TheÂ Office for Intellectual FreedomÂ is 40 years old today!
TheÂ missionÂ of the Office is to implement â€œALA policies concerning the concept of intellectual freedom as embodied in the Library Bill of Rights, the Associationâ€™s basic policy on free access to libraries and library materials â€¦ [and to] â€¦ educate librarians and the general public about the nature and importance of intellectual freedom in libraries.â€Â
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 â€œso we can have a central clearinghouse for information and assistance as needed around the country.â€ Getting the office started was the primary focus of the IFC that year, but the IFC also got a revisedÂ Library Bill of RightsÂ approved by the ALA Council and presented a two-day pre-conference with the Young Adult Services Division (now YALSA) on â€œthe special problems which influence the librarians in relationships to young people.â€
Following that successful preconference, attended by 300 people, Gaines again pled the case: â€œThe 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.â€Â
Finally, though, â€œPEBCOâ€ the Program Evaluation and Budget Committeeâ€”theÂ BARCÂ of its timeâ€“authorized funding for two staff and legal fees for the first year of operation. Â At the November 4, 1967 meeting of the ALA Executive Board, ALA Executive Director David H. Clift announced the appointment ofÂ Judith F. KrugÂ as Director of the new office, which officially opened on December 1, 1967.Â
In 1969, theÂ Freedom to Read FoundationÂ was established to â€œpromote and defend this right; to foster libraries and institutions wherein every individualâ€™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.â€ In 1970, theÂ LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian FundÂ was established to provide financial assistance for the support, maintenance, medical care, and welfare of librarians who, in the Trusteesâ€™Â 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 todayâ€™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 annualÂ Banned Books WeekÂ celebrations.