Intellectual freedom is the basis for our democratic system. We expect our people to be self-governors. But to do so responsibly, our citizenry must be well-informed. Libraries provide the ideas and information, in a variety of formats, to allow people to inform themselves.
Intellectual freedom encompasses the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas. Keep reading for more intellectual freedom definitions from ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
The right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause, or movement may be explored.
A change in the access status of material, based on the content of the work and made by a governing authority or its representatives. Such changes include exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level changes.
An attempt to to have a library resource removed or access to it restricted, based on the objections of a person or group. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. Challenges sometimes lead to censorship.
A removal of materials from a library based on the objections of a person or group. Sometimes the ban is a decision made by a committee and other times an administrator or staff member removes books without following a library’s policy.
Request for Reconsideration
A formal, written request that the library remove or restrict access to particular resources, submitted on a form and invoking a formal, standardized review process by the library and/or its governing body.
The newest edition of the Intellectual Freedom Manual is more than simply an update of a foundational text that has served as a crucial resource for more than four decades. It is a living document that serves as the authoritative reference for day-to-day guidance on maintaining free and equal access to information for all people. Whether you’re developing or revising policies, on-boarding new staff or trustees, responding to challenges and controversies, or studying librarianship, you’ll find this an indispensable resource. Purchase the Intellectual Freedom Manual, Tenth Edition at the ALA store.
Reporting censorship to ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) raises awareness of the harms of censorship. OIF tracks attempts to remove or restrict books across the country. By reporting censorship incidents, librarians help identify trends in censorship cases and document responses and solutions to censorship. Since 1990, OIF has maintained a database on challenged materials. ALA collects information from two sources: media reports and reports submitted by individuals.
Libraries are a forum for information and ideas equitably and without restricted access. OIF’s first priority is to make sure that all librarians, educators, and users know this. Our second priority is to fight any attempts to limit or remove access. Reporting censorship helps OIF provide better information and support to librarians and teachers facing intellectual freedom and access challenges.
Anyone may call ALA with questions or to report a challenge to library or classroom resources via the online challenge reporting form. A person does not have to be a member of ALA or a librarian. As a professional association designed to support librarians, we follow the lead of the people with whom we are working. In some situations, publicly aligning with outside advocates may not be the best course of action for a librarian in a tenuous environment. We will never reveal who contacts our office or why without the individual’s permission.
Kristin Pekoll is the Assistant Director at the Office for Intellectual Freedom. She is a former YA librarian from Wisconsin and a lifelong Green Bay Packers fan who happens to live in Chicago Bears country. She is the author of Beyond Banned Books: Defending Intellectual Freedom throughout Your Library published by ALA Editions in 2019.