The First Amendment in Libraries w/ Deborah Caldwell-Stone – Event Recap

On October 20, 2022 the Riverside County Law Library was honored to host a presentation with Deborah Caldwell-Stone titled “The First Amendment in Libraries.”

Deborah Caldwell-Stone is Director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and Executive Director of the Freedom to Read Foundation. For over twenty years she has worked closely with library professionals and library trustees on a wide range of intellectual freedom issues related to library service in the United States. She has served on the faculty of the ALA-sponsored Lawyers for Libraries and Law for Librarians workshops and is a contributor to the 10th edition of the Intellectual Freedom Manual. She has contributed articles on law, policy, and intellectual freedom to American Libraries and other publications.

The introduction of Deborah’s presentation centered on the core role of library professionals to protect intellectual freedom. She explains intellectual freedom to be not only a core value of the library profession, but a fundamental right of our democratic society. She cited the following case opinion excerpt in her introduction:

“The right to receive ideas is a necessary predicate to the recipient’s meaningful exercise of his own rights of speech, press, and political freedom.” – Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 867 (1982)

Deborah’s presentation covered several topics related to the first amendment in libraries including filming, unprotected speech, audits, and censorship. Many of these topics cited cases across the United States. One of the prominent cases mentioned in the presentation was Miler v. California (case opinion link is listed below). This case decided that the material must meet all three parts of the legal test to be found obscene. This case, and the legal test mentioned, are relevant due to the recent national conversations regarding certain materials and whether they should be banned due to one page/portion of the book. During the webinar, participants specifically brought up the graphic novel “Gender Queer.” Caldwell- Stone stated, 

“Graphic novels have always posed more difficulty because images communicate much more differently than words on a page and have more impact on the user, so they have always been a challenge. That does not mean that they are not protected by the First Amendment. In fact, Gender Queer is protected by the First Amendment in its entirety.”

 At the end of the discussion portion of the event. I asked Deborah the following to close out the session,

“Many of the participants here today are from different types of libraries like public, law, and academic. I myself have worked in both public and law. What is something you hope is universal that we all can take away to our specialized libraries?”

Deborah answered, 

“I think it is the role of every library professional, and every library, to preserve and protect intellectual freedom. It is the foundation of our constitutional democracy, but it is more than that. It is evidencing a respect for the dignity and humanity of every individual who enters the library to use it. It should be the foundation of all you do whether you are a public library, a school library, and academic library, or a law library.”

If you missed Deborah’s presentation, or would just like to re-watch it, you can find the recording on our YouTube channel here.   

Listed below are the cases cited by Caldwell-Stone in her presentation. Library staff graciously looked up each case on the law library’s legal databases. You can read each case opinion in its entirety by clicking on the case.

Written by: Andy Valencia, User Experience Librarian 

Andrea Valencia

By Andrea Valencia

November 02, 2022

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