September 19, 2018

ALA OIF Responds to Library Bill of Rights Meeting Room Interpretation Update

UPDATED with Coverage from SLJ: Free Speech Debate Erupts with ALA’s Inclusion of Hate Groups in Revision of Bill of Rights Interpretation (via School Library Journal)

From a Statement by James LaRue, Director OIF, American Library Association:

2018-07-10_11-48-31The 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.  OIF Director James LaRue released the following statement regarding a recent update to Library Bill of Rights meeting rooms interpretation.

“A recent update to Meeting Rooms: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights does 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,” said LaRue. “The interpretation reflects the current legal climate libraries face when providing the public with space for events, meetings, and/or sessions.

“Publicly funded 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, under law cannot discriminate or deny access based upon the viewpoint of speakers or the content of their speech.  Our goal is not only to protect free speech, but also to keep libraries out of court.

“As cited in the interpretation, there are two prominent lines of litigation addressing public library meeting rooms. One involved religion. A second involved a white supremacist group. The court ruled against the library in some cases and indicated that it was about to rule against others, causing the library’s administration to settle the lawsuit and change its policies to allow the group to meet in the library.

“The Library Bill of Rights Meeting Room updates should serve as a catalyst for library staff to review or establish policies with assistance from their legal counsel. We encourage libraries to adopt policies that govern meeting space use while meeting the needs of the community that they serve.

“Library staff in need of meeting room best practices may access a variety of free  resources through OIF’s Meeting Rooms, Exhibit Spaces, and Programs, which offers strategies and resources for libraries to address community concerns and prepare for potentially controversial library-initiated events. Also, ALA’s Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services has an excellent set of resources on responding to all kinds of challenges related to diversity.  Additional resources are available via the OIF blog .

“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.”

Established in 1967, the Office for Intellectual Freedom 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.

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Gary Price 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.

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