Library Meeting Rooms for All

ALA Council, Intellectual Freedom Committee, Library Bill of Rights

By: James LaRue, Director, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom

See ALA’s statement, “ALA OIF Responds to Library Bill of Rights Meeting Room Interpretation update.” Please also see the comment section. See, too, the new Expanded Timeline.

The American Library Association (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) is charged with implementing ALA policies concerning the concept of intellectual freedom as embodied in the Library Bill of Rights, the Association’s basic policy on free access to libraries and library materials.

Library Bill of RightsArticle VI of the Library Bill of Rights (first adopted by Council in 1939) states, “Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliation of individuals or groups requesting their use.”

The Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) proposed a revision of the 1991 “Meeting Rooms: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights” that states, “A publicly funded library is not obligated to provide meeting room space to the public, but if it chooses to do so, it cannot discriminate or deny access based upon the viewpoint of speakers or the content of their speech. This encompasses religious, political, and hate speech. If a library allows charities, non-profits, and sports organizations to discuss their activities in library meeting rooms, then the library cannot exclude religious, social, civic, partisan political, or hate groups from discussing their activities in the same facilities.

The revision of the interpretation was broadly inclusive and transparent. The decision to include hate speech and hate groups was made by the IFC and OIF in response to feedback they received from ALA Council and the ALA community when the interpretation draft was widely distributed, which concerned whether the KKK is allowed to use meeting rooms. The draft was edited during ALA Annual Conference by the IFC, and iterations were sent to ALA Council and distributed at two Council Forum sessions for feedback. The current language about hate speech and hate groups was included in the draft distributed at the second Council Forum session. The Public Library Association (PLA) reviewed and provided feedback to an earlier version (distributed before Annual Conference), but did not review or approve the final version. Again based on an earlier version, the interpretation was endorsed in principle by ALA’s Committee on Professional Ethics (COPE), the Association of Specialized & Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA) and the Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT). Please note that documents are edited constantly up until the end of conference in an attempt to incorporate suggestions and wordsmith. The committee proposed a final draft in its Report to Council, which was distributed Monday, June 25, and presented at ALA Council Session III on Tuesday, June 26. Council voted to adopt the revised interpretation. Based on member and council comments, this process is likely to change, providing more time to review changes from previously submitted drafts, and vote electronically. [Correction to this paragraph have been added in italics to indicate that division and committee approvals were either conditional or based on previous drafts.]

“Meeting Rooms: an Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights” did not establish any new right to conduct hate speech in libraries. ALA does not endorse hate groups, and does not seek to normalize hate speech. But it recognizes that “hate groups” is a remarkably elastic term, prone to be thrown about by both sides of a political spectrum. It has been attached to book discussion groups, Black Lives Matter, Muslim groups, and others. The statement also recognizes two prominent lines of litigation addressing public library meeting rooms. The first set of cases addressed the exclusion of religious groups from library meeting rooms. The second set of cases involved the exclusion of white supremacist groups from library meeting rooms. In both situations, the libraries changed their policies to permit the meetings. In some of the cases, the court ruled against the library on First Amendment grounds; in other cases, the court indicated that it would rule on First Amendment grounds, causing the library’s administration to settle the lawsuit and change its policies to allow the group to meet in the library. The interpretation was also reviewed by legal counsel, and reflects the current legal climate. Our goal is not only to protect free speech, but also to keep libraries out of court.

It is the premise of intellectual freedom that providing broad access to public space builds communities, not only by providing common ground, but by facilitating the sometimes contentious discussions that lead to positive social change. Just as books may offend some people, so might the views of the folks who meet in a library room, or protest outside of it.

Can libraries be “safe spaces?” Librarians cannot protect the public or ensure their safety from ideas they disagree with, nor can they guarantee that no individual’s feelings or beliefs will ever be challenged. This position is fundamentally contrary to the very principles of democracy. We can and must preserve the public’s physical safety. Here are a few resources:

To assist librarians in the work of providing thoughtful service, ALA continues its publications, webinars, and education efforts. For a sample of our previous work, see

An alternative resource: Public Libraries: A New Forum for Extremists, a Q & A by the Anti-Defamation League, courtesy of the New Hampshire Library Trustees’ Association.

The language of the current interpretation may certainly be further revised. The underlying principles, however, remain. Librarianship is not based on the suppression of speech. It is based on the right to express and access it.

As mentioned in the IFC’s Report to Council, a Q&A about meeting rooms is forthcoming. Please send potential questions to

Expanded Timeline

Below is a summary of the process through which the Meeting Room Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights was adopted. It is added to this post on July 17, 2018.

February – A review group was initiated at the 2018 ALA Midwinter Meeting to survey all the intellectual freedom documents and determine whether they need major, minor or no revisions, in preparation for the publication of the Intellectual Freedom Manual, 10th edition.

March – The review group determined that the meeting room interpretation needed revisions. Several issues were identified, among them charging fees, definitions of “meeting rooms” and what groups may use meeting rooms.

IFC Chair Helen Adams sought volunteers with public library backgrounds. The working group consisted of five volunteers currently employed in public libraries across the country and had the support of OIF staff.

April – An IFC working group, in six conference calls from March through April, updated two Library Bill of Rights interpretations: “Meeting Rooms” and “Library-Initiated Programs as a Resource.”

May – In May, a revised meeting rooms interpretation draft was distributed to the IFC for comment. The feedback period was 9 days. Here’s language from that draft:

If [publicly] funded libraries make their meeting rooms available to the general public  for non-library sponsored events, the library may not exclude any group based on the subject matter to be discussed or the ideas that the group advocates. For example, if a library allows charities, non-profit groups, and sports organizations to discuss their activities in library meeting rooms, then the library should not exclude partisan political, civic, social or religious groups from discussing their activities in the same facilities. Religious organizations have the same right to use library meeting rooms as other community groups; such use does not constitute a breach of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

In four conference calls during May, the working group took each comment from IFC into consideration and revised the document; it discussed the ethics of charging for meeting rooms and “commercial uses” of meeting rooms.

In May, the revised interpretation was distributed to the ALA community for feedback. The interpretation draft was sent to ALA Council, division presidents and executive directors, Round Table Coordinating Assembly, Committee on Professional Ethics, Intellectual Freedom Round Table membership and board, the State Intellectual Freedom Network, and ALA staff liaisons. The document was also posted on ALA Connect. Here’s the language that was included in the draft sent to the ALA community:

If publicly funded libraries make their meeting rooms available to the general public for non-library sponsored events, the library may not exclude any group based on the subject matter to be discussed or the ideas that the group advocates. For example, if a library allows charities, non-profit groups, and sports organizations to discuss their activities in library meeting rooms, then the library should not exclude partisan political, civic, social or religious groups from discussing their activities in the same facilities. Religious organizations have the same right to use library meeting rooms as other community groups; allowing religious groups to use the library’s meeting rooms does not constitute a breach of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

June – After the deadline for comments passed, the IFC working group reviewed the feedback in three more conference calls. A discussion thread on the Google Doc concerned whether the KKK is allowed to use meeting rooms; some commenters urged the matter to be addressed within the document.

The working group revised the document to be included in the IFC’s conference packet. On June 12, copies of the three documents were emailed to IFC liaisons of PLA, ALCTS, ASCLA, and IFRT, requesting review and endorsement. Part of the email stated: “To avoid any misunderstanding, I’m acknowledging that the documents may change slightly based on comments received during the Council Forums on Sunday and Monday. It is the intent of the IFC to submit the three revised interpretations to Council for approval at Council III on Tuesday.”

This is the language that was distributed to the IFC in preparation for ALA Annual Conference:

If publicly funded libraries make their meeting rooms available to the general public for non-library sponsored events, the library may not exclude any group based on the subject matter to be discussed or the ideas that the group advocates.1 If a library allows charities, non-profits, and sports organizations to discuss their activities in library meeting rooms, then the library cannot exclude partisan political, civic, social, or religious groups from discussing their activities in the same facilities. Public libraries have lost or have been forced to settle lawsuits filed on First Amendment grounds when the library tried to deny meeting room space to conservative religious groups or white supremacists.2 Religious organizations have the same right to use library meeting rooms as other community groups. Allowing religious groups to use the library’s meeting rooms does not constitute a breach of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

The documents were reviewed by legal counsel, who added suggestions. The IFC accepted these revisions at IFC Meeting III at Conference.

ALA Annual Conference Friday – The IFC met for IFC Meeting I and IFC Meeting II. The interpretations weren’t edited. During those meetings, the IFC was engaged in final editing of “Social Media Guidelines for Public and Academic Libraries” and “Responding to and Preparing for Controversial Programs and Speakers Q&A” documents, and the IFC approved both documents.

ALA Annual Conference Sunday – The above language in the IFC packet is the same language that went to Council Forum I on Sunday morning.  

At IFC Meeting III from 12:30-2:30 on Sunday afternoon, the committee discussed the three interpretation drafts. For the “Meeting Rooms” interpretation, a division liaison expressed the division’s suggestion to revise the mention of conservative religious groups and white supremacy groups in the third paragraph, as it seemed to them to equate the two groups and tended to reinforce the stereotype that libraries only want to serve a liberal audience. IFC meeting attendees suggested other phrases to replace “white supremacists,” such as hate groups and pressure groups.

A small working group went into the hall to revise this section of the document. When they returned, the revised section was reviewed by the committee. The suggested edits included moving references to any extremist group to a footnote. The working group argued that original comments on previous drafts requested specific guidance and that avoiding the reference was ignoring the “elephant in the room.” Instead of itemizing conservative religious groups and white supremists, the compromise was to use hate groups to broadly include groups that have extreme or unpopular views on religious, racial, and cultural issues. This was the language that was created by the committee:

Public libraries are bound by the First Amendment and the associated law governing access to a designated public forum. A publicly funded library is not obligated to provide meeting room space to the public, but if it chooses to do so, it cannot discriminate or deny access based upon the viewpoint of the speaker or the content of the speaker’s speech. This encompasses religious, political, and hate speech.1  If a library allows charities, non-profits, and sports organizations to discuss their activities in library meeting rooms, then the library cannot exclude religious, social, civic, partisan political, or hate groups from discussing their activities in the same facilities. Allowing religious groups to use the library’s meeting rooms does not constitute a breach of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.2

ALA Annual Conference Monday – The above language went to Council Forum II Monday morning. It was also posted on ALA Council’s Connect page. The IFC met for the last time Monday afternoon from 12:30-2:30. The committee reviewed the meeting rooms interpretation draft. One member questioned the inclusion of hate speech and hate groups in the draft, and there was an explanation about how it was originally written as “white supremacists.” Another IFC attendee suggested adding definitions of hate speech and hate groups. Another suggested changing the statement from “This encompasses religious, political, and hate speech” to “This encompasses political and hate speech, as well as religious speech.”

An IFC member made the motion to approve the revised “Meeting Rooms: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights.” Another IFC member seconded the motion. There was no further discussion. There being no opposed and no abstentions, the motion passed.

The IFC chair did not attend Council Forum III on Monday afternoon because at that time she was working with OIF staff to recheck text of the three interpretations and finalize the IFC’s Report to Council by the deadline of 6 p.m. After its last meeting, the IFC submitted its Report to Council, which included three action items, proposed to Council for adoption: “Meeting Rooms,” “Library-Initiated Programs as a Resource” and “Services to People with Disabilities” interpretations. The Report to Council was distributed to Council members Monday night. On the meeting rooms document within the report, it stated the interpretation revision was endorsed by COPE, and endorsed in principle by ASCLA and IFRT, as the final language in the document was not approved by IFC until its last meeting; documents are edited constantly up until the end of conference in an attempt to incorporate suggestions and wordsmith.

ALA Annual Conference Tuesday – During Council Meeting III, IFC Chair Helen Adams gave an overview of the IFC’s and OIF’s work since Midwinter Meeting. Describing the “Meeting Rooms” interpretation revision, she stated, “The revision that you see today has strengthened the guidance on providing nondiscriminatory access to meeting rooms and addressed fees for the use of meeting spaces. The Committee plans to create a Q&A to address specific questions that were asked by librarians when we sought comment on the revisions.”

At the microphones, a few councilors spoke in support of the motion. The motion carried.

Jamie LaRue

James LaRue is the Director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, and the Executive Director of the Freedom to Read Foundation. Author of The New Inquisition: Understanding and Managing Intellectual Freedom Challenges, he has given countless keynotes, webinars, and workshops on intellectual freedom, advocacy, building community engagement, and other topics. Prior to his work for OIF, Jamie was a public library director for many years in Douglas County, Colorado. Find him on Twitter @jaslar.


  • I understand, as do most of the people at ALA and in libraries, that many people in our communities feel exposed and angry. To those people, they say an affirmation of our longstanding support of intellectual freedom as a kind of betrayal, or an invitation to violence. I acknowledge both those fears, and the genuine concern for the most vulnerable among us. I share it. Yet it is my belief that intellectual freedom is the foundation for positive social change. Speaking against the status quo is OFTEN labeled hate speech: it was applied to Martin Luther King, Jr. It was applied to Gandhi. It has been applied, as noted above, to the Black Lives Matter movement. But the freedom to speak out is where social change begins. There is, at present, no body of law that prevents “hate speech” – or even defines it in such a way that it prevents it from being immediately abused, and used against precisely the people we seek to protect. Maybe there will be such a law one day. Meanwhile, libraries have many other ways in which they can continue to advocate for freedom and safety for all. Some of the links of them are above.

    Meanwhile, the purpose of blogs is to hash out these professional concerns – a concern (as was the phrase “hate group” itself) that came from librarians who wanted to drag the issue into the open, not bury it in vague language. We have. So please do weigh in below. But assume, please, that as librarians we SHARE values with each other. That we believe in both intellectual freedom AND diversity. And that these statements aren’t a thoughtless attempt to destroy what we have worked so hard to build. Rather, they are to give guidance that we believe will improve our libraries and our communities. Thank you.

  • To whom it may concern,

    I am writing to you to ask that the language of the Hate Speech and Hate Crime section of the Intellectual Freedom policy be revisited and revised ( Not only does this policy create an unsafe environment for LGBTQ+, people of color (POC), and other library patrons, but also for LGBTQ+ and POC library staff. I am deeply troubled by the false equivalencies made in this document as well as in the policy on meeting rooms cited here:

    Charity groups and neo-Nazi groups are not the same and should not be treated as such. Additionally, I found disturbing that OIF and ALA would conclude that tolerating hate speech somehow protects hate speech targets.

    “Tolerance of hate speech not only protects and upholds everyone’s right to express outrageous, unorthodox or unpopular speech; it also allows society and the targets of hate speech to know about and respond to racist or hateful speech and protect against its harms.”

    This stance is one of ignorance to history and blind privilege. As a library worker, I object to these claims and ask that a revision be made.

    I would also say that intellectual freedom is not the same as letting hate groups who openly champion the degredation of groups of people, or inciting violence against them share space in the library. Intellectual freedom is a library worker helping a patron look up the information of their choice. It is not inviting groups who openly wish to subjugate groups of folks, or who wish to harm those very library workers into your library.

    15 year ALA member. But really, do better. Y’all at the washington office stand with someone who openly wishes harm on others, and now the OIF thinks we need to stephen king, “hug the oppressor” in our libraries. Instead, maybe have a policy where the value of the library worker is just as important as that hate group you want to share space with. Where is the organization who stood up to the patriot act? Because it seems like more of the collaborator metality going on now.

  • My understanding is that vague language in policy allows for multiple interpretations. That suggests that the purpose of including specific language is to limit possible interpretations. Was it your intention to limit the range of possible interpretations of this policy?

  • I suppose my concern would be, with this explicit language, can we deny the use of our meeting rooms to groups that actively seek to cause violence? I mean, at the end of the day, if I have the KKK using my meeting room, aren’t I basically telling my customers of color that they aren’t welcome in my library? What about my staff? Is a staff person with a disability to be expected to check in/assist a group that advocates for their elimination or segregation from society? What about a Jewish staff person and a Neo-Nazi group? That goes a bit beyond neutrality. It seems like it would go all the way into “creating a hostile workplace” and leaving us open to a lawsuit.
    If our profession continues to use the excuse of “neutrality” as a way to avoid having difficult discussions what our professional response should be to the rise of misinformation, disinformation, and bigotry, then we’ve basically made ourselves obsolete. Who needs a degree to basically provide non-vetted information? Do we as a society really need another institution that disregards the needs and rights of the most marginalized among us?

  • Edith, yes, we have received many copies of that statement, although your link references not the controversial phrase “hate groups” in the Meeting Rooms, an interpretation of the Library Bill of Rates, but a summary of court cases and analysis. It’s not a policy statement.

    Amy, no, I think the Intellectual Freedom Committee and its members were trying to respond to a shift in challenges from books to exhibits, displays, speakers, and community programs. Their intent, I believe, was to call out, to name, the issue as plainly as possible. I take that as a principled act. We, librarians, need to talk about it. We offer this space as a forum.

  • I would like to echo Jenn’s concerns about the ways that including explicit language allowing hate groups in library meeting spaces can create a hostile work environment for marginalized library workers and an unwelcoming space for large swathes of the library community. I am a librarian and a member of the queer community. I want to know if, with the current wording, it is the ALA’s stated position and guidance that I MUST allow my workplace to be used as a meeting space for a Neo Nazi group that would actively be organizing and strategizing for ways to make my murder not just permissible but state policy? Because the wording as it was amended reads that way to me, and it enshrines that situation into a core document of the profession, one that I had previously pointed to as a pillar of what was good about librarianship.

  • James, above you say “Speaking against the status quo is OFTEN labeled hate speech: it was applied to Martin Luther King, Jr. It was applied to Gandhi. It has been applied, as noted above, to the Black Lives Matter movement. But the freedom to speak out is where social change begins. There is, at present, no body of law that prevents “hate speech” – or even defines it in such a way that it prevents it from being immediately abused, and used against precisely the people we seek to protect.”

    I don’t disagree but I feel strongly that there’s a vast difference between speech challenging authority and longstanding historical threats that include murder, torture, rape, and genocide directed at minorities. When an organization actively, by name, allows and welcomes parties like the KKK and Nazis to organize within their walls we provide a very direct message to others that they are not safe with us and that we can not protect them.

    I am glad, truly, that I am not in the public library sector any longer as I am exactly the type of person many of these organizations seek to actively harm. I have already had the unfortunate experience of being targeted by individuals – what happens to library staff like me who now have to face entire organizations like this? If an individual feels emboldened it’s easy to imagine how easily this could escalate with the backing of a group. Not to mention the fact that in many states, it is entirely legal to carry guns and other weapons in public libraries which further complicates matters.

    The policy as it is needs further revision and we hope to see ALA and OIF understand the need to promote free speech but still restrict violent and murderous rhetoric within their walls. I’d like to bring up the fact that while free speech is protected, there ARE several categories of free speech that have less or no protection as decided by the Supreme Court of the United States. These categories do include speech integral to illegal conduct, speech that incites imminent lawless action, and protection from imminent or potential violence against particular persons.

    All of these things are tenants of what hate groups seek to do to others. By inviting those that seek the death and destruction of others into our spaces we are actively allowing their actions to be approved.

  • Jenn, I can imagine situations – where some discriminatory group really camped out at the library and started actively harassing staff – when it WOULD be a hostile work environment, and that *behavior* would have to be addressed. But I think a lot of librarians deal with some of what you say already – reference librarians who get not-quite-abusive patrons who not only ask for proof of government conspiracies but keep up a nasty running commentary, for instance. Or patrons who pointedly walk by one staff member (Latina, for instance) to talk with the Anglo staff. Often, of course, we have no idea what the political beliefs or biases of an individual might be when they use our services. Usually, we don’t need to.

    I don’t know the answer to your other question: if there’s a group that actively promotes violence (a named affiliate of a group with a website calling for that, for instance) can a library deny them meeting space? There’s a difference between the probability of violence at the library (raising security and insurance issues, maybe), and groups with some members who have said they advocate for some kind of violence. I just read through the “Public Libraries: A New Forum for Extremists, “by the Anti-Defamation League, cited above. It was written in 2002, so the issue isn’t new. To the first question (“Can a public library ban extremists from using library meeting rooms and facilities?”) they say, “A library cannot decide whom to allow to use its meeting rooms and facilities on the basis of the content of the user’s speech.” But as the ADF also notes, “Please be aware that First Amendment issues of this sort are often very complicated, and the best response for your library may hinge on your institutional practice or state and local law.” I guess it will come down to the particular cases.

  • James,

    There are two issues I am unclear on. First, why are some council-members claim that the language inserting “hate groups” into the Interpretation took them by surprise. When was that language added, and given that hate groups were already covered, why are they now explicitly mentioned? Second, adding that language seems like it will be used against libraries and library staff in legal challenges. Regardless of future revisions, legal counsel for hate groups will have access to this text. Can you explain OIF’s thought process? Thank you.



    More here, should anyone care:

  • Words can be weaponized. When someone calls Black Lives Matter a “hate group,” they are weaponizing the words to delegitimize a group they disagree with and don’t like.
    Black Lives Matter stands for groups of people. Actual hate groups stand against groups of people. There is an essential difference.
    I champion free speech. Libraries are all about the free expression and exchange of ideas. But inviting hate groups into the library is unnecessary and unsafe. If we “can and must preserve the public’s physical safety,” then we can’t invite a group whose central tenets are the destruction of other groups.
    ALA does not need to include the words “hate groups” in the meeting room amendment. Even if AL A genuinely believes libraries cannot or should not prevent hate groups from using their meeting rooms, there is no need to include the words “hate groups” in the amendment. To do so signals an invitation to these groups, and a tacit endorsement.
    The language “…cannot discriminate or deny access based upon the viewpoint of speakers or the content of their speech” is sufficient. Remove the words “hate groups.”

  • This statement does not respond to the concerns I, and other parties, have raised. It glosses over the transparency problems surrounding the approval process: many voting members report that they were not alerted to the last minute inclusion of the phrase “hate groups” to the document before the final vote. Most importantly, the tone of the response is condescending and betrays a basic lack of understanding of the experiences of marginalized people. There is no world in which white supremacist fascists can co-exist with the people of color, immigrants, disabled people, and queer people that libraries claim to serve.

    I encourage you to rethink your position, issue a formal apology to the members of the profession you have personally harmed, and work with a diverse group of ALA members to form a new document that will be subject to an open and transparent vote.

    If the current OIF is unable to make a distinction between Black Lives Matter and the KKK, then hand over the work to people who can.

  • “The fact that it generated so much energy, I think means it’s an important topic. So let’s talk about it, but let’s try not to savage each other in the process. Let’s assume that we share values.” James La Rue


    James, this is where I think we are running into a challenge. I don’t think that we share the same values. The energy that you referred to (on social media) is engagement on this issue. It isn’t apparently engagement that you want to deal with by referring people back to this blog. So now some of us are here, trying to have a conversation that is so very important.

    As a councilor I didn’t do my job well enough at Annual 2018, I didn’t catch this hate speech change in the interpretation. As you know from the 2017 Resolution on Libraries as Safe Spaces we have very different perceptions on the primacy of the first amendment over the safety of library staff and patrons.

    When we privilege protecting free speech for hate groups we have created an unsafe space for others. This isn’t a theoretical exploration of the first amendment, done from a position of privilege and relative safety. The consequences of allowing hate groups like the ubiquitous Nazi example to use public meeting rooms as a measure to protect libraries’ “neutrality” may make libraries very unsafe for those community members targeted by hate groups. We should be aiming much higher and affirming some of our other core values such as diversity and social responsibility alongside intellectual freedom in our work. When they are in conflict I will always choose protecting those who are targeted by groups whose only function is to create fear and anger.

    Thank you,
    Laura Koltutsky

  • My thanks to ALA and the OIF for creating a transparent forum for some discussion on the official ALA site. I firmly agree with what others have noted, that opening meeting spaces to hate groups invites violence, aggression, and negative experiences on both our staffs and our patrons. Further, it’s the job of many of us who are established white library leaders to step aside and acknowledge we don’t face the sorts of systemic discrimination, disempowerment, and danger our colleagues of color, LGBTQ colleagues, and others face. I also reiterate what others have noted, that as an overwhelmingly white profession it is not enough to acknowledge the fears or experiences of marginalized library workers and patrons. We need to center the conversation and its next steps in their experiences. We have an obligation to one another- a social contract even.

    I believe that we may be talking past each other, so I do want to note that I found the tone of this response to be somewhat condescending in its mentions of “safe space” and “contentious discussions.” Hate groups in this country regularly commit violence. We are at a critical point in a national dialogue where as a profession that acts in service of community, we must acknowledge and accept both our power and its limits. We do not need to invite dangerous groups to our spaces. We can say that we reject hate and violence. This should not be considered controversial nor does it curtail actual discussion of ideas. Violence is not dialogue, it is the end of dialogue.

  • James and OIF are repeatedly referring people to this blog and implying (or in James’ case, stating) that they are not interested in engagement outside of this space (which they happen to control). There appears to be a significant delay and level of moderation occurring here. Additionally, James has repeatedly referred critiques and substantive questions to this blog statement, though it does not address them. (e.g., April Hathcock’s well-reasoned legal explanation of why this wording change makes lawsuits more likely, not less likely; or the many questions about the specific timeline of changes to the document and when, precisely, the hate groups example was added. That specific phrase does not seem to have been made widely available prior to the final vote, and it is specifically that phrase that is the problem.)

    Is OIF genuinely interested in discussing this issue and rethinking their stance on this issue, or is this venue meant as a place to contain the bad publicity and (justified) outrage in a less visible venue?

    (This comment written and submitted at 1:11 PM, Eastern.)

  • Here, we are talking about “beliefs” being challenged. We are giving two unequal sets of beliefs equal standing.

    I, as a queer person, believe I have a right to physical safety+autonomy.
    Hate group believes in my demise+inhumane treatment. I, as a Jewish person, believe I have a right to physical safety+autonomy.
    Hate group believes in my demise+inhumane treatment.

    One belief hurts no one. The second belief threatens my existence. The OIF is seeing these two as equal.
    My “beliefs” aren’t being challenged, OIF. My existence is.
    An example of a belief being challenged is that a baking workshop is being held+a patron doesn’t believe in eating refined sugar.
    The workshop isn’t advocating for violence. The patron’s life is not being threatened.

    A belief being challenged is a graphic novel club being held in the meeting room and a parent insisting that comics aren’t real books. Differences of opinion, but not the same as a POC family existing alongside a white supremacist group.

    Maybe the patron will decide that refined sugar is OK once in a while, maybe they won’t. Maybe the parent will come around see the value in graphic novels. Maybe they won’t. But a hate group will not convince me that I’m not a person. A hate group won’t do anything but terrorize.

    When OIF says, “We can and must preserve the public’s physical safety.”
    1) Why is a child’s emotional safety unimportant and frivolous in this scenario? Why are discounting the negative consequences of coexisting with hate speech? Do we truly think there are no repercussions here?
    2) How can we preserve the public’s physical safety when they are in close proximity with a hate group?
    3) If we can’t offer a space for BIPOC, queer ppl, ppl with disabilities, women, and immigrants that’s free of hate groups, what the hell good are we as an institution anyway? What do we have to offer a community? The only ppl we are catering to here is hate groups. No one else.
    4) If this is the precedent we are setting, we are not allowed to wonder why librarianship is overwhelmingly white. We do not get to complain about lack of diversity within the profession. When we do not value our non-white lib workers, this is what will continue to happen.
    5) If this is the precedent we are setting, we are not allowed to wonder why we’ve lost connections to certain communities. We do not get to complain that we don’t have library advocates when our budgets are failing and our staff members are being laid off. We do not get to ask our lost patrons to testify for us at city hall when it’s time for our contracts to be renewed. We do not get to wonder why citizens won’t support pro-library bills and candidates at the voting booths.
    We are not supporting our patrons.
    We can’t expect them to support us.
    We have to value their physical autonomy or they will not value us.

  • “But it recognizes that “hate groups” is a remarkably elastic term, prone to be thrown about by both sides of a political spectrum. It has been attached to book discussion groups, Black Lives Matter, Muslim groups, and others.”

    I am very concerned to see librarians conceding to this false equivalence. There are reliable resources available to help distinguish between hate groups from political and religious organizations. If librarians cannot use reliable sources to craft reasoned arguments about what belongs in the library, and what doesn’t, then how can we do collection development? The term “hate group” does get thrown around a lot, just like the term “fake news.” As librarians, we critically evaluate sources in order to evaluate the truth of these claims. We distinguish between fact and opinion, and between supported and unsupported claims. We do this every day when we decide what belongs in our collections and what doesn’t, and when we guide our patrons to the best information for their needs. The implication that librarians are unqualified to make reasoned determinations about what constitutes a hate group in the face of differing opinions undermines the very nature of librarianship.

    The lower court decisions referenced here about hate groups in libraries are, of course, a concern. However, they are not binding precedent. I am not a branch manager, but if I were, I would be willing to go to court to keep terrorist organizations like the Klan out of my library. I would prefer that my professional organization offer resources to support me in such a challenge, rather than issuing a statement that could serve as evidence to undermine my position. I am certainly disheartened by the language in this post implying that my legitimate concerns about user and staff safety stem from a desire to suppress speech.

    I also agree with others above who expressed concerns about the transparency of the process when this language was added, about the fact that this language likely exposes libraries to increased risk of lawsuits from hate groups, and most especially about the risk to our staff and patrons when we allow hate groups to use our spaces. For all of those reasons, I request that “hate groups” be removed from this document as soon as possible.

  • Thank you, all of you, for your frank comments. An update: ALA leadership is working on a combined working group (members of both intellectual freedom (IF) and equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) communities, to revisit the language in the very near future (more info as I get it). I do not believe IF and EDI are irreconcilable. But as is obvious here, there is a significant split in the profession about whether and how we will continue to try to embody the principles of the First Amendment (IF), or if EDI values are more important, or if some new balance can be found between them. I don’t claim to have it all worked out, nor does the Intellectual Freedom Committee. But I do think we need to talk it through. Moving it here is just to make it easier to make sustained arguments, respond to them, and archive the conversation.

  • I am confused, are you saying it is obvious in this forum that there is a significant split in how libraries embodies the principles of the First Amendment? Because all the opinions on this forum, besides your own, are clearly against the incorporation of the term “hate speech” in library policy. I am curious how much diversity was in the working group to make this decision. Did you confer with those of us who have been victims of hate groups and how we feel being in a profession that is accepting of groups who threaten our safety? I am deeply disturbed.

  • Jaime, the Interpretation was crafted over the space of a year or so by Intellectual Freedom Committee members, so represents their views and deliberations. It certainly discussed the issue of people threatened by hate groups. I suppose it’s as diverse as most ALA committees, meaning not so much, but this is the same group that passed the EDI interpretation at midwinter, so they’re mindful of the issues. While final language changed, as noted, the broad ideas – and the belief that library meeting rooms are open to all under the same terms – did not, and were widely circulated around the association. The revised statement, as I noted above, will consciously include formal representatives from some diversity committee or group within ALA. This blog was set up, and has mostly been visited to date, by people who take issue with that final statement. It hasn’t been up long. I don’t know if the comments will change or not.

  • To echo and expand upon my comments on Twitter:

    I feel that OIF snuck one past me here, and that makes me feel uncomfortable about both my performance as a leader and OIF’s conduct. The draft that was circulated, to me and others, in May did not include the “hate groups” language. That language was added during Annual; I received that draft around 4pm on Sunday, with a request for comment by 12:30pm on Monday – far too short a window, at far too busy a time, for me to respond. In addition, the email that I received with a link to the draft did not mention the addition of “hate groups”; its summary of changes sounded narrow and procedural. So I didn’t flag this email as important enough to require my attention at a point where I was too busy to attend to anything but the highest-priority things.

    From Twitter, I see that some Council members feel similarly: that they did not have time to go looking for substantive changes to the draft, and that those substantive changes were not brought to their attention. I think they feel, as I do, that we’ve fallen short of our responsibilities as leaders – but that OIF put us in a position where it was hard to do otherwise.

    I also see on Twitter that there is a robust debate about the relationship of free speech and inclusion in a modern democratic society. I think that’s an important debate, and one where informed people of good faith can differ on where to draw the lines. And I know, Jamie, that you also know this, because you participated in a panel on these exact issues at conference last year, where several panelists presented meticulously researched views that differed from yours. We all saw from the social media reactions last year that this is an issue that many members care deeply about and where views are quite divergent.

    This debate deserved to be held in public, as part of the consideration of whether to adopt the interpretation – not short-circuited by procedure. And the member leaders deserved a realistic chance to reflect on the substance of the text, not to have our names and our authority used to legitimate policy we do not necessarily support.

    I have frequently quoted ALA interpretations of policies in the past to make various points, but now I feel a sense of disquiet about so doing. Did they reflect the considered opinion of the membership? Were their clauses also snuck in sub rosa? I no longer feel that I can rely on these interpretive documents as authoritative.

    ALA, and OIF, can do better.

  • James, it seems to me that it is in fact the final wording that people are objecting to. It is not the broad idea of whether meeting rooms are open to people whose opinions librarians may disagree with that is at question. It is the specific inclusion of hate groups, which may directly threaten the lives, safety, and well-being of both library patrons and library workers that is unacceptable to so many of us and which is the concern for this forum. So I think it is important for you to clarify when, exactly, the words “hate group” and “hate speech” were added to this statement, and if a draft of the document with those words included was in fact circulated widely before the meeting where it was voted on.

  • When we emailed OIF, all of us received a form response, a cut-and-pasted three or so sentences. On Twitter, we have been told to redirect here, that our discussions on Twitter are “potshots”, and just conversations taken out of context. I assume that all questions asked above will be thoroughly and thoughtfully answered.

  • It feels very much to me as if James LaRue’s personal opinions were the driving force behind the changes made. It is not clear to me who else on IFC or in OIF supports the changes made. James, can you provide documentation, such as the minutes of the conversation in which the decision was made to add this language? Are there other people willing to speak to the reasons for 1) adding the language, and 2) doing so at 4pm on Sunday of conference with request for Councillors to comment by 12:30pm Monday, as Andromeda Yelton states?

  • “Amy, no, I think the Intellectual Freedom Committee and its members were trying to respond to a shift in challenges from books to exhibits, displays, speakers, and community programs. Their intent, I believe, was to call out, to name, the issue as plainly as possible. I take that as a principled act. We, librarians, need to talk about it. We offer this space as a forum.”

    How do you respond, then, to the fact that the addition of this language *has* limited possible interpretations of the document?

  • “But as is obvious here, there is a significant split in the profession about whether and how we will continue to try to embody the principles of the First Amendment (IF), or if EDI values are more important, or if some new balance can be found between them.”

    Is it accurate to say that your summary of this issue is whether intellectual freedom or diversity is more important?

  • Dear Mr. LaRue and OIF officers,

    Thank you for reaffirming the First Amendment by taking a strong position in favor of free speech and freedom of association in public libraries. Over the past decade, I’ve been alarmed to watch my profession go from one of facts to one of feelings, but such is the state of librarianship in 2018. A vocal minority believes it is their self-appointed duty to protect others from wrongthink and to promote the dangerous and false notion that unpopular/offensive speech constitutes an act of violence. Frankly, if I were unwilling to serve all users of a taxpayer-funded institution, I would strongly consider finding a profession where I’m free to choose my own clientele and discriminate against any viewpoint I wish.

    I recognize that there are some concerns over how this interpretation was decided, and I hope they can be resolved. My own concern here is, how does OIF define “hate group?” If a book club wants to host a discussion of Mein Kampf at the library, are they a hate group? If three friends bring the library’s copy of the Quran or Old Testament into a study room and read aloud the passages condemning homosexuality, are they a hate group? If some college students wearing hammer & sickle t-shirts gather at a study table in full view of patrons whose family were murdered under communism, are they a hate group?

    Finally, given that OIF based its interpretation on two incidents involving one white supremacist group that occurred nearly twenty years ago, can you please provide data that tracks the frequency of so-called hate groups’ requests for public library meeting spaces? How often is this happening?

    Thanks again for defending free speech. Don’t back down.

  • “Is it accurate to say that your summary of this issue is whether intellectual freedom or diversity is more important?”

    Amy Martin–I have noticed in discussions around several issues over the past year or so, beyond this particular one, that there does seem to be an underlying notion that the values of intellectual freedom and EDI/social justice oppose each other. While I personally believe there’s more to the current issue of the revised meeting room policy, I certainly think that many of the arguments attacking IF and First Amendment principles are being framed by this notion.

    I agree with James LaRue that these two principles–IF and EDI–are not incompatible, and that we can and should be striving to uphold both. I thought Martin Garnar discussed this wonderfully in his sidebar in this SLJ article:

  • As others here have said, I find myself extremely uncomfortable with the false equivalences made by this stance and the accompanying language. As librarians, we should both know better and be able to do better than comparing charities and nonprofits to hate groups when clear definitions are available. The choice of libraries, as an institution, to offer education and information to everyone even when some of that material is controversial is already not a neutral stance. Taking a position like this one, especially in the current political climate of our country, and pretending that it’s morally and ethically neutral is contributing to the problems that prompted discussions like this one.

    As both a queer and a biracial librarian, this comes across as exceptionally tone-deaf on the part of our leadership and frankly makes me feel unsafe and unwelcome, just from reading it. How will our LGBTQ+ and POC patrons feel, then, if we adopt policies like these? There is a significant amount of hypocrisy in the claims that public safety is a foremost concern and that “ALA does not endorse hate groups, and does not seek to normalize hate speech” if our policy is to give groups like the KKK and similar a platform. Permitting such organizations access to our meeting rooms is, in fact, endorsing their message by giving them a room to express it in a community center where patrons come to connect safely not just with knowledge, but also with their community. That creates a clear stance for us: The position of welcoming a part of the community that we should hope everyone is rejecting.

    Black Lives Matter does not have a body count. The Muslim terrorist craze is a sham. There are no lesbian gunmen enacting mass shootings in our schools. We cannot and should not pretend otherwise, when we know that white supremacists are highly active, right now, and are looking not only for spaces to gather but also for other organizations and institutions to welcome them. Doing so does, in fact, normalize them, which is why they seek that welcome, and this policy will absolutely feed into that.

    Do most of us have Mein Kampf on our shelves? Yes, probably. Will we help a patron to find it and check it out? Yes. Will we take it to the mending station or replace it, if necessary, and get it back into circulation? Yes. But we all do those things knowing why it’s there, in the first place: Because pretending certain parts of history didn’t happen causes us to repeat those mistakes, not because we agree with its contents. People might need that book for a report or essay, or to reference for historical purposes; there are other reasons besides its hatefulness that we make it available. By contrast, there is only one reason why a hate group will want to use our meeting rooms.

    We are better than this.

  • Alex, while you raise interesting intellectual questions about what might be considered a hate group, I do not believe such gray-area groups are the concern. So far as I can tell, the argument is not for a blanket disavowal of the rights of anyone who might have been called a hate group at some point by someone with questionable authority on the matter. The argument is instead against including blanket language that prohibits libraries from denying access to any group whose activities could be designated hate speech or hate crimes under the strictest definitions of legal and social authorities. I am not concerned about letting people who might be controversial into the library. I am concerned with letting people who will definitely be violent into my library, and the fact that ALA and OIF have signaled that I must allow such people in.

    We’re all librarians. Rather than speculate on vagaries, let’s use this as an exercise in determining authority. The main non-governmental organizations that define and track hate groups in the United States are the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). While questions have been raised from both right- and left- wing sources about the ways these groups assign these definitions, both are nationally recognized and they are fairly transparent and consistent on how they arrive at their definitions, so for this context I am prepared to suggest they are authoritative sources.

    The ADL defines a hate group as follows:
    “An organization whose goals and activities are primarily or substantially based on a shared antipathy towards people of one or more other different races, religions, ethnicities/nationalities/national origins, genders, and/or sexual identities. The mere presence of bigoted members in a group or organization is typically not enough to qualify it as a hate group; the group itself must have some hate-based orientation/purpose.”

    The SPLC definition is as follows:
    “The Southern Poverty Law Center defines a hate group as an organization that – based on its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities – has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”
    ( group)
    Further on in the same document, the SPLC states:
    “Vilifying or demonizing groups of people on the basis of their immutable characteristics, such as race or ethnicity, often inspires or is a precursor to violence. But violence itself is not a requirement for being listed as a hate group.”
    ( play a role)

    These definitions are neither perfect nor entirely concordant, but both of them do recognize that “violence” and “attacks” are among the determining factors in the designation of a hate group. So, while the language in this document may protect people who are not primarily violent, it evidently also does protect groups who are primarily violent. What is more, because the language in the interpretation is so general and undifferentiated, there is no way to exclude these violent groups from “hate groups” as a whole, because the ALA and OIF have neglected to provide their own definition that would support a hypothetical “case by case” approach. If a group fits either of these definitions in any regard, even the most overtly violent cases, we now must allow them access.

    As an example, I work at several libraries in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The SPLC lists Vanguard America as a Neo-Nazi organization that maintains activities in my state ( The ADL maintains a detailed webpage about their beliefs and activities (, which include mottos such as “Beware the International Jew,” and “Blood and Soil,” as well more formally stated expressions of hateful ideology. Such expressions, as quoted by the ADL, include manifestos that state:
    “The racial stock of this nation was created for white Christian Anglo/Europeans by white Christian Anglo/Europeans. All other ethnicities, races, religions and demographics are absolutely not compatible with this nation’s original culture. With such being stated, a mass exodus, isolation, apartheid, segregation and/or separation must be implemented to retain the good order and longevity of the country[,]”
    as well as assertions that “[the] glory of the Aryan nation must be recaptured.” According to an August 12, 2017 article written by the SPLC Hatewatch staff (, James Alex Fields, the man who deliberately drove his car into a crowd of counterprotestors after the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville and killed one person while injuring nineteen others, attended a rally that was co-organized by Vanguard America the night before he committed the attack.

    Let us leave aside, appalling as it is, the fact that Vanguard America’s stated goal of “…a mass exodus, isolation, apartheid, segregation and/or separation” of non-”white Christian Anglo/Europeans” fits neatly into the United Nations’ definition of Ethnic Cleansing, as elucidated in Report S/1994/674 to mean “…a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas“ ( Instead, we will focus on the fact that, after attending an event organized by the Vanguard America group, James Alex Fields went out the next day and committed an act which several members of the United States Senate from both major political parties called domestic terrorism ( Now, with the current language in this Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights, if Vanguard America were to approach a library I work at and request to use a meeting room to hold a similar rally to the one that James Alex Fields attended before he drove a car at full speed into a group of human beings who disagreed with him, my library would have no standing to deny them that space. This, despite the fact that the libraries I work at are all in highly diverse urban areas, where a significant percentage of my patrons are distinctly not “white Christian Anglo/Europeans.” This, despite the fact that this organization has a demonstrated track record of holding events that lead to violence. They qualify as a “hate group” by any definition, and “hate groups” are now a protected category under the ALA’s interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights.

    I could go on. I could pull up examples of libraries across the United States who include a clause in their operating policies which states that they follow, affirm, and defer to the Library Bill of Rights, to highlight how this decision has, at a stroke, been implemented as policy across the country. I could highlight the growing number of ALA Council members who are citing irregularities in the parliamentary procedure that led to this wording change in the interpretation being passed.

    Ultimately, I believe that the crux of the issue comes down to one simple question. This is a question that I acknowledge is deeply uncomfortable, and reflects an extreme state of affairs. I am as uncomfortable with this question as anyone else, but I have been put into the extreme situation of having to ask it. This is a question that I have asked twice already during this discussion, once on this forum and once directly to James LaRue via email, but which I have yet to receive an answer to, satisfactory or otherwise. This is a question that I am prepared to ask this forum, James LaRue, Loida A. Garcia-Febo, Wanda Kay Brown, and the ALA at large every single day until I am given an answer, because I am literally having trouble sleeping, asking this question of myself over and over again every night since this wording was changed.

    My question is this:

    I am a queer librarian. If I was to suggest that I am not obligated to allow my workplace to be used by a group that will actively strategize ways to kill me in that space, does the ALA and the OIF support me in this?

  • I fear for our profession when so many librarians have no use for, or even basic grasp of, free speech, freedom of association, and freedom of assembly. We are public servants overseeing public spaces. The rhetoric that is circulating on Twitter is preposterous. It may be summarized as follows: “Librarians who agree with me (who happen to be on the left) KNOW who hate groups are (who happen to be on the right) and we, as a group of progressive librarians, have a duty to exclude said hate groups from reserving library meeting space because they offend us and we think they will offend other patrons, and we can accurately predict what they are going to do (threaten and kill people). More than two people sitting around in a public meeting room holding views inside their heads that I don’t like are actually attacking me or other library patrons.”

    Let’s extend this illogic to public parks. Park rangers, by this same argument, have a duty to create an online park reservation application that includes questions about the hatefulness of groups who want to reserve a picnic shelter. It is the park ranger’s duty to research applicant groups to find out how hateful they are. The park ranger needs to think about the possibility of other groups who might get offended in other picnic shelters and assume that if Nazis grill hamburgers in a picnic shelter they will, at any moment, up and kill Jewish picnickers nearby. In fact, their very presence means that the park ranger is anti-Semitic and is endorsing, welcoming, normalizing Nazis. Because public parks have never been neutral. At some point they were full of white people on purpose, which requires a special picnic shelter reservation policy now.


  • I support James LaRue and the ALA OIF in this matter. I have long supported ALA OIF as these cases arose over the years and have published as much about half a dozen times.

    The #NoHateALA librarians are doing the ALA harm by setting up a free speech double standard. Who can take Banned Books Week seriously if the people decrying “banned” books are banning conservatives from speaking–and we all know that’s what they mean by “hate groups.” How can OIF complain about book challengers who don’t read the books if libraries are blanket blocking conservatives? I suppose I could go on.

    For the sake of the profession, I hope this resolves quickly, and in ALA OIF’s favor. Bullying tactics are just as bad from inside ALA as they are from outside. Let’s hope the bullying doesn’t win and the meeting rooms stay open to all.

  • Library policy:

    To ensure that the library is open to all community needs and to sustain the library’s role in our community, it is the policy of this library to welcome community-centered groups to reserve library spaces. However, if the goal of your organization is to eliminate the civil or human rights of any library user or staff member due to their immutable characteristics, or to make any library user or staff member feel unwelcome in the community in which this library is located due to their immutable characteristics, your organization is not community-centered and may not meet at the library.”

    Why is that so hard? ALA: find a better lawyer to put this in defensible legal-ese.

  • I would like to add my expression of concern to those of others who have already written so eloquently here, and in particular to support the above comment by Andromeda Yelton and Morgan Mullins. I urge ALA to do much, much better in future.

  • Dan Kleinman, I’m confused by your statement? I’ve followed the website link to the SafeLibraries and checked out your twitter and it seems like you’ve been retweeting and supporting a lot of the #NoHateALA members and SafeLibraries is very much a movement that runs somewhat counter to OIF’s current stance.

    I disagree as well with your statement that this type of argument against hate groups is bullying (see Stephen Toropov’s comment above yours for clarification on how hate groups are defined). When both employees and patrons are logically and calmly pointing out an issue with a revision that’s hardly bullying.

    Finally, I would love to know your justification for equating Republicans with hate groups. No one is stopping conservatives from speaking and I have yet to see any Librarian indicate otherwise. I know a number of Republican / Conservative librarians and while we don’t agree on a lot of things we work to make welcoming spaces for all and they also have a problem with the ALA OIF inclusion of hate groups by name. Why are /you/ equating the KKK with Republicans?

  • Jill Martin: With due respect, “ridiculous” is indeed the word for the sort of disingenuous and reductive commentary displayed in your comment. We do, in fact, know who hate groups are and should feel a moral and ethical obligation to exclude them, not to encourage them with a platform. White supremacists, specifically, and other hate groups in general do threaten and kill people; this is a verifiable and observable function thereof, and tragically an increasingly common occurrence that has nothing to do with “holding views inside their heads,” and everything to do with neo-nazis, the KKK, and others violently announcing and enacting those views. White nationalists, etc., are not sitting quietly in our meeting rooms, but are loud and proud in our streets, as seen in Charlottesville, NC.

    White people are not under attack, as you seem to suggest, nor are we marginalized in our own society. And yes, in point of fact, nazis absolutely will “up and kill Jewish picnickers nearby;” that is what they do, and what they wish to be able to do without question or consequence. Suggesting otherwise is active complicity in the oppression of black, brown, queer, Jewish, and other minority members of the public who live in fear of this every single day of our lives.

    Organizations such as LGBTQ+ Pride or Black Lives Matter exist only in reaction to violence against those communities from outside, while neo-nazis exist only to enact said violence. There really is no comparison, and that is a historical and sociological fact that we all can verify, but should hardly need to. If we are discussing the safety of patrons, then let us at least avoid using the condescending tone of those who deride “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” as though these things are at all shameful or unnecessary. These are times when, completely without hyperbole, we must remember that the best nazis were not those who came in jackboots to drag Jewish, queer, and Rromani people to the gas chambers, but their neighbors who looked the other way and did nothing. If that sounds extreme, then that is indeed why we refer to white supremacists and white nationalists as “extremists”: Because that is the world they want, and they are very open about it. Let us at least not permit them to be so open about it in our libraries, perhaps considering that one of the first things that history’s most notable fascist regime did, early in its infancy, was burn quite a staggering amount of the books we’re supposed to be protecting and circulating.

    Those are the people we are discussing. They really, truly are. Let us not, then, be allies to those people.

  • I am adding a slightly shorter version of my email sent last week to these comments (full letter here:

    I have reached out to several people from organizations who track and report on hate groups (specifically white supremacists) and most of them echo the same concerns that have been brought up here and on social media; that the wording as it stands is very problematic. I certainly hope that similar important voices along with the many concerned voices of my colleagues are taken into consideration during the discussion. I am hoping to share those responses soon.

    While I have read that the intent was not necessarily to place hate groups on the same level as religious, social, civic, partisan political groups, I have some very deep concerns with a statement on inclusion that includes hate groups. This is the opposite of what it means to be inclusive. The wording is not simply “controversial”, it is dangerous and alarming. It validates hate groups by including them in the same breath as other legitimate groups. While your interpretation of the law indicates that these groups must be tolerated, they do not by any means have to be acknowledged, legitimized or validated. The inclusion of them in that sentence does just that.

    I am also very concerned with when this wording was added. The document that went to conference did not contain these terms and many of the ALA Council members have spoken out about how this change was not brought to their attention. When I first questioned it, I was told by an ALA representative that the vote was unanimous, however, a council member spoke up to note that they had voted no. Expressing this decision as unanimous, while possibly an error, was not fair to this council member who spoke up nor to those of us who had many questions about the process. Furthermore, while it has been disclosed that the language was inserted during the last there is still a lack of clarity of these details, specifically who added it and how many were even aware of this addition. This lack of transparency is disturbing and makes me question the motive.

    I have seen the response that attempts to clarify that this addition was to simply provide guidance for avoiding lawsuits by these groups. It is entirely possible to provide guidance without actually putting these groups on equal ground with other legitimate groups. A different wording must be considered, a phrasing that separates hate groups in some way to make it abundantly clear that they are being tolerated but not welcomed. My current research is on white supremacist groups and I have seen how they are weaponizing the first amendment in order to gain attention and further spread their message of hate. They actively seek out the policies of locations in order to either exploit them or abuse them. Their threats of lawsuits should never be answered by an acknowledgement of this tactic, even in the name of protecting libraries from these lawsuits. It is a capitulation to their terroristic demands and unacceptable. Including them in the sentence empowers them and plays to their hands. Again, I will point out that it IS entirely possible to guide libraries on the law without validating hate. It is possible to both uphold free speech and protect those who that speech threatens and I expect that my professional organization is both willing and capable of doing this without overtly bowing to the demands of those who weaponize free speech in the name of hate.

    In my research on white supremacist groups (see full letter link for more details regarding this research), I have found that plenty of these hate groups are using libraries. They have access to the information like any other individual or group. They are printing their propaganda on our computers, hanging fliers on our buildings, finding out when groups of targets are meeting and purposefully placing their hate during those times. They malign our displays on diversity and speak violently about workers and patrons. Their intellectual freedom is not being compromised in ways that would require the organization to go out of its way to state that all groups are welcome and yes, especially hate groups.

    In closing, I am requesting the following:

    *Specific details as to the addition of the words “hate speech” and “hate groups”. This is owed to the members of our council who were presented with changes that were not brought to their attention. This is owed to all of us who, despite your attempts to dismiss it, are hurt and upset by an inclusion of hate groups in a statement on inclusivity.

    *Immediate rewording of the interpretation so that it does not verify hate groups. This is not merely controversial, it is dangerous, and a refusal to acknowledge the danger is tone deaf and dismissive to the patrons and workers who are at risk from these groups.

  • Response To Adlai Ross and All Others Interested:

    I’ve been retweeting and liking #NoHateALA tweets because I retweet all sides of all arguments since I feel my readers are better informed that way and can better make up their own minds. And I want my readers to see librarians so glibly discussing censorship of people they oppose, even hate.

    By bullying I mean the manner in which #NoHateALA attempts to achieve its goals amounts to bullying and perhaps worse. For example, one bully refers to James LaRue in extremely derogatory words that amount to racism and may even be defamatory. Using racist terms to attack a person just to promote #NoHateALA goals is bullying, at a minimum. The ones respectfully discussing the issues are not the bullies. But many are outright vicious, and to their own leadership, no less.

    As for equating Republicans with hate groups, that’s not me, that’s ALA. ALA has a page on hate groups that cites to the Southern Poverty Law Center. SPLC has a list of supposed hate groups. Those lists include targeting Republicans, and I mean target, including, for example, Dr. Ben Carson. People have been shot at as a result of those lists. SPLC just paid out millions in settlement over defamation of another so called hate group that isn’t in reality. SPLC uses it hate group lists to silence those it targets. Yet ALA cites SPLC, and SPLC targets Republicans. So if #NoHateALA gets what it wants, SPLC’s censorship targets will be used by ALA to implement censorship in public libraries nationwide. Indeed, read the Facebook posts by librarians discussing the issue and you’ll see censorship is already well underway, and SPLC is often the road map. If anyone is going to change any language, perhaps it’s time ALA removes SPLC as one of its sources.

    “No one is stopping conservatives from speaking….” Please. ALA blocked one of the SPLC-listed groups from speaking at an ALA conference after it invited him then was bullied into dropping him. ALA librarians gleefully joke about blocking books like “No Go Zones” in libraries since the librarians say such places do not exist. They just call it selection. And how often does ALA invite a conservative to speak at its conferences? But a person who files a fake FISA request against her party’s political opponents to launch a massive investigation is welcome despite ALA’s claimed concern for privacy and freedom of speech.

    This “hate groups” debacle is a huge problem for ALA. Huge. Even main stream media like Los Angeles Times is beginning to take notice. #NoHateALA is strangling the goose that laid the golden egg.

  • I object to the characterization of equity/diversity work as opposed to the preservation of intellectual freedom. Equity work IS intellectual freedom work. Equity work ensures that we are not squashing the voices and choices of folks who are underrepresented or marginalized. See:

    The characterization of equity and intellectual freedom as separate and opposing forces is a serious and harmful misunderstanding.

    I agree with Robin Harney above, “If the current OIF is unable to make a distinction between Black Lives Matter and the KKK, then hand over the work to people who can.”

  • I’d like to add my voice in with the people urging the ALA/OIF to reconsider and revise this language, and to do so posthaste rather than waiting for the mid-winter conference. I understand that these issues are complex, but you are getting pushback on this from marginalized voices and allies because the new amendment language is dangerous. Libraries cannot consider themselves inclusive when the ALA is using language that implies endorsement of hate groups, even if clarifying statements say that’s not the case. I stand with the disenfranchised populations who are being made even more vulnerable in our libraries by this new amendment and urge the OIF to begin revisions on the language as soon as possible.

  • It is a fact that any group brought together by a sense of hate exists to promote something that is unfair. I was dismayed to see that hate groups now have a place specifically protected alongside religious groups and political groups. Libraries must remain committed to upholding the values of intellectual freedom and ethical service to our communities. I do believe that there is a place for everyone in the library. I do not believe that the wording in this document, however, will help libraries to do that.

    I request that you revisit the wording of the document of which you are providing an interpretation with the understanding that “equitable access” does not bear quite the same meaning as “equal access”. Equitable access implies an element of fairness. How can we maintain integrity as institutions of public service when we issue an open invitation to groups whose sole purpose is to undermine fairness? I think what bothers me the most is that the wording used in this interpretation seems to add to the legitimacy of groups who exist to promote hate. I would be more comfortable with a statement that asserts the rights of speakers with “radical or extreme ideologies” because that phrase does apply broadly. “Hate group”, by contrast, seems strangely specific and normalized in its use alongside religious and political discourse.

  • After wading through Morgan’s arguments that:
    1. hate groups are easily defined,
    2. they truly truly are evil incarnate and exist solely to commit murder, and
    3. I in my complicity am actually more evil than a Nazi,

    I am left in response to my hypothetical scenario with a YES, our parks are another public space from which these readily-defined hate groups must be excluded, after a (very easy) vetting process that should be in a park ranger’s job description, or park rangers are as worse-than-Nazis as I.

    One more question.

    The Bill of Rights ensures the right of peaceable assembly belongs to citizens *because they are citizens.*

    If law-abiding citizens (by virtue of being citizens) do not have freedom of peaceable assembly in public spaces…

    …where DO they have that right?

  • Katie,

    Thanks for sharing your letter. I followed the link to the Discord chat archive and found 12 mentions of the word “library,” 2 mentions of “libraries,” and 1 mention of “librarian” across conversations from a total of four servers during the available period of January 2017 through February 2018. The contexts included:

    Someone saying he wants to replace casinos in Las Vegas with family-friendly theme parks, business and community centers, churches, and libraries.
    The “gun library” webpage for a popular sporting goods store.
    A history book held at the Harvard Law Library; “meanwhile this book sits in the library collecting dust.”
    An alt-right meme collection being euphemistically called a “library of hate.”
    A list of the Charleston church shooting victims (names, ages, occupations), one of whom happened to be a library worker.
    Someone saying that the Burlington DSA meets every first Saturday at the library.
    Someone asking if libraries were off-limits for posting white nationalist flyers.
    Someone giving directions to an unrelated spot on a college campus, using the library as a reference point.

    The one instance of “librarian” appears in a thread where someone said “after [Charlottesville 2.0] libertarians get the [expletive] boot” and another person added “librarians too,” which I honestly think was a joke because nothing else in that thread was about specific occupations.

    The few other results sounded irrelevant to everyday library work, which leaves only two examples of potential concern: posting flyers in the library and sharing the date and location of the democratic socialists meeting. But there is simply nothing in these conversations indicating that libraries were being specifically singled out due to their diverse patrons and staff. The Burlington DSA happens to meet at the library, and flyers from any group are usually posted in high-traffic areas like libraries and dining halls. Otherwise, I saw no evidence that “plenty of hate groups” (which are not necessarily synonymous with “servers”) are using libraries in the ways you describe, i.e. using public computers to print their material, speaking violently about library workers or patrons, and maligning library displays.

    Based on your findings, what would you say is the level of demand among white supremacist groups for public library meeting rooms? Personally, I don’t think 15 search results of varying relevance over 13 months across four servers representing groups of unknown size is enough to conclude much of anything.

    Out of curiosity, why did you choose not to research black nationalist/supremacist or far-left hate groups?

  • My apologies for some of the delays in responding here. ALA has been in many discussions about these issues. I am not the only ALA voice, nor should I be. But I thank you all for posting your concerns and questions. Today, I hope to add links or blogs that will, I hope, move the discussion forward and address some of the concerns.

  • Two updates. First, I’d like to point readers to a blog post by my colleague Jody Gray, Director of the Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services. ALA has many perspectives. Jody is a respected colleague, with deep expertise, and her thoughts are well worth reading. You can find her blog here:

    Second, at the request of ALA leadership, my staff have reconstructed the timeline through which the Meeting Room Interpretation was adopted by Council. You can find that here: (it has been appended to the original blog post in which this comment appears).

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