In 1969, the American Library Association organized the Freedom to Read Foundation as a legal defense fund fighting censorship and other challenges to free speech. That same year, 250,000 protesters marched in Washington against the Vietnam War; the Woodstock Festival attracted 500,000 spectators; and the trial began of the Chicago Seven, radical activists who were accused of inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
At the annual ALA conference now underway in Washington, DC, the Freedom to Read Foundation is marking a half century of court battles to protect the right of American citizens to free access of controversial books and other media in schools and public libraries. A commemorative book, Reading Dangerously, will be launched too.
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Since 1969, as technology and society changed, so have the foundation’s concerns, notes Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the Interim Director of the Freedom to Read Foundation and the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. An attorney and former appellate litigator, Caldwell-Stone works closely with librarians, teachers, and library trustees on a wide range of intellectual freedom issues, including book and resource censorship, Internet filtering, and library users’ privacy and confidentiality.
Freedom to read in 2019 now means the freedom to read in privacy, away from prying digital surveillance tools. Freedom to read in 2019 also means librarians and schools face new challenges when choosing materials and maintaining collections, she adds.
“ When the foundation was created 50 years ago, our focus was very much on providing legal defense to libraries and librarians who were resisting censorship,” Caldwell-Stone says. “And it still is. A large part of our work still involves addressing censorship in the courts. But since then with the challenges we faced in our understanding of what’s going, we’ve evolved into a foundation that engages in civic education, professional education, on First Amendment and access to information issues.”
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