at The Evergreen State College

Librarians and Free Speech

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Librarians and Free Speech

While individual libraries and librarians are subject to the pressures of the community they serve, the ALA holds an official policy on intellectual freedom, namely that:

ALA actively advocates in defense of the rights of library users to read, seek information, and speak freely as guaranteed by the First Amendment. A publicly supported library provides free and equal access to information for all people of that community. We enjoy this basic right in our democratic society. It is a core value of the library profession[1].

Regardless, censorship is still part of libraries and library collections are constantly under revision.


Censorship is a process of limiting access to particular topics or ideas, usually by removing materials or denoting them as unsavory. Reasons for censorship have included:

Within A Library

Librarians have been know to censor their library's holdings "by labeling, restricting access, and expurgation[2]," methods that result from various pressures, both internal and external.

Internally, a librarian is an individual with particular tastes, and so they may favor some texts over others. The line between "culling for the best" and "censoring" can be ambiguous to the individual, or a hard line that the individual unabashedly adheres to, depending.

Externally, parents and legislative persons are most commonly those who will direct what contents a library should or shouldn't have, as according to their interests. Parents with their own issues/repressions/paranoia are likely to push libraries (and legislation) to ban books in order to protect "children - including other peoples' children.[3]" On another level, governments censor, also usually to protect minors, often in the form of "blocking software [to] protect kids in libraries from pornography, drugs, and violence on the Net. But the programs are also know to block sites about sex education, AIDS, homosexuality, rape, and human rights.[4]" And so the double-edged sword cuts both ways.

Printed Media

There is a long history of banning books in libraries, particularly school libraries. From Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, a long-time favorite of ban hammers the world over, to more topical banned tomes, such as Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which has been banned for use of the word "nigger," and is now used as a launch point for thoughtful discussion about racism and its negative effects on society. Therein lies the difference between banning and not educating and using "ban-able" books as educational tools.

In more recent years, there are pushes to free the written word, and to be more conscientious about banning practices. Banned Book Month is education and celebration of liberating banned texts and raising awareness of censorship as an issue.

Library Computers

As a previous user of high school library computers, they are often regulated and censored to the point where many useful sites are inaccessible (for unknown specific reasons, sometimes), while truly junky (but inoffensive?) sites are let in without a problem. It also makes image searches infuriating, even when a student knows exactly what they are trying to find and are searching for purely academic purposes. Especially if a student's primary access to computers and the Internet is through their school library, this is severely limiting.

The way every high school student gets around these limitations is through proxy servers. It hides a user's IP address and so distances them from their search history. Of course, this only works until the school's censorship software is programmed to block that as well.

State Regulations

Further Reading