The Office for Intellectual Freedom is 40 years old today!
The mission of the Office is to implement “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 … [and to] … educate librarians and the general public about the nature and importance of intellectual freedom in libraries.”
Authorization for the new Office had taken place in 1965, but funding for operations and staff was delayed. At the 1967 Midwinter Meeting Ervin J. Gaines, Chairman of the Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC), noted that the office was needed “so we can have a central clearinghouse for information and assistance as needed around the country.” Getting the office started was the primary focus of the IFC that year, but the IFC also got a revised Library Bill of Rights approved by the ALA Council and presented a two-day pre-conference with the Young Adult Services Division (now YALSA) on “the special problems which influence the librarians in relationships to young people.”
Following that successful preconference, attended by 300 people, Gaines again pled the case: “The preconference also revealed that many more librarians than we ever hear about are under heavy pressure to abandon their standards and to conform to community pressures. We feel that it is time for librarians to stand together instead of huddling together, and for the American Library Association to take active steps to support librarians at the local level when they act in conformity with the principles of the Association.”
Finally, though, “PEBCO” the Program Evaluation and Budget Committee—the BARC of its time–authorized funding for two staff and legal fees for the first year of operation. At the November 4, 1967 meeting of the ALA Executive Board, ALA Executive Director David H. Clift announced the appointment of Judith F. Krug as Director of the new office, which officially opened on December 1, 1967.
In 1969, the Freedom to Read Foundation was established to “promote and defend this right; to foster libraries and institutions wherein every individual’s First Amendment freedoms are fulfilled; and to support the right of libraries to include in their collections and make available any work which they may legally acquire.” In 1970, the LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund was established to provide financial assistance for the support, maintenance, medical care, and welfare of librarians who, in the Trustees’ opinion, are denied employment rights or discriminated against on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, color, creed, 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.
Besides providing challenge support to librarians across the country, the Office also works with its committees to develop policy statements, plan programs, and prepare publications to assist librarians and library users understand the breadth of issues related to intellectual freedom in today’s world. Since 1982, the Office has worked with several other organizations to focus the public attention on the importance of reading freely with the annual Banned Books Week celebrations.