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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