PLA puts on great conference in Philly – an IF overview


Kudos to the Public Library Association for a very well-run and informative conference earlier this month in Philadelphia! The week was chock-full of intellectual freedom offerings, including several programs featuring OIF staff and member leaders.

Of particular interest to me was the recurring theme in several sessions of challenges to library materials that go unreported. This really underscored the importance of OIF’s Challenge Reporting Campaign, “Defend the Freedom to Read: It’s Everybody’s Job.” Reporting formal challenges — whether or not the material was ultimately restricted or removed — is essential to OIF’s ability to report accurately on censorship efforts and to support librarians and teachers facing similar challenges. And remember: all reports submitted by individuals are kept confidential. For more information, watch OIF’s video overview of how and why to report challenges at

The Freedom to Read Foundation hosted a great meet-and-greet at PLA as well, introducing FTRF to a bunch of newer librarians! If you’re not yet a member, joining FTRF is a great way to support libraries facing challenges.

For those who missed PLA — or couldn’t make it to all of the many great sessions — most of the conference was recorded and will be available for purchase as a set (visit for updates). In addition, presenters of a significant number of the programs uploaded documents from their presentations that are available to all for free!

Here are some of the IF highlights:

Everyday Ethics: ALA Committee on Professional Ethics chair Martin Garnar, OIF Assistant Director Angela Maycock, and the 2011 PLA Emerging Leaders (aka the “PLA Players”) presented an interactive program about front line ethical dilemmas in public libraries. Skits and scenarios illustrating issues around internet access, social media, patron records, and more led to small-group discussions and lively conversation about how to approach ethical dilemmas [PowerPoint available].

Intellectual Freedom Update 2012: Put together by PLA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, this panel brought together FTRF President Kent Oliver, Topeka-Shawnee County’s Gina Millsap, and Kathy Middleton (subbing for Gail McPartland) of Contra Costa County. Millsap discussed a past effort by the Topeka library board to limit access to library materials by age, and thanked OIF for our assistance in helping work through the issue.  Middleton discussed the First Amendment case in her library system involving Faith Ministries Church and their ultimately successful efforts to secure meeting space for services.

Training Staff to Handle Intellectual Freedom Questions: Jefferson County, Colo., does some terrific online training for ALL its staff on Intellectual Freedom — in particular, how to respond to challenges to library materials.  Cindy Phillips and Rhonda Glazier uploaded their PowerPoint and several Word documents that will prove quite helpful to those looking to institute similar trainings in their libraries. (Another good resource is Catherine Lord’s “Defending Access with Confidence,” published by PLA and available from the ALA Store.)

Library Access as an emerging constitutional right: Who gets to use the library? Various courts over the years have made it clear that access to public libraries is a right, and that efforts to abridge that may lead to judicial scrutiny.  OIF Deputy Director Deborah Caldwell-Stone joined an array of experts discussing topics related to homeless populations, young people’s access, and much more. Among the many handouts were an overview of key “access” court cases and a guide for when to call the police to the library.

Collecting Erotic Fiction and Erotica in Public Libraries: Another PowerPoint and many more documents are available from this fascinating program on collecting erotic fiction. Among the interesting facts presented: the emergence of e-books has significantly increased demand for erotic fiction, since it allows the reader to hide the book covers that help made the books so alluring. A significant number of audience members spoke up about challenges to these materials they have faced over the years.

Using Graphic Novels for Programming For Teens!:  Though we missed the program, it’s encouraging to see that one of the handouts for this program was about how to handle complaints and censorship attempts — which, in the case of graphic novels and comics, often have as much to do with the nature of the medium (considered “low” or a waste of library resources by many) as with controversial content.

Crafting Meeting Room Policies that Keep You In Charge and Out of Court: Deborah did double duty at the final day of PLA, joining Theresa Chmara (FTRF General Counsel) for this program that offered a much more thorough look at the use of library facilities by religious organizations. The Q&A was particularly valuable to attendees. I highly recommend every library that is looking at meeting room policies take a look at Deborah’s handout from the session! And if you have questions about the topic, or anything involving intellectual freedom topics, please contact us. We’re here to help!

Congrats to PLA on a great conference, and thanks to the many, many attendees who helped fill the rooms for all the sessions! We look forward to Indianapolis in 2014!

Were you an attendee?  If so, what were your thoughts?  Best speaker, best program?  Suggestions for programs at PLA14?

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