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Information Literacy Modules: Censorship and Freedom of Speech

Learning Outcomes

After completing this module you will be able to:

  • Identify and discuss issues related to censorship and freedom of speech.

What is Intellectual Freedom?

Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored.

American Library Association, 2017

What is Censorship?

Censorship is when something (text, image, film, book, etc.) is removed from public view because a person or group find it disagreeable or questionable.

Examples of Censorship:

  • A religious group finds the witchcraft described in a book objectionable. They issue a challenge and the library is forced to remove it from the collection.
  • A parent finds the sexuality of a teacheer offensive. The teacher is asked to remove all personal photographs of he and his partner from the classroom.
  • The timber and logging industry disagree with the message of a film about environmental conservation, so they pressure the local movie theater into canceling all scheduled viewings of the film.

Library Censorship Basics

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.

Courtesy of the American Library Association, 2017.

What is Freedom of Speech?

The right to freedom of speech allows individuals to express themselves without government interference or regulation. The Supreme Court requires the government to provide substantial justification for the interference with the right of free speech where it attempts to regulate the content of the speech. Generally, a person cannot be held liable, either criminally or civilly for anything written or spoken about a person or topic, so long as it is truthful or based on an honest opinion, and such statements.

Cornell Law School, 2017

What is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law that gives you the right to access information from the federal government. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government.

Not all records are required to be released under the FOIA. Congress established nine exemptions from disclosure for certain categories of information to protect against certain harms, such as an invasion of personal privacy, or harm to law enforcement investigations. The FOIA authorizes agencies to withhold information when they reasonably foresee that disclosure would harm an interest protected by one of these nine exemptions. The nine exemptions are described below.

Exemption 1: Information that is classified to protect national security.

Exemption 2: Information related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency.

Exemption 3: Information that is prohibited from disclosure by another federal law.

Exemption 4: Trade secrets or commercial or financial information that is confidential or privileged.

Exemption 5: Privileged communications within or between agencies, including those protected by the:

  1. Deliberative Process Privilege (provided the records were created less than 25 years before the date on which they were requested)
  2. Attorney-Work Product Privilege
  3. Attorney-Client Privilege

Exemption 6: Information that, if disclosed, would invade another individual's personal privacy.

Exemption 7: Information compiled for law enforcement purposes that:

Exemption 8: Information that concerns the supervision of financial institutions.

Exemption 9: Geological information on wells.

  • 7(A). Could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings
  • 7(B). Would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication
  • 7(C). Could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy
  • 7(D). Could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source
  • 7(E). Would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions
  • 7(F). Could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual, 2017


See How You are Doing!

1. While using the library, are you allowed to look up directions on how to grow marijuana, even if it is illegal to do so?

2. Which concept makes it wrong for librarians to censor information?

3.Freedom of Information Act:





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