Freedom to Read Foundation: 45 Years

Patriotic library poster, c. 1990

Patriotic library poster, c. 1990

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the ALA founding the Freedom to Read Foundation, a non-profit organization that defends the First Amendment as it relates to libraries, books, the Internet, and library users. An off-shoot of the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom (itself founded only two years prior), the Freedom to Read Foundation focuses its efforts primarily on defending librarians, book publishers, teachers, and other people who are in court due to controversial material, while the Office of Intellectual Freedom focuses on outreach, advocacy, and raising awareness of First Amendment issues.

The Freedom to Read Foundation’s first president was Alexander P. Allain, an attorney, and considered one of the 100 greatest library leaders. In the first newsletter put out by the Freedom to Read Foundation he outlined the Foundation’s goals:

For many years librarians have looked to the Library Bill of Rights for guidelines insuring intellectual freedom in materials selection. [...] It is, however, only a statement of principle. It has no standing in law. No “rights” accrue from it, even though it constitutes the library profession’s interpretation of the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution. The Freedom to Read Foundation believes the profession must now attempt to establish legal precedents, through case law, to make the Library Bill of Rights not only a statement of principle, but a principle grounded in law and protected and supported by the nation’s judiciary system. Only when this gain is made can librarians and library governing bodies face pressures to remove materials or to restrict selection, not only with “right” on their side, but with the law as well.

Libraries: An American Value, 1999

Libraries: An American Value, 1999

While today the Library Bill of Rights remains a guiding document for the library profession and not a legal one, in the past 45 years the Freedom to Read Foundation has helped set legal precedent and challenged legislation, such as the Communications Decency Act, the Children’s Online Protection Act, the Children’s Internet Protection Act, as well as many state-level obscenity laws.

The ALA Archives houses the papers of the Freedom to Read Foundation, including the files of the cases they have worked on. The Archives has digitized the Foundation’s newsletters from 1971-1989, which are available to read online. The Freedom to Read Foundation website also has a timeline of major court cases they have worked on. The Foundation’s most recent legal defense work is with Antigone Books v. Horne.

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We Thought We Heard the Angels Sing

This is Our War - Let's Read about it!

Library promotional poster from World War II

For Veteran’s Day, the ALA Archives wanted to share how books can sometimes take us to strange and wonderful places.  James Whittaker’s We Thought We Heard the Angels Sing (a book about soldiers during WWII who survived a plane crash over the Pacific and were stranded on a life raft for weeks) took Suzanne Kelley and her students on a pursuit of knowledge that connected them with the WWII veterans from the book.  These veterans became a part of the students’ lives for years to come.  This is Ms. Kelley’s letter to the American Library Association from this past September: Read More »

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Library Service for the Blind

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Painting by Denman Fink, commissioned by the ALA for the United War Work Campaign, 1919. Record Series 89/1/60, Box 1, Folder: “ALA Library War Service Special Publications (1919)”

“[T]he blind soldier is the spirit of war, of the battlefront, of France,” said Jerry O’Connor, a blinded Cantigny veteran from World War I, during his award-winning speech titled The Duty of the Blind Soldier to the Blind Civilian at the Red Cross Institute for the Blind’s Public Speaking Contest in 1920.  “We have the mud of the trenches upon our feet, gold chevrons upon our sleeves, and the scars of War upon our faces.  Whether we deserve it or not, people stare at us, send us gifts, invite us to their homes, give us sympathy.  Such circumstances place the blind soldier in a position where, when he speaks, he can be heard.  Consequently, if the conditions of the blind can be improved, the blind soldier should speak – and be heard.”  Identifying two major obstacles for blind people as “the habit of the public to look upon the blind man as incapable, sensitive, and helpless” and the lack of educational opportunities for the adult blind person, O’Connor called for public programs to address these obstacles for the blind.  One of the institutions responding to this call for action would be the American Library Association. Read More »

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Burton E. Stevenson: ALA Representative in Europe

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Found in RS 89/1/13, Box 2, Group #7 – Personnel

Burton Egbert Stevenson (1872-1962) was surprised to find himself named the foremost ALA representative in Europe for the Library War Services campaign during the first World War.  A college dropout from Princeton University and aspiring novelist, he fell into the library profession after marrying Chillicothe Public Librarian, Elisabeth Shephard Butler and accepting a librarian position at the same library in 1899. Read More »

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Library/USA Exhibit at the 1964-5 New York World’s Fair

Reference librarians on duty at the Library/USA exhibit

Reference librarians on duty at the Library/USA exhibit

Three years before the founding of OCLC, and seven years before Michael Gutenberg typed the first ebook for Project Gutenberg, the public got a tangible introduction to the potential use of computers in libraries at the New York World’s Fair. Even more uniquely, the Library/USA exhibit did not introduce people to the first commonly-spread use of computer technology in libraries, the online catalog, but instead to some of the library computer applications that would come much later, such as online encyclopedias and subject bibliographies. How did the ALA orchestrate this little slice of the future? Read More »

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Knapp School Libraries Project

In 1962, the Knapp Foundation, Inc., provided a $1,130,000 grant administered to the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), a division of ALA, to raise the standards of school libraries. At that time, school libraries in the United States were noted to be substandard. While federal funds helped to fund school libraries in 1958, the AASL realized that school libraries needed more than money to fix their problems. Improvements were needed in collection development, updates in technology, more staff, and renovations in facilities.

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A busy school library at Central Park Road School in Plainview, NY. RS: 99/1/18

The five year Knapp School Libraries Project started in 1963. The project had four objectives: The first was to demonstrate the educational value of school libraries. The second was to promote improved understanding and use of library resources by teachers and administrators. The third objective was to guide other libraries to develop their own programs by having them observe the demonstration schools. And the last objective was to increase interest and support for school library development by producing and circulating information about the program and the demonstration schools.[1] Read More »

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Miss “Public Libraries” Mary Eileen Ahern

Last issue of Libraries magazine.

The last issue of Libraries magazine.

Festschrifts are a common way to honor someone in academia, and line the shelves of many academic libraries. They typically contain academic essays related to the person’s life work, contributed traditionally by the person’s former doctoral students and colleagues. But what about a Festschrift that’s instead full of nothing but praise for the person being honored gathered from common workers in their field, and furthermore isn’t for an academic, but instead for a public-service librarian? This is the final issue of Libraries magazine, honoring one Mary Eileen Ahern. Read More »

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Ode to the Conference Program

The American Library Association Annual Conference is often a much anticipated event for librarians.  In 1876, 103 people attended the first conference in Philadelphia; last year alone over 26,000 people attended the Annual Conference in Chicago.[1]  Needless to say, the conference has grown a bit.

Amongst all of the exhibits, sessions, speakers, and free swag, there is one item that is essential to get around any conference: the program.  The program is the guide that allows people to navigate the conference, select which events to go to, which speakers to listen to, and where to obtain a free lunch.  Throughout the years, the Annual Conference Program has become thicker as the conference has expanded, and it has changed its appearance.  Early conference programs continue to be a valuable resource to the archives, but they were not nearly as aesthetically pleasing as the ones the ALA produces today. Read More »

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The Library Science Library at the University of Illinois, 1944-2009

Two library students stand just outside of the Library School Library, holding stacks of books.

Two library students stand just outside of the Library School Library, holding stacks of books.

People go to librarians when they need help researching, but where do librarians go when they need help with their own research? This post will explore the history of the Library Science Library at the University of Illinois, one of a few dedicated library science collections in the United States.

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Books on Wheels

In 1904, the Washington County Free Library in Hagerstown, Maryland, outfitted a wagon with bookshelves to serve as a mobile library unit to reach people who could not normally make it to the library. A few times a week, the book wagon was able to reach rural areas of the county and deliver books to residents.

BookWagon

Pamphlet by the ALA, 1921, RS: 29/7/4

The Washington County Free Library book wagon would meet a tragic end in 1910 when it was struck by a freight train at a railway crossing. This event would suspend the county’s library extension service as there were no funds to purchase a new wagon. However, in 1912, a generous donation of $2,500 by William Kealhofer, Esq. allowed the library to replace the book wagon. Instead of getting another horse drawn wagon, the library purchased a truck that could be fitted with shelves to hold 300 books.[1] The truck allowed the library to extend its reach by being able to add more routes. Read More »

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