Intellectual Freedom 101

An introduction to OIF, IFC, IFRT, and FRTF

June 23, 2019

Erin Berman
Erin Berman talks about privacy.

If the purpose of Intellectual Freedom 101, held Friday afternoon, was to get the conference off to a lively start, it was successful. The fast-paced, one-hour panel let attendees learn about the intellectual freedom activities ALA and its affiliates are working on and how they are defending First Amendment rights.

Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) Deputy Director Deborah Caldwell-Stone discussed what intellectual freedom means to ALA and her personally:

  • The right of authors and publishers to publish what they want,
  • The right of people to speak their conscience, and
  • The right of people to their rights under the First Amendment

OIF advocates at many levels of ALA and elsewhere. They are the authors of the Library Bill of Rights, support public libraries and do educational outreach. The office is always available for librarians who need them. They also collect information on book challenges, which is the basis for Banned Books Week! On a sobering note, OIF is seeing an “off the charts” increase in challenges to pride month displays at local libraries. OIF also publishes the Intellectual Freedom Manual and Journal of Intellectual Freedom and Privacy.

Julia Warga, director for research and instruction at Kenyon College talked about the Intellectual Freedom Committee, gave a general overview of the IFC and its current work. She concluded by talking about how to get involved in the Merritt Fund, which supports librarians who have employment difficulties because of their defense of intellectual freedom.

Intellectual Freedom Round Table Chair Erin Berman, division director at Alameda County (Calif.) Library, discussed monitoring of ongoing developments around privacy in technology, politics, and legislation. IFRT also looks out for social and cultural trends that impact individual privacy and confidentiality, which has been in the news a lot with social media.

Finally, Berman talked about the Library Bill of Rights, which recently had a new addition that confirms the commitment of librarians and ALA to protecting the privacy of everyone in the library. Following this, Andrew Harant, Branch Manager of Cuyahoga County Public Library’s North Olmsted and Olmsted Falls branches, gave a brief overview of ALA’s Committee on Professional Ethics and how they translate the value of intellectual freedom into ALA’s code of ethics.

The audience was then treated to an engaging presentation by Wanda Huffaker, librarian at Salt Lake County Library, started by taking about what a ‘grassroots’ organization is. In Huffaker’s words “it is the most basic level of organization, made up of ‘ordinary’ people—exercise of a democracy depends on ordinary people.”

Charles Brownstein, executive director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and president of the Freedom to Read Foundation, wrapped up the panel. Beginning with a look at the audience, he observes that half the audience is half his age and notes how encouraging it is to see new ideas, new education, and new members. The FTRF, founded in 1969, is a nonprofit legal and educational organization associated with the ALA and it acts as a legal defense arm for intellectual freedom in libraries. Spefically, its goals are to

  • Protect and promote freedom of speech and the press,
  • Protect the public’s right to read and access the resources in the nation’s libraries, and
  • Safeguard libraries’ right to make available all the resources in their collections.

In Brownstein’s words, “Intellectual freedom gives us the right to love who love, know what we know and be who we are.”


Julia Billet and her translator, Wilfrid Lupano, Ezra Claytan Daniels, and Amy Chu

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