Real-Life Intellectual Freedom


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Library science classes provide students with education about intellectual freedom, and future librarians are directed and inspired to support the rights of patrons and the missions of libraries.  While preparing to serve young adult patrons in particular, library science students can enhance and expand their ability to serve teens by learning about intellectual freedom as discussed and applied in the real world.

Notable First Amendment Court Cases,” as found in the online pages of the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom [ALA-OIF], is an ample – yet concise – resource for practical learning about teen issues.  This useful document is included in the Office’s webpages, in the section titled, “About Banned and Challenged Books.”

The court cases are organized into clearly-defined sections concerning historic decisions, reading rights, expressive rights in schools, First Amendment rights of minors, freedom of the press, dissent, free association, privacy, obscenity, libel, and new technologies.  There are short summaries of cases, with information about finding complete texts.  These summaries provide key findings from a variety of courts and judicial opinions.  The language is scholarly and accessible to library professionals.  The document also contains links to related annotations and judicial information.

The summaries are arranged in chronological order, which helps librarians understand the development of policies, laws, and challenges that shape the intellectual freedoms to which teens are now entitled.  For example, the historic cases include a summary of “Schenck v. United States,” the 1919 case in which Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote about a “clear and present danger test” for assessing the need to protect against “substantive evils” resulting from certain words or speech (para. 3).  As courts deliberated over the years, a 1969 case, “Brandenburg v. Ohio,” modernized Holmes’s version by discussing the incitation of “lawless action” (para. 6).

A number of summaries note issues that are relevant to young-adult librarians and their work.  For example, “Right to Read Defense Committee v. School Committee of the City of Chelsea [1978]” discusses the issue of “mind control,” which may be countered by providing teens in the library with “ready access to a broad sweep of ideas and philosophies” (para. 16).  “Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico [1982]” is concerned with First Amendment rights which protect teens from authorities who might try to force certain opinions or mainstream thought on young minds (para. 26).  Summaries in “The Internet” section describe legal decisions which can help librarians deal with filtering issues and teens’ rights to access materials online.

The real-life aspects of “Notable First Amendment Court Cases” are important for library science students as they prepare to leave the classroom.  Library work in the world of young adults includes dealing with students, parents, boards of schools and libraries, community members and organizations, government entities, religious values and secular thought, crime, civil disobedience, politics, constitutional rights, discrimination, satire, discussions about literature, and other components of modern life.  This ALA-OIF resource will help librarians connect such realities with related court cases and legal decisions.

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