Intellectual Freedom Was Alive and Well at Midwinter in Seattle

The American Library Association (ALA) held its Midwinter Meeting in Seattle from January 24-29, 2019. As a member of the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee (and a retired school librarian), I’m providing information on the work of the committee as well as other intellectual freedom news that is relevant to school librarians.

The Library Bill of Rights

The Library Bill of Rights had not been updated since the inclusion of the word “age” was reaffirmed by ALA’s Council in January 1996. Changing or adding to the Library Bill of Rights is never done lightly, but a new article protecting the privacy and right to confidentiality of all library users was added during Midwinter on January 29, 2019. Proposed jointly by ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) and its Privacy Subcommittee, Article VII has been in the works since Annual Conference in New Orleans in June 2018. It took months for a working group to craft the two sentences (39 words), seek feedback from the library community, and secure final approval from Council. Article VII  of the updated Library Bill of Rights states:

All people, regardless of origin, age, background, or views, possess a right to privacy and confidentiality in their library use. Libraries should advocate for, educate about, and protect people’s privacy, safeguarding all library use data, including personally identifiable information. (ALA)

The explicit addition of privacy and confidentiality to the Library Bill of Rights is important to school librarians. Protecting the privacy of minors in school libraries and the confidentiality of their library use records has always been a struggle. As a profession, school librarians support library privacy for their K-12 library users, but it has been (and continues to be) difficult to interpret how the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the widely varying state library records laws apply to school libraries.

This is not the end of the end of the work on ALA’s privacy-related documents. The same IFC/Privacy Subcommittee that wrote Article VII is now beginning its work to revise “Privacy: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights” and the “Questions and Answers on Privacy and Confidentiality.” This work is on a fast track because of preparation for the 10th edition of the Intellectual Freedom Manual due to be published in spring 2020. The 9th edition is currently available from the ALA Store.

Updates to Other Library Bill of Rights Interpretations

Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) working groups have also been updating other Library Bill of Rights (LBOR) interpretations. The most contentious revision was to the “Meeting Rooms” interpretation. A revision of the interpretation was approved by Council in June 2018 and rescinded in August 2018. Applying primarily to public libraries, a newly crafted version was approved by Council during Midwinter 2019. The committee also worked on two other LBOR interpretations that have relevance for school librarians:  the “Prisoner’s Right to Read” and “Challenged Resources.” These revised interpretations were also approved by ALA Council in Seattle. In March IFC members will meet in Chicago to continue work on updates to more Library Bill of Rights interpretations in anticipation of the new edition of the Intellectual Freedom Manual.

Kids, Know Your Rights!

The Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC) recently updated its “Kids, Know Your Rights!” a one-page educational flyer aimed at children and young adults that explains intellectual freedom and the freedom to read in simple terms. “Know Your Kids Rights!” is a corollary two-page document for parents and caregivers that defines intellectual freedom including the right to read and information about minors’ library privacy. The rights of parents and caregivers is also addressed. In PDF format, both documents are available for download from the ALSC website.

Looking Ahead

There will be even more intellectual freedom and privacy action at the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC, June 20-25, 2019. The Freedom to Read Foundation will be celebrating its 50th anniversary. For school librarians, there will be many interesting sessions including those on minors’ privacy and library resource selection dilemmas. The Library of Congress will be having a tour for librarians, but no details are available at this time.


ALA. Library Bill of Rights: Article VII. (accessed February 7, 2019).


Monteiro, Dineine. “Red Brick Road.” December 8, 2010.  Used under a Attribution NonCommercial Share-Alike Creative Commons License.



Author: Helen Adams

A former school librarian in Wisconsin, Helen Adams is an online senior lecturer for Antioch University-Seattle in the areas of intellectual freedom, privacy, library ethics, and copyright. A member of the AASL Knowledge Quest Advisory Board, the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee, and a KQ blogger, she is the author of Protecting Intellectual Freedom and Privacy in Your School Library (Libraries Unlimited, 2013) and contributor to The Many Faces of School Library Leadership (2nd edition, Libraries Unlimited, 2017). Email:

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