BY LESLEY RICHARDSON

The McCormick Freedom Project is committed to helping American citizens understand their First Amendment rights. The Libraries and the First Amendment exhibit has been created to make us think critically about our freedom of speech and it shows how the library is one of the first lines of defense in making sure that materials, however controversial, should be available to the American public. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Libraries and the 1st Amendment explores how libraries must deal with challenges to their materials while still adhering to the law. The site addresses controversial topics such as monitoring the materials library patrons read, banning materials, censorship, the use of the library by groups, and more. Some sections of the site have a point/counterpoint question where you can post your own comments about an issue.

The “Challenging Ideas” section of the site discusses why some materials are challenged because they are deemed unacceptable by a person or group of people. An interactive map pinpoints some areas of the United States where books have been challenged. Mouse-over the “push-pins” and see the book, the date it was challenged and the reason for the challenge. For instance, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl was challenged in Wise County, Virginia in 1982 because “some local parents felt the book contained sexually offensive passages.”

There are a number of other interactive features on the site. “You be the Judge” takes real thought-provoking issues and asks the viewer to take sides on them. Click on either “yes” or “no” and then see how others responded to the question. These questions are not simple and require much thought. “You be the Filter” provides four scenarios regarding websites and asks if they should be allowed or blocked on library computers based on an advisory of their content.

Lesson plans addressing First Amendment rights and other freedom issues can be found on the McCormick Freedom Project website. These plans are for middle and high school classes. Lessons for upper elementary students are also available in the areas of social studies, language arts, and science.

The McCormick Freedom Project invites libraries of any size to exhibit their materials. Exhibit downloads include posters, quotation shelf danglers, point/counterpoint table tents, and bookmarks. For more information on hosting an exhibit, send them an email.

Libraries and the First Amendment

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