Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Intellectual Freedom: LIS6010 Fall 2009

Intellectual Freedom

I once took a class that discussed many of the pros and cons of using popular children’s’ literature in classrooms. The ever popular The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss was brought forth for discussion and having read this book hundreds of times in my youth, I was sure there could be no controversy over the use of this classic. With my jaw locked open and my eyes protruding from their sockets, the class ruled that this book was not suitable for use in the elementary classroom. Apparently, the Cat in the Hat teaches children to talk to strangers, let them into your home…cause destruction and chaos, and then you feel compelled lie to your parents about it…and let us not forget that their parents left the children alone and unsupervised…who knew Dr. Seuss had such sinister intentions! All these years, I missed out on that message from The Cat in the Hat and I apparently missed out on a lot of fun too. I was astonished that a college educated class could / would come to such a conclusion. Instances like this are the very reason that the protection of Intellectual Freedom is necessary.

To gain better understanding of Intellectual Freedom, it is important to first define what it means. According to American Library Association (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom intellectual freedom is defined as “the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restrictions.” (Conkin, 2006). Born from a fear that leaders would abuse their powers, and in an attempt to protect citizens’ freedoms, the amendments to the United States Constitution were proposed. On September 25, 1789, 12 amendments were proposed. December 15, 1791, 10 of the 12 proposed amendments were ratified and added to the U. S. Constitution in the Bill of Rights. It is within this Bill of Rights that the First Amendment houses the protection of intellectual freedom. In the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment reads as follows:


(To view amendments, please visit:

This amendment is of vital importance to libraries and critical to its operations and existence. Libraries value this amendment and fashion much of what they do to comply with the spirit of this right. So much so, that the American Library Association has developed its own “Library Bill of Rights”. The Library Bill of Rights includes measures to guide the services of libraries within the parameter of the First Amendment. It has been noted that the ALA attempts to align itself with state and federal guidelines (Ennis, 2002).

For a full listing of the
Library Bill of Rights, please visit

Are there any areas of the Library Bill of Rights that should be updated or amended to fit today’s technology and access to information?

It is a balancing act for libraries to work within the parameters of the First Amendment and the demands of local values. Libraries face a constant barrage of controversy when dealing with issues such as sex, violence, religion, and internet content accessibility (Fisher, 2006). A huge challenge to libraries is that children are afforded the same protections under the First Amendment. Censorship may be permissible in the confines of home, but not within the realm of citizen freedoms. In Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982), the Supreme Court determined that students could not be denied access to materials “…if petitioners intended by their removal decision to deny respondents access to ideas with which petitioners disagreed, and if this intent was a decisive factor in petitioners’ decision…” their Constitutional rights have been violated (Ennis, 2002). It’s a slippery slope when dealing with minors.

In theory and practice, libraries should allow minors access to content that could be seemingly inappropriate for their age. What safety measures or guidelines should be put in place to help assure that minor’s rights are observed?

As an American, I value the freedoms that are inherent to all. Our forefathers did a tremendous job of anticipating the future precautions necessary for the protection of their citizens. Each Constitutional right was established with the best of intentions for the good of the general public. Americans continue to debate the interpretation of the Constitution and I am sure the debate will continue infinitely. Public opinion can greatly sway the indications of successes, or failures within the valued document. In 2002, the United States ranked 17th in the World Wide Press Freedom Index. In 2006, the United Stated had slipped to 53 based on the premise that national security was sound reasoning for labeling journalist as “suspicious” when questioning the war in Iraq (ALA, 2007). 2009 paints a better picture with the United States working its way back up the ranks. It now stands at 24 (Freedom House, 2009). For the current rankings, please visit:

Should Freedom of Speech ever be limited? What are some of the “gray” areas that might need to be considered?

The scope of intellectual freedom is massive and far reaching. Here, we will touch on just a few topics that are touched by the protections of the First Amendment and intellectual freedom. This blog will include applications of intellectual freedom to the areas of social networking, school censorship and banned books. Far from clear cut, this topic is bound to provoke conversation and provide a feast of food for thought.


American Library Association (2007). U.S. rank on press freedom slides lower. American Library Association Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom, 56, no 1, 3. Retrieved October 1, 2009 from;hwwilsonid=EDI0HOXZP3BN5QA3DILSFGOADUNGIIV0

American Library Association (2009). The Library Bill of Rights. Retrieved October 1, 2009 from

Conkin, B. (2006). Defending intellectual freedom [Electronic version]. Young Adult Library Services, 5, no1, 7-8.
Ennis, B (n.d.). ALA intellectual freedom policies and the first amendment [Electron Version} American Library Association. Retrieved October 1, 2009 from

Freedom House (2009). Freedom of the press 2009 survey release. Retrieved October 1, 2009 from

Miller, E.G., & Fischer, P. H. (2006). Local values, the First Amendment, and challenges [Electronic version]. Texas Library Journal 82, no4, 152-4.

National Archives and Records Administration (n.d). The Charters of Freedom: The Bill of Rights. Retrieved October 1, 2009, from


Monica said...

The information about America's ranking on the World Wide Press Freedom Index is really interesting -- I hadn't ever thought that freedom of the press was something that could be rated, and I'm a little horrified that we managed to drop so low in 2006....

Florence said...

In his article, Frank D. LoMonte, explains that "over the last twenty years, the federal courts have substantially eroded the First Amendment protection of students' speech..." (p. 95).

These rights seem poised to incur further erosion in light of the advent of social networking. On-line speech is viewed as more pervasive and more accessible, thus more apt to cause harm in general than the printed word. This argument almost convinces me, too, that more restrictions should be required.

LoMonte makes me think twice, however, when he points out in his article that about 30 years ago, in FCC v. Pacifica Fountation, the Supreme Court determined that: "...over-the-air broadcasting is so much more intrusive and accessible to youth than the printed word the the government may restrick speech that is merely 'indecent' rather than legally obscene." (p.95) This hits home! I love talk radio of all sorts, and would hate for any points of view to be suppressed (although there has apparently been some recent talk suggesting just such action).

We are left with the question, and the fear: where would restrictions to free expression end?


LoMonte, Frank D. (2009). Reaching Through the Schoolhouse Gate: Students' Eroding First Amendment Rights in a Cyberspeech World. American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, pp. 95-103.

Unknown said...

As a proud bleeding heart liberal, I too am disappointed in The US's freedom ranking. You do have to take things with a grain of salt, however. I don't want to make excuses for the U.S., because the erosion of our freedoms in the last administration is unforgiveable. At the same time, I can't say it really bothers me that Iceland or St. Lucia enjoy more freedom than the U.S. Whether I like it or not, there has to be "some" sacrifice when you are (or at least were) the last standing superpower.

The same is true with regards to the library and the patron's bill of rights. If, as the provider of access to information, I have to take "some" responsibility for how that information is being used; well, I can't feel too guilty about, for example, making sure 12-year olds do not use the tools I have provided to look at sexually explicit material.