ALA Rescinds Meeting Rooms Revision That Included "Hate Groups"

After backlash from members, ALA goes back to work on proper wording for the use of meeting rooms in the Library Bill of Rights.

The American Library Association (ALA) has rescinded the controversial updates to the meeting rooms interpretation in the Library Bill of Rights. The revision was adopted at ALA Annual in June and sparked a backlash when it received public attention a couple of weeks later. The organization announced the reversal on Thursday following an overwhelming vote of the Council to rescind.

“The vote comes after a swift response from ALA members, leadership, its offices and library advocates, to address concerns regarding the use of the term hate groups,” the ALA press release said of the decision.

The revision that had been approved in June stated:

"Public libraries are bound by the First Amendment and the associated law governing access to a designated public forum. A publicly funded library is not obligated to provide meeting room space to the public, but if it chooses to do so, it cannot discriminate or deny access based upon the viewpoint of speakers or the content of their speech. This encompasses religious, political, and hate speech.

"If a library allows charities, non-profits, and sports organizations to discuss their activities in library meeting rooms, then the library cannot exclude religious, social, civic, partisan political, or hate groups from discussing their activities in the same facilities.”

The inclusion of hate groups—wording which was not in the draft of the proposed interpretations—sent librarians to social media in opposition and urging fellow members to contact ALA about the change.

At the time, ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) director James LaRue said nothing was new, the ALA was just specifically defining the meeting rooms section after being asked specifically if a library had to allow a KKK meeting in its building. The Public Library Association didn't accept the OIF's original clarification which read as if it too closely tied religion to hate groups, according to LaRue. So the organization sought the widest term for what was being discussed.

"We said the generic term we need here is hate groups," he said. "The honest truth of it is we inserted it because of a question in the field and we felt like we wanted to address the issue head on instead of dance around it."

LaRue spent days, if not weeks, discussing the situation with dissenters, citing court cases and the First Amendment and, after a lot of thought, he boiled it down to this: "ALA is about diversity and intellectual freedom not just one or the other."

Contacted after ALA announced it would be rescinding the revision, he emailed this response to the action:

"ALA documents exist to provide the best thinking of the profession about current issues. These documents—interpretations, guidelines, FAQs—are often revised. ALA also views things through the lens of its core values. Intellectual Freedom matters. So does Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. The revised document should more accurately reflect both of those concerns."

The Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) has established a new working group to draft a new revision of Meeting Rooms: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights. According to LaRue's email, that group has "met online to revise the document several times" and "hopes to circulate a version to the library community by August 25." The council will receive a final revision by Oct. 1 and voted on before ALA Midwinter in January in Seattle, the ALA release said.

“I would like to express my gratitude to ALA members and staff for their collaboration and feedback as we work to respond to language found within updates to the Library Bill of Rights,” ALA president Loida Garcia-Febo said in a statement. “The ALA continues to strive to provide resources that support Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and intellectual freedom. We can only do so when all of our voices are heard. Today’s vote does not end conversations regarding the interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights, but rather continues our exploration regarding how we can support the profession’s needs.”

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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