- ALA Annual Conference 2022

ALA 2022 Annual Conference Intellectual Freedom Round-Up

If you attended the ALA 2022 Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. this past June, then you know how great it was to be back in person and how many presentations and meetings there were that focused on book challenges and threats to intellectual freedom. If you missed those sessions or if you were unable to attend, below are just a few highlights.

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Legislation

Many states across the country are targeting intellectual freedom through legislation. Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom, reported noting three trends in legislation:

1. Targeting Librarians and Educators. This trend includes eliminating protections under the law for librarians and educators and allows suits by private citizens against them, meaning that a parent could sue a librarian for content in the library.

2. Parental Rights. This trend focuses on what legislators are calling “divisive issues” meaning content in the classroom or library that focuses on issues of race and sexual orientation. Often referred to a “stop woke,” this legislation often creates onerous transparency for librarians and educators (such as lesson plans one year in advance and written book reviews/justifications before purchasing materials) which degrade professional authority.

3. Solve the Book Challenge Issue. This trend focuses on filters for databases (including e-books and movies) and may include financial penalties to individual librarians, educators, and database providers. If there ever was a time to be aware of what is going on in your city hall and state legislature, that time is now! 

Privacy

The ALA and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) partnered to study privacy issues across library-related institutions and came up with several privacy field guides that anyone can use. Additionally, a privacy community of practice has been created between librarians and vendors to encourage open communications. Issues like what type of data is collected and how long is it kept on something like Beanstack or Kanopy were discussed in a few sessions yielding some eye-opening moments. 

Intellectual Freedom and Social Justice

Several sessions focused on these issues including discussions on: what is Critical Race Theory; what is obscenity and how does that relate to minors rights and First Amendment rights; and what does it mean to say a library is a neutral space – are libraries neutral spaces? In terms of neutrality, it is interesting to note that “neutrality” is never defined in the ALA. One participant in a discussion said that the library is a place were all people entering can be expected to be treated with respect as human beings, while another said that the library is a place where anyone should feel safe, still another stated that libraries support freedom of information not freedom of disinformation, finally another asked that if the library has a Black Lives Matter book display to help that part of the community feel safe, does it also have to have a White Supremacy book display.  For more on the rights of minors see Schools and Minor’s Rights. The ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee is working on a toolkit about Critical Race Theory to be released by the end of the year. 

Overall take-always

Importance of Policies: Make sure your library has had legal counsel in creating policies and that the policies are approved as policies (not guidelines) by appropriate board or districts. 

Constitutionality of Policies: Boards, districts, even legislators cannot disregard approved policies, but they can ignore guidelines.

Objections to Obscene Books: Obscenity challenges are judged by the entire work, not on a single statement or illustration.

Neutrality is a Nuanced Concept: It is not human nature to be totally neutral and so librarians must recognize this within themselves; library work is about being responsive and being able to build trust within the community along with recognizing and challenging traditional and current power imbalances. 

Allison G. Kaplan is a member of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee.

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