On August 9, the Executive Board of the American Library Association (ALA) issued a statement in response to proposed state legislation that would censor library materials or put at risk the library workers who provide access to information, including information about reproductive health care. The statement reads as follows:
ALA stands committed to the free, fair, and unrestricted exchange of ideas and the right of library patrons to seek information free from observation or unwanted surveillance by the government or other third parties, in accordance with the law and the US Constitution. ALA opposes policies and legislation that ban content, restrict access to information, or compromise library users’ right to seek information without the subject matter of their inquiries becoming known to others.
Recently enacted state legislation prohibits abortion and imposes both criminal and legal penalties for performing illegal abortions or aiding and abetting the performance of an illegal abortion. The passage of this legislation—and proposals to adopt similar legislation in other states—has prompted concerns that provisions within those bills may be used to pursue criminal or civil charges against library workers for providing library users access to reproductive health information, including information about abortion. Some of these bills incentivize individuals to pursue civil action against individuals with the promise of financial gain.
It is the professional responsibility of library workers to curate resources and provide assistance to library users seeking information without imposing their personal beliefs or engaging in viewpoint discrimination. They do so in compliance with state and federal laws and the US Constitution, including those provisions that safeguard information access and patron privacy. Library workers do not provide medical or legal advice.
As members of a profession committed to free and equitable access to information and the pursuit of knowledge, we stand firm in opposing any effort to suppress access to information about reproductive health, including abortion, whether for medical purposes or as a matter of public concern and individual liberty. Access to information in a library is a First Amendment–protected activity and ALA will defend that right and work with libraries, library workers, and library users to protect it, as well as support and defend library workers whose positions are jeopardized because of their defense of their users’ right to freely access information.
ALA is developing guidance for libraries and library workers and providing direct support to impacted library workers and trustees. We are also working in coalition with other organizations dedicated to preserving the right to read to oppose any efforts to limit access to constitutionally protected information or limit privacy protections for library users.
We encourage library workers to report efforts to censor information and to seek support from the Office for Intellectual Freedom and the Leroy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund should they be threatened with loss of employment or discharged because of their stand for the cause of intellectual freedom, their defense of privacy rights, or their professional duty to select items for their collections from all the world’s written and recorded information.
ALA calls on elected officials and policymakers to honor their oaths of office and protect the First Amendment rights and privacy of the people whom they are entrusted to serve.
ALA also calls on advocates to stand together in the fight against censorship by joining us and dozens of like-minded organizations to Unite Against Book Bans, publicly countering efforts to censor books and deny access to information by ensuring that their elected officials and candidates for elected office support First Amendment rights for all persons in their communities.