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ALA Rethinks ‘Free Speech Zone’

January 13, 2020
 
 

The American Library Association raised eyebrows last week with a proposal to create a “designated area for the expression of social beliefs” at its upcoming midwinter meeting in Philadelphia.

On its event website, the ALA said it would create a space called “the square” to “allow individuals or groups the opportunity to express support for or objection to self-identified topics.”

The proposal was ridiculed by librarians on Twitter, who joked “the square” could become an “intellectual fight club” or “Thunderdome.” Many also expressed serious concern that “the square” would create a platform for hate speech, or limit attendees’ ability to speak freely in other conference areas.

Some commenters theorized “the square” was a strategy for controlling protests. At the ALA annual conference in June 2019, a group of librarians protested the presence of a Central Intelligence Agency recruitment booth on the exhibit floor, stating the agency’s practices were incompatible with the values of librarianship.

The ALA quickly admitted it had “missed the mark” with its proposal. “We’ve pulled down the page and will be regrouping shortly to determine how best we can balance the needs of all attendees and exhibitors in Philadelphia,” said Mary Ghikas, ALA executive director, in a statement. “We apologize for the confusion this has caused. As always, we thank you for your feedback.”

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