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Are libraries neutral?

Here are my remarks at today's American Library Association Midwinter Conference. Jim Neal's Presidential Program was "Are libraries neutral?" I was first on the "pro" side of the debate.

In 1938, a time with an eery resonance to today, some citizens in Des Moines, Iowa protested a book we would now call hate speech: Hitler's Mein Kampf. Director Forrest Spaulding drafted "A Library's Bill of Rights" to establish for the first time the library's endorsement of intellectual freedom -- the right to access even uncomfortable or offensive content. Maybe, Spaulding said, we needed to know what was going on in the world.

In 1939, ALA Council approved the statement for the entire association.

Implicit in intellectual freedom is the principle of neutrality.

Let me make two things clear.

Neutrality does not mean that librarians have no values. We do. It doesn't mean that institutions don't exist to advance certain goals. Libraries activ…