ALA Midwinter 2020

Intellectual Freedom at ALA Midwinter 2020

The ALA Midwinter Conference in Philadelphia featured a number of meetings and sessions of relevance to those interested in intellectual freedom for children in schools and libraries. Here are some highlights for those who may have missed them, courtesy of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee.

Fighting Censorship

  • 2019 Downs Intellectual Freedom Award was presented to the Education Justice Project at a reception co-sponsored by the Illinois iSchool and Libraries Unlimited.
  • The General Counsel for the Freedom to Read Foundation, Theresa Chmara, spoke on Intellectual Freedom and the Law: Social Media, First Amendment Audits, and the Library as a Public Forum in a session moderated by Deborah Caldwell-Stone, Director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
  • The Pop Top Stage hosted a discussion of ‘soft’ or invisible censorship in the context of books with LGBTQIA+ characters. Authors Eric Bell, Kacen Callender, I.W. Gregorio, Alex London, and Alexandra Villsante were on hand to share their insights and experiences at “Not-Quite-Banned: Combatting the Invisible Censorship of LGBTQIA+ Stories.”

Diversity and Inclusion

  • Scholars from around the country shared current work at the Diversity Research Update, sponsored by ALA’s Office for Diversity, Inclusion, and Outreach Services.
  • Gender Equity was the focus of a session from Girls Who Code. The discussion provided information on ways to close the gender gap in technology careers, as well as specific steps libraries can take to join the effort.
  • As part of the Symposium on the Future of Libraries, Diversity, “Equity and Inclusion in Action” explored the use of “asset framing” in community analysis.

Legal Issues

  • The Freedom to Read Foundation Board of Trustees discussed a number of active cases and legislative trends that have a potential impact on schools and libraries.
    • Challenges to LGTBQIA+ materials in public schools are currently on the upswing, with recent successful and partly successful challenges in Michigan and Virginia.
    • A recent controversy in a Colorado high school involved a student expressing embarrassment when asked to read aloud from Howl by Allen Ginsburg. Howl was at the center of the case People of California v. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, which successfully tested the Roth v. United States precedent that a work could not be held obscene if it possessed social importance. This controversy, wherein the appropriateness of the material for curriculum is being evaluated and possible punitive/training measures are being discussed, seems to challenge that test.
    • Many were made aware through social media of Missouri HB 2044, which would mandate “parental boards” to evaluate public library content and impose fines and/or jail time on library workers who make content deemed “inappropriate” available to children. There has been no movement on this bill since its introduction, but it is only an example of bills with similar language that are routinely passed around state legislatures by activist organizations. Of particular concern is a subtler variant of such a bill that would make teachers and librarians subject to criminal prosecution in cases where they have historically been exempt, which has been introduced in various legislatures over the past year.
    • Another bill to watch is Michigan SB 611, which would allow state library directors to release patron information directly to law enforcement without a court order in the case of “alleged criminal activity,” which could have a deleterious effect on the intellectual freedom rights of patrons, including minors.
  • Intellectual Freedom was front and center at the PLA Legal Issues in Public Libraries Forum. This was a new session, offering an opportunity to discuss legal issues associated with common library situations such as patron privacy, challenges to both in-house and online content, copyright and licensing, and various liability issues. Led by Tomas A. Lipinski, Dean and Professor at the School of Information Studies, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: Advocacy, Public Relations, and Networking Skills; Professionalism and Professional Development

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