer, prayer group, religious club or other religious gathering.
  • In the privacy arena, several states are considering legislation that would prohibit internet or online service providers from using student data to target advertising to them without parental consent. A bill in Missouri would prohibit collection of students’ biometric data without parental consent.

As for cases wending their way through the courts, the FTRF has filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in Noah Gonzalez, et al., v. Diane Douglas, et al. (formerly Arce v. Douglas).   This case involves an Arizona statute prohibiting classes that: promote the overthrow of the US government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for students of one particular ethnic group, or advocate ethnic solidarity.  Claiming a violation, a Tucson high school principal cancelled a Mexican American Studies Program. The 9th Circuit Court has sent this case back for re-trial based on issues of infringement of students’ right to receive information, viewpoint discrimination, and overbreadth leading to self-censorship.


Betsy Brainerd is an Early Literacy Librarian in the Arapahoe Libraries, Centennial, CO.


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