Intellectual Freedom is “[t]he right under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution of any person to read or express views that may be unpopular or offensive to some people, within certain limitations (libel, slander, etc.)” (Reitz, 2010). The other notable legal limit on free speech is obscenity, defined as a work that, taken as a whole, includes offensive sexual content (according to community standards) and lacks serious literary or other merit (Preer, 2008). A few seminal American Library Association (ALA) and Canadian Library Association (CLA) documents define intellectual freedom in libraries. The application of intellectual freedom in libraries has been, and continues to be, a source of tension.
No matter the profession, “the essence of profession is service to society” (Preer, 2008, p. 3)—for the library profession, service has always been central, but the understanding of how best to serve society has evolved. Furthermore, while service is the most important ethical precept governing librarians, it is not the only precept, and other precepts inherently conflict with service. Professional codes define the meanings and practice of ethical precepts and help arbitrate when precepts conflict. An examination of the ethical codes of the American Library Association (ALA) and the Canadian Library Association (CLA) reveals the meaning of service in their constituent institutions.
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