The Great Neck Library subscribes
to the Freedom to Read Statement adopted June 23, 1953 by
the American Library Association Council:
The freedom to read is essential
to our democracy. It is continuously under attack. Private
groups and public authorities in various parts of the country
are working to remove books from sale, to censor textbooks,
to label "controversial" books, to distribute lists of "objectionable"
books or authors, and to purge libraries. Those actions
apparently rise from a view that our national tradition
of free expression is no longer valid; that censorship and
suppression are needed to avoid the subversion of politics
and the corruption of morals. We, as citizens devoted to
the use of books and as librarians and publishers responsible
for disseminating them, wish to assert the public interest
in the preservation of the freedom to read.
We are deeply concerned about
these attempts at suppression. Most such attempts rest on
a denial of the fundamental premise of democracy: that the
ordinary citizen, by exercising his critical judgment, will
accept the good and reject the bad. The censors, public
and private, assume that they should determine what is good
and what is bad for their fellow citizens.
We trust Americans to recognize
propaganda, and to reject it. We do not believe they need
the help of censors to assist them in this task. We do not
believe they are prepared to sacrifice their heritage of
a free press in order to be "protected" against what others
think may be bad for them. We believe they still favor free
enterprise in ideas and expression.
We are aware, of course, that
books are not alone in being subjected to efforts of suppression.
We are aware that these efforts are related to a larger
pattern of pressures being brought against education, the
press, films, radio and television. The problem is not only
one of actual censorship. The shadow of fear cast by these
pressures leads, we suspect, to an even larger voluntary
curtailment of expression by those who seek to avoid controversy.
Such pressure toward conformity
is perhaps natural to a time of uneasy change and pervading
fear. Especially when so many of our apprehensions are directed
against an ideology, the expression of a dissident idea
becomes a thing feared in itself, and we tend to move against
it as against a hostile deed, with suppression.
And yet suppression is never
more dangerous than in such a time of social tension. Freedom
has given the United States the elasticity to endure strain.
Freedom keeps open the path of novel and creative solutions,
and enables change to come by choice. Every silencing of
a heresy, every enforcement of an orthodoxy, diminishes
the toughness and resilience of our society and leaves it
the less able to deal with stress.
Now as always in our history,
books are among our greatest instruments of freedom. They
are almost the only means for making generally available
ideas or manners of expression that can initially command
only a small audience. They are the natural medium for the
new idea and the untried voice from which come the original
contributions to social growth. They are essential to the
extended discussion which serious thought requires, and
to the accumulation of knowledge and ideas into organized
We believe that free communication
is essential to the preservation of a free society and a
creative culture. We believe that these pressures towards
conformity present the danger of limiting the range and
variety of inquiry and expression on which our democracy
and our culture depend. We believe that every American community
must jealously guard the freedom to publish and to circulate,
in order to preserve its own freedom to read. We believe
that publishers and librarians have a profound responsibility
to give validity to that freedom to read by making it possible
for the readers to choose freely from a variety of offerings.
The freedom to read is guaranteed
by the Constitution. Those with faith in free men will stand
firm on these constitutional guarantees of essential rights
and will exercise the responsibilities that accompany these
We therefore affirm these
1. It is in the public interest
for publishers and librarians to make available the widest
diversity of views and expressions, including those which
are unorthodox or unpopular with the majority.
Creative thought is by definition
new, and what is new is different. The bearer of every new
thought is a rebel until his idea is refined and tested.
Totalitarian systems attempt to maintain themselves in power
by the ruthless suppression of any concept which challenges
the established orthodoxy. The power of a democratic system
to adapt to change is vastly strengthened by the freedom
of its citizens to choose widely from among conflicting
opinions offered freely to them. To stifle every nonconformist
idea at birth would mark the end of the democratic process.
Furthermore, only through the constant activity of weighing
and selecting can the democratic mind attain the strength
demanded by times like these. We need to know not only what
we believe but why we believe it.
2. Publishers, librarians and
booksellers do not need to endorse every idea or presentation
contained in the books they make available. It would conflict
with the public interest for them to establish their own
political, moral or aesthetic views as a standard for determining
what books would be published or circulated.
Publishers and librarians serve
the education process by helping to make available knowledge
and ideas required for the growth of the mind and the increase
of learning. They do not foster education by imposing as
mentors the patterns of their own thought. The people should
have the freedom to read and consider a broader range of
ideas than those that may be held by an single librarian
or publisher or government or church. It is wrong that what
one man can read should be confined to what another thinks
3. It is contrary to the public
interest for publishers or librarians to determine the acceptability
of a book on the basis of the personal history or political
affiliations of the author.
A book should be judged as
a book. No art or literature can flourish if it is to be
measured by the political views of private lives of its
creators. No society of free men can flourish which draws
up lists of writers to whom it will not listen, whatever
they may have to say.
4. There is no place in our
society for efforts to coerce the tastes of others, to confine
adults to the reading matter deemed suitable for adolescents,
or to inhibit the efforts of writers to achieve artistic
To some, much of modern literature
is shocking. But is not much of life itself shocking? We
cut off literature at the source if we prevent serious artists
from dealing with the stuff of life. Parents and teachers
have a responsibility to prepare the young to meet the diversity
of experiences in life to which they will be exposed, as
they have a responsibility to help them learn to think critically
for themselves. These are affirmative responsibilities,
not to be discharged simply by preventing them from reading
works for which they are not yet prepared. In these matters
taste differs, and taste cannot be legislated; nor can machinery
be devised which will suit the demands of one group without
limiting the freedom of others.
5. It is not in the public
interest to force a reader to accept with any book the prejudgment
of a label characterizing the book or author as subversive
The ideal of labeling presupposes
the existence of individuals or groups with wisdom to determine
by authority what is good or bad for the citizens. It presupposes
that each individual must be directed in making up his mind
about the ideas he examines. But Americans do not need others
to do their thinking for them.
6. It is the responsibility
of publishers and librarians, as guardians of the people's
freedom to read, to contest encroachments upon that freedom
by individuals or groups seeking to impose their own standards
or tastes upon the community at large.
It is inevitable in the give
and take of the democratic process that the political, the
moral, or the aesthetic concepts of an individual or group
will occasionally collide with those of another individual
or group. In a free society each individual is free to determine
for himself what he wishes to read, and each group is free
to determine what it will recommend to its freely associated
members. But no group has the right to take the law into
its own hands, and to impose its own concept of politics
or morality upon other members of a democratic society.
Freedom is no freedom if it is accorded only to the accepted
and the inoffensive.
7. It is the responsibility
of publishers and librarians to give full meaning to the
freedom to read by providing books that enrich the quality
and diversity of thought and expression. By the exercise
of this affirmative responsibility, bookmen can demonstrate
that the answer to a bad book is a good one, the answer
to a bad idea is a good idea.
The freedom to read is of little
consequence when expended on the trivial; it is frustrated
when the reader cannot obtain matter for his purpose. What
is needed is not only the absence of restraint, but the
positive provision of opportunity for the people to read
the best that has been thought and said. Books are the major
channel by which the intellectual inheritance is handed
down, and the principal means of its testing and growth.
The defense of their freedom and integrity, and the enlargement
of their service to society, requires of all bookmen the
utmost of their faculties, and deserves of all citizens
the fullest of their support.
We state these propositions
neither lightly nor as easy generalizations. We here stake
out a lofty claim for the value of books. We do so because
we believe that they are good, possessed of enormous variety
and usefulness, worthy of cherishing and keeping free. We
realize that the application of these propositions may mean
the dissemination of ideas and manners of expression that
are repugnant to many people. We do not state these propositions
in the comfortable belief that what people read is unimportant.
We believe rather that what people read is deeply important;
that ideas can be dangerous, but that the suppression of
ideas is fatal to a democratic society. Freedom itself is
a dangerous way of life, but it is ours.
AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION
Council, June 25, 1953
AMERICAN BOOK PUBLISHERS COUNCIL
Board of Directors, June 18, 1953
Subsequently endorsed by:
AMERICAN BOOKSELLERS ASSOCIATION
Board of Directors
BOOK MANUFACTURERS' INSTITUTE
Board of Directors
NATIONAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION
Commission for the Defense of Democracy through Education