Alexander Peter Allain (June 27, 1920 – January 5, 1994) became one of the United States’ most adamant fighters for the freedom of expression though his work as a lawyer and library advocate. His career was devoted to securing First Amendment rights for libraries.
Allain is recognized as one of American Libraries' “100 of the Most Important Leaders we had in the 20th Century” for being “a true visionary” in his battle to uphold the First Amendment; his work with the American Library Association (ALA) included helping with the creation of the Office for Intellectual Freedom in 1967 and cofounding the Freedom to Read Foundation.
Born in Louisiana, as a young man, Allain served as a liaison officer in the French Navy during World War II, stationed in Casablanca. After serving time in the navy, he received his law degree from Loyola University New Orleans in 1942. In 1953, Allain was appointed to the St. Mary Parish Library Board of Control in Louisiana. It was during this time that the United States feared communism and scrutinized libraries for harboring any information that could potentially influence the public opinion. This was an influential time in Allain’s life as he went on to make intellectual freedom cases his life’s work.
The Louisiana Library Association
Allain was very involved in the Louisiana Library Association (LLA) as well as the ALA. In 1964, he was the first chair of the Louisiana Library Association Intellectual Freedom Committee, and he continued to stay active in the state association throughout his life. He was instrumental in the formation of the Council of Louisiana Trustees (COLT), which worked to organize library trustee activity in Louisiana. He also served in numerous other capacities such as chair and vice-chair of the LLA Trustees Section.
The Freedom to Read Foundation and the American Library Association
One of Allain’s biggest contributions to fight for intellectual freedom within libraries was the work he did with ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom to co-founded the Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF) in 1969. Based on the Freedom to Read Foundation Web site, the organization was founded as “the American Library Association’s response to its members’ interest in having adequate means to support and defend librarians whose positions are jeopardized because of their resistance to abridgments of the First Amendment; and to set legal precedent for the freedom to read on behalf of all people”.
The FTRF has four core purposes which include: “Promoting and protecting the freedom of speech and of the press; protecting the public’s right to access to information and materials stored in the nation’s libraries; safeguarding libraries’ right to disseminate all materials contained in their collections; and supporting libraries and librarians in their defense of the First Amendment rights by supplying them with legal counsel or other means to secure it”. The services that the FTRF provide to carry out their mission and purpose involve raising funds through grants and disseminating this monetary aid to people and institutions that need the assistance in court proceedings; aside from providing monetary assistance, the FTRF is something involved directly in the cases.
The FTRF was set up in conjunction with the ALA’s office of Intellectual Freedom instead of as a separate entity because of the work ALA was already doing to protect the First Amendment and intellectual freedom. When the Foundation was being planned for and organized, Allain expressed concern in a letter to the Director of the Intellectual Freedom Office, Judith Krug, that ALA members would forget what the ALA has done and continues to do for intellectual freedom by covering themselves in this new umbrella of aid and assistance in the FTRF. Allain felt that there should be overlap of both organizations so that the focus remained centered on intellectual freedom and could be worked on in harmony.
Allain also felt that in forming the FTRF with the ALA, the Foundation would be able to benefit from some of the clout and connections that ALA already had. He also suggested keeping policies between the two organizations similar because of his belief in the good work that the ALA does; he was continuously concerned about the ALA in his creation of the foundation and did not want members to see the foundation as a replacement but rather an addition to.
Other works, achievements and involvements
Library trustees, along with intellectual freedom, were another area of Allain’s interest and expertise. Some of his publications in this area include, “Trustees & Censorship,” The Library Trustee: a Practical Guidebook, 1964; “Public Library Governing Bodies & Intellectual Freedom”, Library Trends, July 1970; and “The First & Fourteenth Amendment as They Support Libraries, Librarians, Library Systems & Library Development”, Illinois Libraries, January 1974.
According to an article in memory of Allain in Louisiana Libraries, he won many awards including: LLA’s Modisette Award for Trustees (1965), ALA’s Trustee Award (1969), the University of Illinois’ Robert B. Downs Award (1973), ALA Honorary Life Membership (1975), the John Phillip Immroth Memorial Award (1979), the Freedom to Read Foundation Roll of Honor Award (1989 and 1999), the Southeastern Library Association President’s Award (1990) and the LLA Intellectual Freedom Award (1991). The Franklin branch of the St. Mary Parish Library in Louisiana is named in Allain's memory.
Outside of his professional life, Allain was an avid volunteer in the community. He was a member of Rotary International, Knights of Columbus, Scouting and his Chamber of Commerce.
- Ratliff, David G. (January 2003). Donald G. Davis. ed. Dictionary of American Library Biography: Second supplement. Libraries Unlimited. pp. 5–9. ISBN 978-1-56308-868-1. https://books.google.com/books?id=91UjM6TLRJgC&pg=PA5. Retrieved 23 September 2013.
- "In memoriam: Alexander Peter Allain 1920-1994", Louisiana Libraries, Winter 2006, 4.
- Kniffel, L., Sullivan, P., & McCormick, E. (December 1999). "100 of the most important leaders we had in the 20th century", American Libraries, 39.
- Allain, Alexander Peter, in Directory of Library & Information Professionals (Vol. 1, pp. 13-14). Woodbridge, CN: Research Publications.
- About the Freedom to Read Foundation[dead link] (cited 26 May 2009)
- Allain, Alex P. Letter to Judith F. Krug. 7 October 1969.
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