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Intellectual Freedom Committee | The American Library Association Archives

Name: Intellectual Freedom Committee

Historical Note:

In May 1940, the ALA Council established the Committee on Intellectual Freedom to Safeguard the Rights of Library Users to Freedom of Inquiry, following the ALA adoption of the Library Bill of Rights in 1939(1). It charged the Committee to "recommend such steps as may be necessary to safeguard the rights of library users in accordance with the Bill of Rights and the 'Library Bill of Rights' as adopted by the Council? (2). In 1947 the Council shortened the name of the committee to the Committee on Intellectual Freedom (IFC) (3).

The Committee has been concerned with interpreting and defining the scope of the Library Bill of Rights which originally focused on unbiased book selection, a balanced collection and open meeting rooms (4). The Committee has strengthened and broadened the scope of the Library Bill of Rights through amendments in 1944, 1948, 1951, 1961 and 1967 against censorship of non-print materials; banning of materials; denial or abridgement of library access to individuals based on race, religion, nationality, age or social views; and exclusion of materials because of the social views of the author.  It also extended the protection of the Bill beyond the library user to include libraries and librarians (5).

A primary role of the Intellectual Freedom Committee has been as a clearinghouse of information on censorship cases through publication of the Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom since June, 1952, and sponsorship of exhibits and conferences on intellectual freedom themes.  In the 1960s, the Committee moved into a more active role, suggesting sanctions against institutions and individuals in violation of the freedom of library access policy of the ALA (1962) (6).  The Committee's 1969 Program of Action in Support of the Library Bill of Rights outlined a procedure for filing complaints and investigating censorship cases, and proposed legal and financial support for librarians involved in such disputes (7).

The Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) was established in 1967 as an administrative arm of the Intellectual Freedom Committee to conduct and coordinate intellectual freedom activities to carry out the policies formulated by the Committee (8). The OIF published the Intellectual Freedom Manual (1974) and co-produced with the Intellectual Freedom Committee a film, "The Speaker," on first amendment issues. In 1969, the Freedom to Read Foundation was established as a not-for-profit organization affiliated with the ALA to "supply legal counsel...and otherwise provide support" for librarians suffering by reason of defense of the first amendment (9).

In 1970, the ALA Council approved a revised statement of authority for the Intellectual Freedom Committee "to recommend such steps as may be necessary to safeguard the rights of library users, libraries, and librarians, in accordance with the first amendment to the United States Constitution and the `Library Bill of Rights' as adopted by the ALA Council.  To work closely with the Office for Intellectual Freedom and with the other units and officers of the Association in matters touching intellectual freedom and censorship? (10).


1.  ALA Bulletin, August 1940, p.P-37.

    2.  Ibid., p.P-37.

    3.  ALA Bulletin, September 15, 1947, p.P-19.

    4.  Ibid.

Record Group 69 (continued):

    5.  Ibid., p.xvi-xvii.

    6.  ALA Bulletin, July/August 1962, Vol. 56, p.623.

    7.  ALA Bulletin, July/August 1969, Vol. 63, p. 950.

    8.  Intellectual Freedom Manual, p.xix.

    9.  American Libraries, April 1970, Vol.1, p.337.

   10.  Intellectual Freedom Manual, p.xv-xvi.

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