October 23, 2021

Full Text: PhD Dissertation: “Intellectual Freedom And The Politics Of Reading: Libraries As Sites Of Conservative Activism, 1990-2010”


Intellectual Freedom And The Politics Of Reading: Libraries As Sites Of Conservative Activism, 1990-2010


Loretta Mary Gaffney


Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois, 2012

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Library and Information Science.


During the 1990s and 2000s, conservative activists not only appropriated libraries as battlegrounds for causes like antigay activism, but also incorporated libraries and librarianship into the issue base of the pro family movement. A collection of loosely linked, well-organized grassroots campaigns around issues like opposition to abortion and gay marriage, the pro family movement was a resurgence of conservative activism in the late 20th and early 21st centuries that brought libraries into the culture wars crossfire. Pro family library challenges went beyond objections to particular materials in order to target library policies of open access, collection diversity, and patron privacy. Pro family activists also mounted an explicit critique of the American Library Association (ALA), opposing the ALA’s defenses of intellectual freedom for all ages and all types of media. These activists described their own struggle as a quest to wrest libraries away from the ALA and restore them to parental and taxpayer control.

This dissertation explores why libraries and librarianship became issues in the pro family movement. Written at the intersection of media studies and library history, it places library challenges within a social movement context, illustrating the symbiotic relationship between grassroots campaigns and national pro family groups. It analyzes the writings of individuals and organizations that identify as “pro family” and that target libraries and/or youth reading, discussing media aimed at actual and potential activists. It reveals that conservative library challenges are driven by competing worldviews of reading, information access, and the role of libraries in the community, and explicates how those worldviews inform pro family library activism. Neither librarians’ professional literature nor LIS scholarship has fully recognized how pro family library activism altered the political landscape of library challenges. This dissertation illustrates that the root quarrel in pro family challenges is not simply an argument about whether or not certain materials belong in libraries, but an argument about the purpose of the library and who shall have the right to determine it.

Direct to Full Text Dissertation (213 pages; PDF)

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.