Intellectual Freedom in Academic Libraries

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American academic institutions have long endorsed and protected intellectual and academic freedom. Our society has historically recognized that faculty and students must be allowed open discourse and access to unlimited information in order to achieve understanding, learning, and the advancement of knowledge. To support teaching, learning and research, academic library acquisition practices have built collections of resources which represent a wide diversity of opinions and topics including materials deemed controversial or unpopular by some. 

Even though academic libraries operate in an environment where the importance of intellectual freedom is recognized, there are still many intellectual freedom issues to address. As with public libraries, the academic library should have policies in place that deal with privacy rights of library users and confidentiality of their library activities and records. Library and campus policies and practices regarding retention of individual records should be examined and stated. Access to the Internet requires academic libraries to set policies for the appropriate use of Internet resources. To maintain environments conducive for learning, such policies should state that public workstations are provided for educational, research or informational purposes. Library guidelines on appropriate user behavior can provide a basis to help staff manage the viewing of images that could create a hostile, intimidating or harassing environment for others.

Academic librarians have an opportunity to teach principles of intellectual freedom and the importance of unrestricted access to information in their library instruction classes. Our students today will be the next generation to defend First Amendment rights in our country. As students are learning about research methods, librarians can help them learn the importance of their own good judgment and critical thinking in determining what they choose to read and use for their course projects. It is hoped that they become passionate about the importance of open and broad access to information for the rest of their lives.

The ACRL Intellectual Freedom Principles for Academic Libraries state the importance of a strong intellectual freedom foundation. See Appendix G.


NEXT: Appendix A. Sample Reconsideration Form