It seems like a foregone conclusion at this point: Come Pride Month, libraries around the country, like those in Twin Falls, Idaho and Anoka County, Wyoming, will see their LGBTQIA+-focused events and displays threatened with censorship. One of the more egregious cases this year involved the board members of a library system in Lafayette, Louisiana, whose closed-door, cloak-and-dagger attempt to silence one of their own librarians was ultimately unsuccessful.
This is not to suggest that the state of free speech in libraries is in dire straits; many places, like Derry, New Hampshire, saw patrons and staff rally to support Pride Month activities at their local libraries (even if, in some cases, venues had to be moved). It’s in this spirit of continued vigilance that we supply the following list. The hope is that if librarians do face censorship—whether it be this month or the next—they have access to resources that will allow them to mount an active defense of free speech.
- First and foremost, there is the American Library Association’s Code of Ethics. While in no way legally binding (librarians and library staff should always make sure to thoroughly investigate the speech limits placed on them by their employers), it does provide a one sentence guideline on issues of censorship: “We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.” Familiarizing yourself with this basic tenet of librarianship, as well as the other ethical concerns as they relate to the profession, can help you better understand (and effectively communicate) the role librarians have in protecting speech within their communities.
- Another important (and friendly!) resource is the staff at the Office of Intellectual Freedom, who offer various services and are available to answer a wide array of questions. They can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via phone at (312) 280-4226.
- ALA is privileged to fund many different academic journals, all of which can act as occasions for professional development. The publication dealing with free speech and intellectual freedom is, as one can guess, the Journal of Intellectual Freedom & Privacy. In addition, Trina Magi and Martin Garnar have edited the tenth edition of the Intellectual Freedom Manual, an “authoritative reference for day-to-day guidance on maintaining free and equal access to information for all people.” A full list of resources (in print and digital forms) can be found here.
- If you’ve lost your job under certain circumstances, you can seek help from the LeRoy C. Merritt Fund, whose mission is to
- “support…librarians who, in the Trustees’ opinion, are: Denied employment rights or discriminated against on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, color, creed, religion, age, disability, or place of national origin; or
- Denied employment rights because of defense of intellectual freedom; that is, threatened with loss of employment or discharged because of their stand for the cause of intellectual freedom, including promotion of freedom of the press, freedom of speech, the freedom of librarians to select items for their collections from all the world’s written and recorded information, and defense of privacy rights.”
In light of recent attacks on the rights of LGTBQIA+ individuals and an increasingly toxic political environment, it’s doubtful that these concerted efforts to censor the speech of others will fade away anytime soon. Furthermore, librarians and their professional commitment to creating environments free from censorship almost certainly guarantees that they will face further challenges. Thus, the intention behind this list, even if it’s not entirely successful in communicating the breadth of ALA resources, is to provide a starting point for further exploration of intellectual freedom and the ways in which we, as librarians, can better advocate for not only ourselves, but our communities as well.
Michael Kirby is an Assistant Professor/Reader Services Librarian at Kingsborough Community College. He received his MLS from Queens College, the City University of New York and serves as the 2021-2022 Publications and Communications Chair of the Intellectual Freedom Round Table.