Let the Good Times Roll: Intellectual Freedom at the ALA Conference

For librarians, Intellectual freedom is a living concept, a core value reflected in the ALA Code of Ethics, the Library Bill of Rights, the Freedom to Read Statement, and Libraries: An American Value. It is highlighted annually during Banned Books Week and was observed from May 1-7 during Choose Privacy Week. Get your intellectual freedom fix during the ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans from June 21-26, 2018.

Here’s a buffet of intellectual freedom-related learning experiences and events during the conference:

  • Freedom to Read Foundation (Thursday, June 21, 8:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m., 2:00-4:00 p.m., Room 296, Morial Convention Center (MCC)). If you are an early bird to the conference, sit in on the morning session of the Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF). Teresa Chamara, FTRF’s legal counsel, provides a comprehensive but understandable oral (and written) explanation on current court actions in which FTRF is involved. The afternoon meeting is devoted to the “business” side or FTRF with membership, financial, and other reports. A membership reception follows the close of the FTRF Board meeting at 4:00 p.m. During the reception, Dovi Mae Patino, the recipient of the Conable Conference Scholarship, and those named as 2018 Roll of Honor recipients will be introduced.
  • Opening General Session (Friday, June 22, 4:00-5:30 p.m., Exhibit Hall F, MCC). There’s nothing quite like being in a huge hall with thousands of fellow librarians. We are at the conference to learn, and there will be opportunities to hear from a range of authors and national figures. ALA President Jim Neal will convene the session and will have the honor of introducing Former First Lady Michele Obama. An inspiring speaker, her appearance will be a highlight for conference attendees.
  • Exhibits & Opening Reception (Friday, June 22, 5:30-7:00 p.m.). The exhibits has something for everyone. There’s the Book Buzz Theater (schedule), the What’s Cooking @ ALA Demonstration Stage (cooking demo schedule), and the Graphic Novel/Gaming Stage (schedule). In addition to talking to vendors and picking up free books, check out the specialty pavilions, including the Gaming Lounge and the Mobile Applications Pavilion.
  • Stand for the Banned Video Booth (Saturday and Sunday, June 23-24, 9 a.m.-5:00 p.m., near exhibits). Annually the Office for Intellectual Freedom and Sage Publishing sponsor a “Stand for the Banned” video booth where conference attendees can talk about their favorite banned book or read from it. The videos are posted on YouTube. For a sample, watch OIF director Jamie LaRue describe his take on challenges to fairy tales. Consider recording one to show in your library during Banned Books Week 2018 Sept. 23-29.
  • The Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC). If you are an intellectual freedom junkie and want to hear the discussions behind new or updated Library Bill of Rights interpretations, join the Intellectual Freedom Committee at one of its four meetings during the conference. My recommendation is to stop by the IFC’s first meeting, held on Friday, June 22, from 8:00-10:00 a.m. in room 296 of the convention center. IFC members will be reviewing and voting on two new documents “Social Media Guidelines for Public and Academic Libraries” (one for school libraries is coming) and “Responding and Preparing for Controversial Programs and Speakers Q&A.” The IFC will also be discussing plans for updating approximately 13 Library Bill of Rights interpretations in anticipation of the next edition of the Intellectual Freedom Manual in early 2020. IFC meeting dates, time, and locations include:
    • IFC I, Friday, June 22, from 8:00-10:00 a.m.,  room 296, MCC
    • IFC II, Friday, June 22, from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., room 296,  MCC
    • IFC III, Sunday, June 23, from 12:30-2:30 p.m., room 338,  MCC
    • IFC IV, Monday, June 24, from 12:30-2:30 p.m., room 357,  MCC
  • Intellectual Freedom-Related Programs (selected)

    Preservation Hall Jazz Band Drum

    • Intellectual Freedom 101 (Saturday, June 23, 10:30-11:30 a.m., MCC, 398-399). Where can you hear a one hour summary of national intellectual freedom activities and meet the intellectual freedom community’s leaders and Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) staff? The “Intellectual Freedom 101” session. Led by Jamie LaRue, you’ll have a whirlwind introduction to the groups within ALA dedicating to protecting your right to read, and learn how you can become involved.
    • The Librarian’s Dilemma: How Would You Respond? (Saturday, June 23, 1:00-2:00 p.m., MCC, 386). The Committee on Professional Ethics presents its annual opportunity to look at current ethical dilemmas in librarianship through the lens of the ALA Code of Ethics. This year’s topic is particularly timely—the “collision” of personal and professional ethics, especially when discussed in social media. Enjoy the skits, and add your voice to the discussion.
    • Fake News or Free Speech: Is There a Right to Be Uninformed? (Saturday, June 23, 4:00-5:00 p.m., MCC, 288). There will be standing room only for this program, and you will not want to miss it. The panel—Joyce Valenza, assistant teaching professor at Rutgers University; California-based librarian and attorney Mary Minnow; Damasco Reyes, director of Partnerships, from the Literacy Project; and Nicole Cook, associate professor and program director at the University of Illinois—will take a fresh look at the impact of social media on “fake news.”

Mix and Mingle

In addition to informal networking through out the conference, zero in on two excellent opportunities to meet fellow school librarians:

Beignets at the Cafe du Monde

Visit the Sights

You know the old saying “all work and no play…” Make sure to sample beignets at Café du Monde, listen to New Orleans-style jazz at Preservation Hall, and see the artists at Jackson Square. It’s all part of your conference (and learning) experience.


American Library Association. “ALA Conference Web Badge: Learn More.” https://2018.alaannual.org/general-information/grab-web-badge/.

Infrogmation of New Orleans. “Preservation Hall Bass Drum.” August 4, 2010. Used under Creative Commons Attribution License. https://www.flickr.com/photos/infrogmation/4881321966/sizes/n/.

Roeder, Phil. “Beignets.” April 28, 2014. Used under Creative Commons Attribution License. https://www.flickr.com/photos/tabor-roeder/14077682002/sizes/n/.


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: hadams1@centurytel.net.

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