Best Practices in Promoting IF on Campus

July 6th, 2010

Intellectual freedom is one of the core values of librarianship and the ACRL Intellectual Freedom Committee is dedicated to promoting awareness of this value and commitment to its principles. These values are of particular relevance to academic libraries where intellectual freedom is also central to the academic freedom that make teaching and research possible.

In order to assist academic librarians in their efforts to promote this value within their libraries and on their campuses, the ACRL IFC has begun a multi-year project to collect and publish best practice in raising awareness of intellectual and academic freedom issues on campus and building student commitment to its principles.

Please share with us how you raise the issue of intellectual freedom with students and guide them to embrace and protect its principles. I also hope that you will pass along this request to other librarians in your state or region involved with protecting and promoting intellectual freedom in higher education.

The members of the ACRL represent a wide and varied community. Without a doubt, the manners in which they address intellectual freedom are richer and more varied than have ever been documented. Most of us create displays or programs during Banned Book Week, but what do we really know about each other’s efforts beyond a few news items each year in our journals? We have not shared the range of our efforts or the knowledge we have gained through our successes. The ACRL IFC wants to address this gap in our knowledge and create a best practices guide that will serve as an inspiration for intellectual freedom efforts in all our libraries.

As I have said, this will be a multi-year project and the ACRL IFC will be approaching academic librarians a number of times and in a number of ways in order to capture as fully as possible our efforts in this area. At this time, we hope that you and your state and regions state’s intellectual freedom leaders will provide us with feedback on the issues or categories of practice they would like to see addressed in our best practices document.

The ACRL IFC does have some preliminary thoughts about categories–staff education/training; displays; programs/presentations for various campus audiences; flyers, posters, bookmarks, and other takeaways; collaboration with other units on campus; collaboration beyond campus; intellectual freedom and library instruction–but we are sure these categories form too wide a mesh to capture everything we desire. What categories do your leaders feel should be addressed? What would help them in their work if we could provide them with documentation?

If you would also take the time to describe the best practices on your campuses, we will also be very grateful.

If you would like to reply you may do so in one of two ways.

You may add your comments by adding a reply at the bottom of the page.


You may wish to respond through email. If that’s the case, please send your thoughts to

“Librarians” and “Pornography”

October 28th, 2009 has drawn to the attention of the Intellectual Freedom Round Table listserv to the story Librarians Won’t Give Child ‘Porn’ Book on the web site for WTVQ-TV in Lexington, KY. The story involves two “librarians” at the Jessamine Public Library who were dismissed last month for refusing to give a book they considered pornographic to an 11year old girl. The book was one of the volumes of Alan Moore’s series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Alan Moore is a graphic novelist of high repute and the author of such works as Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and From Hell. He writes graphic novels for an adult audience. Indeed, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s ideal reader would be an adult with an encyclopedic knowledge of popular literature from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Moore’s vision of the world is bleak and that translates into stories that can be violent and often entail sexual violence. I have a friend–a fellow librarian–who is a graphic novel enthusiast, but who has quit reading Moore because he objects to the frequent occurrence of rape in his works.

That being said, the two “librarians” did not follow the policy of the Jessamine Public Library that “the responsibilities of the child’s reading must lie with the parents and not the Library.” Instead, they chose to remove the book from a hold shelf so it could not be picked up by the 11 year old girl. The Jessamine Public Library is to be applauded for its stand on parental responsibility. The two “librarians” deserved reproach for their decision.

Now, if you go to the story on the WTVQ-TV web site you’ll see that many of the comments on the story are by librarians who are quick to point out that the two staff members probably did not have masters degrees in library science and hence were not really librarians. Of course, from the point of view of anyone not employed in a library or a library school, they were librarians. Everyone in the library except the cleaning staff is a librarian.

The assumption behind this careful restriction of the title is a belief that true librarians would not have made the same error. I also think that the readers of the ACRL Intellectual Freedom blog might assume the academic librarians would certainly not make such an error. I disagree. I think all librarians (both in the strict and loose definitions of the title) at all levels of librarianship need to be reminded of our commitments to intellectual freedom and that the reminders should be repeated frequently.

In 1992, when Madonna published her book SEX, I remember the book on the approval plan shelves. We all, of course, gave it a look. If you have never seen it, you have missed nothing. It is a silly attempt to shock. The text is trite and the photos are a stale imitation of the work of Robert Mapplethorpe and other artists who truly explored the limits of sexual depiction. What has always stuck in my mind about the book is not any of its pictures or text, but a note a librarian left on the book:  “Please please don’t buy this trash for the collection.” The note was left by a librarian I deeply respect, but who had a strong personal reaction to the work. The sociology selector who was responsible for collecting materials on sexual expression and erotica ended up having a long talk with the concerned librarian. They discussed the role such a work would play in the collection and its likely importance as an artifact of the period and came to an agreement that it was appropriate for the library. In fact, two copies of SEX were ultimately purchased: one for a special collection on human sexuality and the other for the circulating collection (albeit the volume was kept in the closed stacks so it would survive intact and could be circulated).

All librarians reach these points in building collections whether our reaction is to sexual content or violence or hatred or gross human stupidity. We all, therefore, require reminders of our principles so reason will keep our feelings in check, so we will do the job of protecting intellectual freedom.

—Paul Beavers

Freedom to Read Foundation Offering Free Memberships to Recent MLS Grads

October 12th, 2009

CHICAGO – The Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF) is offering free one-year memberships to students graduating from ALA-accredited MLS and MLIS programs and from school library media programs recognized by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), an educational unit accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).

Students whose graduation date was Aug. 1, 2009 or later can, upon their graduation, download a membership form at and mail, fax or e-mail it to the Freedom to Read Foundation.

“We are very excited to offer this gift to new librarians,” said FTRF president Kent Oliver.   “By becoming members of the Freedom to Read Foundation, these professionals will be helping the librarians and library supporters who are on the front lines defending intellectual freedom as well as vital First Amendment litigation that helps uphold many of the core values of librarianship.  Offering these free memberships is our way of encouraging the long-term support of the organization and the intellectual freedom principles it upholds.”

As benefits of their membership, the graduates will receive the Freedom to Read Foundation´s quarterly newsletter, and be eligible to vote in the annual trustee election and attend FTRF member receptions. The membership will be good through December 2010.

The Freedom to Read Foundation, an affiliated organization of the American Library Association, was founded in 1969 to promote and defend the right of individuals to freely express ideas and to access information in libraries and elsewhere.  FTRF fulfills its mission through the disbursement of grants to individuals and groups, primarily for the purpose of aiding them in litigation, and through direct participation in litigation dealing with freedom of speech and of the press.

Question?  Contact Jonathan Kelley at or (800) 545-2433 x4226.

Celebrating Banned Books at University of Arizona

October 2nd, 2009

Well we didn’t ban any books at the Banned Books Week event at the U of A this week. We tried to come up with titles we would want to ban, but always found a reason not let them be.  For the most part, the best reason we could come up with for not censoring is that we didn’t like them.

And that really is the point of Banned Books Week. It is easy to celebrate challenged books that are wonderful literature like Lolita and Catch-22. But we aren’t a free society if we don’t also support those books we disagree with.

– Dan Lee

What Books Would You Ban?

September 24th, 2009

I have agreed to be on a panel for a program sponsored by the local chapter of the Progressive Libarians Guild during Banned Books Week.  I’m thinking of doing something to test intuitions by getting people to think about what they might be tempted to ban, censor, or remove from the shelf. I’m looking for examples to prompt the thought.

So what books would you ban? Any ideas?

–  Dan Lee

The Way to Address Controversy

September 22nd, 2009

On September 9, I contributed a posting on the controversy over the Taylor and Francis Groups refusal to publish a special issue of The Journal of Homosexuality. I called their treatments of the scholars involved shameful. I think Robert Wright’s handling of a controversy at stands in marked contrast to what we saw from Taylor and Francis. is a video blog offering eight to nine split-screen dialogs (called diavlogs) each week between journalists, scholars, scientists, and others in the know. The editor in chief, Robert Wright, and his associates do an outstanding job of finding challenging pairings representing wide ranges of opinions and beliefs.

Most of the diavlogs concern politics and political punditry, but not all. Percontations offers weekly diavlogs encompassing philosophy and psychology, and Science Saturdays offers diavlogs on topics ranging from cosmology to linguistics, from chasing lightening to string theory.

Science Saturdays has been very successful in drawing both practicing scientists and accomplished science journalists. The participants clearly see their role as communicating the nature of science and scientific investigations as well as explicating the specifics of recent research.

All this merits mention on our Intellectual Freedom blog because of a recent controversy that arose when Paul Nelson, a young earth creationist, and Michael Behe, an advocate for intelligent design, were invited to participate in diavlogs.

To say the least, neither the viewers of nor the regular contributors to Science Saturday were pleased. Discussions of evolutionary theory and its place in K-12 science education are frequent on Science Saturdays. Giving a place at the table to proponents of pseudo-science felt like as a slap in the face to many. Two of the contributors to Science Saturday–Sean Carroll and Carl Zimmer–have publicly disassociated themselves from and have vowed never to participate again.

The manner in which Robert Wright handled the controversy stands in marked contrast to how the Taylor and Francis Groups treated Beert Verstraete and his associates.  They were, you’ll remember, simply told that the publisher had decided not to proceed. No explanation for the decision was offered. The material was handled as though it had simply come in over the transom and not as an issue that the editors had been encouraged to compile. Verstraete was left feeling that they had deceived him, getting him to withdraw Bruce Rind’s article from an earlier issue while feigning interest in later addressing Rind’s research on “sexual intimacy between adult and adolescent males”.

Robert Wright, in contrast, came forward and offered his explanation in a Science Saturday diavlog called Mistakes were Made. Wright makes quite clear that he takes responsibilities for any mistakes. He is also clear about what he is and is not willing to do to address the controversy.  On the page containing his diavlog, he also provides links to Sean Carroll, Carl Zimmer, and other contributors’ statements as well as to the two diavlogs in question. Everyone gets to have their say. Nothing is suppressed.

Wright also articulates his policies on how such controversial topics will be handled in the future without yielding to pressure to ban such representatives of pseudo-science from In fact, Wright explains that such people will appear when the context is appropriate. Intelligent design advocates and creationists (of either the young or old earth varieties) had not been invited in the past because they need to be paired with scientists who can discuss the foundations of evolutionary theory in a manner that is both accessible and absolutely solid. does after all want to have viewers and conveying the details that support evolutionary theory might well result in a diavlog that is more treatise than discussion. A diavlog that will be watched by no one benefits no one.

Wright also explained that both the controversial diavlogs were going to remain available on After asking the participants to expend the efforts to record their discussions–discussions that were precisely on the topics they were asked to address–he wasn’t about to throw their work away. The controversy concerning the piece with Michael Behe broke out when Wright was on a meditation retreat and incommunicado. During this period, Behe’s interlocutor asked that the diavlog be taken down. The moment Wright returned he had that the diavlog restored to the web site; a request from one of the participants was not sufficient to have the piece suppressed.

Have a listen to the diavlog or a look at the supporting materials. I particularly recommend the piece by John Horgan.

–Paul Beavers

Intellectual Freedom in the News

September 21st, 2009

In an attempt to cut costs, an increasing number of colleges & universities are forgoing school-run email systems in favor of free email systems from Google and Microsoft.


FCC chair Julius Genachowski said today that the commission “must be a smart cop on the beat preserving a free and open Internet”, taking steps to ensure that telecommunications companies would not be able to restrict file flow and network size.  Learn more & join the net neutrality discussion here.

— compiled by X. Avalos

Shameful Treatment of Scholars

September 9th, 2009

A number of you will by now be familiar with this affair.  This is my personal take on the situation.

Dr. Beert Verstraete and Dr. John De Cecco guest-edited what was to have been a special issue of The Journal of Homosexuality. The issue addressed the theme of “Sexual Intimacy between Adult and Adolescent Males” and was built around a revised version of a paper by Dr. Bruce Rind of Temple University.  This paper was originally to have been published as part of an earlier special issue of The Journal of Homosexuality. Verstraete and De Cecco asked Rind to expand that paper and enlisted other scholars to contribute papers critiquing and reacting to Dr. Rind. They did so on the specific suggestion of Haworth Press, the publisher of the journal.

The issue of The Journal of Homosexuality in which the Rind paper was originally to have appeared addressed the theme of “Same-Sex Desire and Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity and in the Classical Tradition of the West.” Beert Verstraete was one of the editors.  Rind’s research in pederasty has long been controversial and his contribution of an article, “Same-Sex Desire and Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity,” quickly became a cause célèbre in WorldNetDaily, a conservative news service. Haworth Press reacted to this by tacitly canceling the issue.  The academic community–including librarians–brought pressure to bear on Haworth, and they ultimately agreed to publish the issue without Bruce Rind’s paper.

Dr. Verstraete and the other editors of that issue were, however, encouraged to make Rind’s paper the center piece of a subsequent thematic issue. Indeed, John De Cecco, who was then the General Editor of the Journal of Homosexuality, agreed to edit the volume with Dr. Verstraete.  Though neither man seems to have realized it at the time, they were not promised publication. Once the manuscript was submitted, the Taylor and Francis Group (who had purchased Haworth Press in the intervening months) reviewed it and “decided not to proceed.” There was no hint that it contained inferior scholarship or that it had deviated from the original suggestion for the issue. Dr. Verstraete’s willingness to compromise on the earlier issue of the journal had led him to place faith in mere suggestions. What had been a source of anxiety to the publishers in 2005 was completely out of the question in 2009.

This is yet another instance of publishers that refuse to distinguish between scholarship that addresses controversial issues and those issues themselves. Dr. Rind’s scholarship on pederasty (or “intergenerational sex” or whatever terminology one might choose) addresses issues about which most of us have strong feelings and moral convictions. I have no reason to believe that I would agree with Dr. Rind’s conclusions. Indeed, I might even be angered by what I’d read. But that’s not to say Dr. Rind should be prohibited from researching this subject or publishing his findings. If such academic freedom is not available, research cannot advance on controversial issues. The freedom of scholars to take positions and draw conclusions with which others disagree–the freedom to challenge established points of view and our settled moral convictions–is essential.  Such challenges strengthen arguments and, yes, on occasions cause the modification and growth of settled points of view and convictions.

Of course, for-profit publishers have their eyes on the bottom line and like so many corporations are leery of controversy, especially when it touches upon hot button issues like pederasty. They are also adept at drawing fine distinctions between legally binding agreements and persuasive suggestions that could perhaps just conceivably be misconstrued. But–in my personal opinion–it is shameful thing to waste the efforts of so many scholars with such a ploy. I am also deeply concerned when a publisher of academic journals proves so lacking in courage and unwilling to stand on principle.

—Paul Beavers

Google Announces New Privacy Policy for Book Search

September 4th, 2009

Throughout the conversations taking place around the proposed Google Book Search Settlement, one of the issues consistently raised is the lack of any privacy guarantees in the proposed settlement. Many commentators have called for a formal statement of protections. After all, libraries protect reader privacy. Libraries are the source of most of the books in Google Book Search. Libraries are where many people will access both the corpus as a whole as well as the books they purchase access to. There is a natural expectation that the Book Search service should have equally strong protections even though Google’s standard privacy policy leaves a lot to be desired.

In presentations to library and higher education groups, Google has verbally stated that they plan to offer reader protections mostly because the recognize that librarians won’t buy the institutional subscriptions without it.  Today, Google announced their policy.

There are good things in the policy such as not requiring a Google account to view pages from books as allowed in the settlement, colleges and universities with institutional subscriptions will be able to authenticate their users so that Google doesn’t  need to learn the identity of users, and Google will not pass on book title purchase information to credit card companies. However, the policy doesn’t really go far enough.

The policy states “[s]pecial legal privacy protections for users may apply in cases where law enforcement or civil litigants ask Google for information . . .” rather than a full requirement of warrant or subpeona. Where state law requires such consideration, they will apply it. But the implication there is that they won’t insist on court reviewed orders where it isn’t required. I’ve had the FBI ask me for reader information. I’ve been able to tell them to come back when they have a warrant. I expect Google to do the same.

– Dan Lee

Openness and Creativity (aka Librarians Like More Stuff)

August 28th, 2009

I was preparing a Pechua Kucha presentation for our library recently as part of a fun event before the start of a new semester that also was intended to remind us of why we do what we do. I ended up doing mine on the idea of openness, tieing it to Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science and ALA’s statement of Core Values of Librarianship. I ended up talking about Open Source, Open Access, Open Data, and Open Educational Resources.  But the consistent theme that kept coming through – and I hadn’t set out with this in mind – was how openness in all these senses is the foundation for increased productivity and increased creativity. Librarians like openness because we like to have more stuff. More stuff for our communities to take and build on it to create even more stuff.

This idea is probably obvious to those who believe in the value of intellectual freedom, but it’s nice to have a reminder.

– Dan Lee