Intellectual Freedom: The Cornerstone of Democracy and Librarianship

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The obligation for libraries to defend intellectual freedom is not only a moral imperative; it is a matter of self-interest and a professional tradition. Our intellectual freedoms have a sound legal basis. The United States Constitution is the cornerstone of intellectual freedom. Under the protection of the First Amendment, we have the right to seek the information we need to form our own opinions, to express those opinions, to assemble peacefully to demonstrate or share our ideas, and to criticize the powerful. These rights are not merely privileges; they are the vital tools of our democracy and the tenets of our American way of life. The freedom to know keeps you free. The freedom to know is your right under the law.

American democracy is based on the belief that people are capable of governing themselves and have the basic right to express themselves freely so they can share ideas and make informed decisions. Our nation has remained wise and strong to the extent that we have been able to exchange ideas, information, and our creative works easily and openly. America’s libraries provide the access to ideas and facts that allow our society to flourish. Historically, libraries have been committed to the principle that knowledge and access to information can empower individuals and that it is in the public interest that the means to such empowerment be available to all. By collecting, accessing, organizing, preserving, and disseminating the rich diversity of human expression in all its varied forms, libraries ensure free speech, self government, and individual enrichment.

Although librarians, trustees, administrators, and others who affect library policies have been conditioned to think of intellectual freedom in terms of attacks by censors, the struggle over intellectual freedom is now being waged in broader arenas. When government restricts the information it holds, when media and book monopolies narrow the range of published opinions to those that are not controversial, when commercial interests put a price on information which should be public, when Internet filters over-block important resources, library supporters must recognize that these too threaten intellectual freedom.

Today, as the body of human knowledge expands dramatically and is being formatted and reorganized by revolutionary new developments in telecommunications and computing technology, it is especially important that libraries are rededicated to providing access to all, not just the privileged few who are able to pay. The plans and policies that are created today will determine the content and availability of our nation’s cultural resources tomorrow. Those shaping library plans, priorities, and policies should be aware of the profound weight their decisions carry. They have a responsibility to participate in those political processes that determine what information is available, how it will be organized and distributed, and who will have access.

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