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Intellectual Freedom ALA Annual Conference Roundup

The ALA Annual Conference for 2021 was held virtually from June 23-29. Incapsulated in this post a few intellectual freedom issues presented at the conference. 

Program Highlights

  • “Can I wear or say that? Free speech in the workplace, sponsored by the Office of Intellectual Freedom, included speakers, Theresa Chmarar, general counsel for the Freedom to Read Foundation; Douglas S. Zucker, Esq., partner, the Weiner Law Group LLP; and Sarah Houghton, Director of Discovery and Delivery, California Digital Library. Issues of the differences between private and publicly funded organizations with respect to employer/employee relations and what each can or cannot do were addressed. As one would expect, managers in private organizations can impose just about any dress/speech restrictions they so choose as long as the policies do not discriminate between sexes or impact religious practice. Public institutions (such as public libraries) are protected by the US Constitution but, in general, employers can still place restrictions on employees but the best approach is to be sure there is a written and current policy. An employer cannot suddenly decide tattoos of skulls must be covered; there needs to be a non-discriminating policy. This session is available on demand, registration required. 
  • Problematic titles and you: inclusive collections, hot topics, and intellectual freedom,” sponsored by the Intellectual Freedom Round Table, included three librarians representing school, public, and academic libraries with a focus on auditing collections providing the following hints: if auditing a full collection is a daunting task, start by auditing orders of new books; to be more inclusive when book talking, try saying, “this is a fast-paced adventure story” rather than focusing on race/ethnicity of the characters; and, think about power and representation, it may not necessarily  be a case of needing to remove an “offensive” title (think classics and problematic authors) but making sure that other titles/authors are promoted.
  • ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee meetings (meets twice during ALA): 
    • Choose privacy every day updated website has been updated and provides resources and information about privacy issues in all types of libraries.
    • Working groups have been created to: update the Freedom to Read statement (last updated in 2004), create a toolkit on challenges to anti-racist materials and diversity training, continuing development on the “Problematic Authors Q&A.”
  • Intellectual Freedom Awards Celebration, sponsored by the ALA Intellectual Freedom Round Table, Freedom to Read Foundation, and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign iSchool honoring the recipients of: the Roll of Honor Award (author Robie Harris), the Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award, the John Phillip Immroth Memorial Award (librarian, Martin Garnar), the Gerald Hodges Intellectual Freedom Chapter Relations Award (Missouri Library Association), and the Eli M. Oboler Memorial Award (author, Henry Reichman). The session also featured keynote speaker Kyle Lukoff, author of the banned and challenged books “When Aidan Became a Brother” and “Call Me Max.”

Of general interest…

  • Of general interest is the request for comments on the revision of the ALA competencies by October 31, 2021. While ALSC has its own set of professional competencies (updated 2020), the ALA competencies certainly have a relationship to those of us in this division.
  • Reminder that “ALA Midwinter,” as ALA veteran members have known it, no longer exists. In its place is LibLearnX (LLX) which will include professional development programs only. Committee meetings will be held virtually and not during the conference time. LLX will be held in person January 21-24, 2022 in San Antonio, Texas.
  • The next meeting of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee will be held virtually in October (date to be announced) and is open to all. Watch this blog space for the date announcement!

Allison G. Kaplan is Distinguished Faculty Associate, Emerita in the Information School at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and co-chair of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee. 

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

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