Muenster Public Library

Library Bill of Rights

Library Bill of Rights

The American Library Association affirms that all Libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that the following basic policies should guide their services.

1.    Books and other Library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves.  Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.

2.    Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues.  Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

3.    Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.

4.    Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.

5.    A person’s right to use the Library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.

6.    Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.

Adopted June 18, 1948.  Amended February 2, 1961, June 27, 1967, and January 23, 1980, by the ALA Council.

The FREEDOM TO VIEW, along with the freedom to speak, to hear, and to read, is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.  In a free society, there is no place for censorship of any medium of expression. 

Therefore, these principles are affirmed:

1.    To provide the broadest possible access to film, video, and other audiovisual materials because they are a means for the communication of ideas.  Liberty of circulation is essential to insure the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression.

2.    To protect the confidentiality of all individuals and institutions using film, video and other audiovisual materials.

3.    To provide film, video and other audiovisual materials which represent a diversity of views and expression.  Selection of a work does not constitute or imply agreement with or approval of the content.

4.    To provide a diversity of viewpoints without the constraint of labeling or prejudging a film, video, and other audiovisual materials on the basis of the moral, religious, or political beliefs of the producer or film maker or on the basis of controversial content.

5.    To contest vigorously, by all lawful means, every encroachment upon the public’s freedom to view.

This statement was originally drafted by the Freedom to View Committee of the American Film and Video Association (formerly the Educational Film Library Association) and was adopted by the AFVA Board of Directors in February 1979.  This statement was updated and approved by the AFVF Board of Directors in 1989 and endorsed by the ALA Council January 10, 1990.


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.  These actions apparently rise form 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 a suppression.  Most such attempts rest on a denial of the fundamental premise of democracy:  that the ordinary citizen, by exercising this 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 American 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 at 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 collections.

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 rights.

We therefore affirm these propositions:

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 the sole standard for determining what books should be published or circulated.

Publishers and librarians serve the educational 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 he held by a single librarian or publisher or government or church.  It is wrong that what one man can read should be confined to what another thinks proper.

3.    It is contrary to the public interest for the publishers or librarians to determine the acceptability of a book solely 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 or private lives of it s 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 extra-legal efforts to coerce the taste of others, to confine adults to the reading matter deemed suitable for the adolescents, or to inhibit the efforts of writers to achieve artistic expression.

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 writers from dealing with the stuff of life.  Parents and teachers have a responsibility to prepare the young to meet the diversity of experience 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 any book with the prejudgment of a label characterizing the book or author as subversive or dangerous.

The ideal of labeling presupposes the existence of individuals or groups with wisdom to determine by authority what is good or bad for the citizen.  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 not 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 one.

The freedom to read is of little consequence when expended on the trivial; it is frustrated when the reader cannot obtain matter fit 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 channels 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, require of all bookmen the utmost of their faculties, and deserve 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 persons.  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.

A Joint Statement by:
American Library Association
Association of American Publishers
An Interpretation of the LIBRARY BILL OF RIGHTS
Libraries often provide exhibit spaces and bulletin boards. The uses made of these spaces shouldconform to the Library Bill of Rights: Article I states, “Materials should not be excludedbecause of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.” Article II states, “Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.” Article VI maintains that exhibit space should be made available “on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.”  In developing library exhibits, staff members should endeavor to present a broad spectrum of opinion and a va riety of viewpoints. Libraries should not shrink from developing exhibits because of controversial content or because of the beliefs or affiliations of those whose work is represented. Just as libraries do not endorse the viewpoints of those whose work is represented
in their collections, libraries also do not endorse the beliefs or viewpoints of topics that may be the subject of library exhibits. Exhibit areas often are made available for use by community groups. Libraries should formulate a written policy for the use of these exhibit areas to assure that space is provided on an equitable basis to all groups that request it. Written policies for exhibit space use should be stated in inclusive rather than exclusive terms. For example, a policy that the library’s exhibit space is open “to organizations engaged in educational, cultural, intellectual, or charitable activities” is an inclusive statement of the limited uses of the exhibit space. This defined limitation would permit religious groups to use the exhibit space because they engage in intellectual activities, but would exclude most commercial uses of the exhibit space. A publicly supported library may designate use of exhibit space for strictly library-related activities, provided that this limitation is viewpoint neutral and clearly defined. Libraries may include in this policy rules regarding the time, place, and manner of use of the exhibit space, so long as the rules are content neutral and are applied in the same manner to all groups wishing to use the space. A library may wish to limit access to exhibit space to groups within the community served by the library. This practice is acceptable provided that the same rules and regulations apply to everyone, and that exclusion is not made on the basis of the doctrinal, religious, or political beliefs of the potential users. The library should not censor or remove an exhibit because some members of the community may disagree with its content. Those who object to the content of any exhibit held at the library should be able to submit their complaint and/or their own exhibit proposal to be judged according to the policies established by the library. Libraries may wish to post a permanent notice near the exhibit area stating that the library does not advocate or endorse the viewpoints of exhibits or exhibitors. Libraries that make bulletin boards available to public groups for posting notices of public interest should develop criteria for the use of these spaces based on the same considerations as those outlined above. Libraries may wish to develop criteria regarding the size of material to be displayed, the length of time materials may remain on the bulletin board, the frequency with which material may be posted for the same group, and the geographic area from which notices
will be accepted.
Adopted July 2, 1991, by the ALA Council; amended June 30, 2004, by the ALA Council.
[ISBN 8389-7551-8]
The USA Patriot Act in the Library
The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (“USA Patriot Act”) became law on October 26, 2001. The legislation originated with Attorney General John Ashcroft, who
asked Congress for additional powers that he claimed were needed to fight terrorism in the wake of the events of September 11, 2001. Few amendments were made to Ashcroft’s initial proposal to Congress, and the bill became law without any hearings or
markup by a Congressional committee. The Patriot Act amended over 15 federal statutes, including the laws governing criminal
procedure, computer fraud and abuse, foreign intelligence, wiretapping, immigration, and the laws governing the privacy of student records. These amendments expanded the authority of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and law enforcement to gain access to
business records, medical records, educational records and library records, including stored electronic data and communications. It also expanded the laws governing wiretaps and “trap and trace” phone devices to Internet and electronic communications.
These enhanced surveillance procedures pose the greatest challenge to privacy and confident iality in the library. Enhanced Surveillance Provisions Affecting Library Confidentiality Section 215 Access to Records Under Foreign Intelligence Security Act (FISA)
•??Allows an FBI agent to obtain a search warrant for “any tangible thing,” which can include books, records, papers, floppy disks, data tapes, and computers with hard drives.
•??Permits the FBI to compel production of library circulation records, Internet use records, and registration information stored in any medium.
•??Does not require the agent to demonstrate “probable cause,” the existence of specific facts to support the belief that a crime has been committed or that the items sought are evidence of a crime. Instead, the agent only needs to claim that he believes that the records he wants may be related to an ongoing investigation related to terrorism or intelligence activities, a very low legal standard.
•??Libraries or librarians served with a search warrant issued under FISA rules may not disclose, under of penalty of law, the existence of the warrant or the fact that records were produced as a result of the warrant. A patron cannot be told that his or her records were given to the FBI or that he or she is the subject of an FBI investigation.
•??Overrides state library confidentiality laws protecting library records. Codified in law at 50 U.S.C. §1862.2 Section 216: Relating to the Use of Pen Register and Trap and Trace Devices
•??Extends the telephone monitoring laws (“pen register,” “trap and trace”) to include routing and addressing information for all Internet traffic, including email addresses, IP addresses, and URLs of web pages.
•??State law enforcement agencies may apply for and obtain an order under this provision, which is not limited to the investigation of terrorism or foreign intelligence matters.
•??Federal agents can obtain a nationwide court order for a wiretap from any federal court having jurisdiction over the offense under investigation.
•??The officers and agents seeking warrants under the pen register statute only need to affirm that the information sought is relevant to a criminal investigation.
•??Compels a recipient of a monitoring order to provide all necessary cooperation to law enforcement authorities to facilitate installation of the monitoring device, or provide the information to the investigating officer from their own records. The recipient cannot disclose that communications are being monitored.
•??Libraries that provide access to the Internet and email service to patrons may become the target of a court order requiring the library to cooperate in the monitoring of a user’s electronic communications sent through the library’s computers or network. Codified in law at 18 U.S.C. §§3121-3127 Section 214 Pen Register and trap and trace authority under FISA
•??Extends the FBI’s telephone monitoring authority in FISA investigations (“pen register,” “trap and trace”) to include routing and addressing information for all Internet traffic, including email addresses, IP addresses, and URLs of web pages.
•??As with Section 215, the agent only needs to claim that he believes that the records he wants may be related to an ongoing investigation related to terrorism or intelligence activities, a very low legal standard.
•??As with Section 216, libraries that provide access to the Internet and email service to patrons may become the target of a court order. Codified in law at 50 U.S.C. §1852 3 Other Provisions of Interest That Do Not Directly Affect Libraries Section 218: Foreign intelligence information requirement for FISA authority.
•??Amends FISA so that foreign intelligence or terrorism need only be "a significant purpose" of the investigation, rather than "the purpose" of the investigation. Relaxes the legal standard for FISA surveillance. Section 219: Single-Jurisdiction Warrants for Terrorism Section 220: National Search Warrants for Electronic Evidence
•??Both provisions permit federal courts located in a district where a crime or act of terrorism has occurred to issue a court order that may be served and executed nationwide. Section 220 affects stored email and other electronic data. Section 206: Roving Surveillance Authority under FISA
•??Permits the use of “roving wiretaps” in a FISA investigation, which allows the investigating agency to obtain a single court order to monitor the electronic communications of a person at any location or on any device, including email and Internet communications.
•??The order need not identify the person or entity whose assistance is required for the monitoring. It is a generic order that may be presented at any time to a newly discovered service provider.
•??Updates FISA to match federal wiretap laws that allow roving wiretaps.
American Library Association

Office for Intellectual Freedom April 2002
An Interpretation of the LIBRARY BILL OF RIGHTS
Library policies and procedures that effectively deny minors equal and equitable access to all library resources available to other users violate the Library Bill of Rights. The American Library Association opposes all attempts to restrict access to library services, materials, and facilities based on the age of library users. Article V of the Library Bill of Rights states, “A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.” The “right to use a library” includes free access to, and unrestricted use of, all the services, materials, and facilities the library has to offer. Every restriction on access to, and use of, library resources, based solely on the chronological age, educational level, literacy skills, or legal emancipation of users violates
Article V. Libraries are charged with the mission of developing resources to meet the diverse information needs and interests of the communities they serve. Services, materials, and facilities that fulfill the needs and interests of library users at different stages in their personal development are a necessary part of library resources. The needs and interests of each library user, and resources
appropriate to meet those needs and interests, must be determined on an individual basis. Librarians cannot predict what resources will best fulfill the needs and interests of any individual user based on a single criterion such as chronological age, educational level, literacy skills, or legal emancipation. Libraries should not limit the selection and development of library resources simply because
minors will have access to them. Institutional self-censorship diminishes the credibility of the library in the community, and restricts access for all library users. Children and young adults unquestionably possess First Amendment rights, including the right to
receive information in the library. Constitutionally protected speech cannot be suppressed solely to protect children or young adults from ideas or images a legislative body believes to be unsuitable for them. 1 Librarians and library governing bodies should not resort to age restrictions in an effort to avoid actual or anticipated objections, because only a court of law candetermine whether material is not constitutionally protected. The mission, goals, and objectives of libraries cannot authorize librarians or library governing
bodies to assume, abrogate, or overrule the rights and responsibilities of parents. As “Libraries: An American Value” states, “We affirm the responsibility and the right of all parents and guardians to guide their own children’s use of the library and its resources and services.” Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents—and only parents—have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children—and only their children—to library resources. Parents who do not want their children to have access to certain library services, materials, or facilities should so advise their children. Librarians and library governing bodies
cannot assume the role of parents or the functions of parental authority in the private relationship between parent and child. Lack of access to information can be harmful to minors. Librarians and library governing bodies have a public and professional obligation to ensure that all members of the community they serve have free, equal, and equitable access to the entire range of library resources regardless of content, approach, format, or amount of detail. This principle of library service applies equally to all users, minors as well as adults. Librarians and library governing bodies must uphold this principle in order to provide adequate and effective service to minors. 1See Erznoznik v. City of Jacksonville, 422 U.S. 205 (1975)—“Speech that is neither obscene as to youths nor subject to some other legitimate proscription cannot be suppressed solely to protect the young from ideas or images that a legislative body thinks unsuitable [422 U.S. 205, 214] for them. In most circumstances, the values protected by the First Amendment are no less applicable
when government seeks to control the flow of information to minors. See Tinker v. Des Moines
School Dist., supra. Cf. West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943).”
Adopted June 30, 1972; amended July 1, 1981; July 3, 1991, June 30, 2004, by the ALA
[ISBN 8389-7549-6]

Libraries are faced with problems of user behavior that must be addressed to ensure the effective delivery of service and full access to facilities. Library governing bodies should approach the regulation of user behavior within the framework of the ALA Code of Ethics, the Library Bill of Rights and the law, including local and state statutes, constitutional standards under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, due process and equal and equitable treatment under the law. Publicly supported library service is based upon the First Amendment right of free expression. Publicly supported libraries are recognized as limited public forums for access to information. Courts have recognized a First Amendment right to receive information in a public library. Library policies and procedures that could impinge upon such rights are subject to a higher standard of review than may be required in the policies of other public services and facilities. There is a significant government interest in maintaining a library environment that is conducive to all users’ exercise of their constitutionally protected right to receive information. This significant interest authorizes publicly supported libraries to maintain a safe and healthy environment in which library users and staff can be free from harassment, intimidation, and threats to their safety and well-being. Libraries should provide appropriate safeguards against such behavior and enforce policies and procedures
addressing that behavior when it occurs. In order to protect all library users’ right of access to library facilities, to ensure the safety of users and staff, and to protect library resources and facilities from damage, the library’s governing authority may
impose reasonable restrictions on the time, place, or manner of library access. Guidelines The American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee recommends that publicly supported libraries use the following guidelines, based upon constitutional principles, to develop policies and procedures governing the use of library facilities:
1. Libraries are advised to rely upon existing legislation and law enforcement mechanisms as the primary means of controlling behavior that involves public safety, criminal behavior, or other issues covered by existing local, state, or federal statutes. In many instances, this legal framework may be sufficient to provide the library with the necessary tools to maintain order.
2. If the library’s governing body chooses to write its own policies and procedures regarding user behavior or access to library facilities, services, and resources, the policies should cite statutes or ordinances upon which the authority to make those policies is based.
3. Library policies and procedures governing the use of library facilities should be carefully examined to ensure that they embody the principles expressed in the Library Bill of Rights.
4. Reasonable and narrowly drawn policies and procedures designed to prohibit interference with use of the facilities and services by others, or to prohibit activities inconsistent with achievement of the library’s mission statement and objectives, are acceptable.
5. Such policies and the attendant implementing procedures should be reviewed frequently and updated as needed by the library’s legal counsel for compliance with federal and state constitutional requirements, federal and state civil rights legislation, all other applicable federal and state legislation, and applicable case law.
6. Every effort should be made to respond to potentially difficult circumstances of user behavior in a timely, direct, and open manner. Common sense, reason and sensitivity should be used to resolve issues in a constructive and positive manner without escalation.
7. Libraries should develop an ongoing staff training program based upon their user behavior policy. This program should include training to develop empathy and understanding of the social and economic problems of some library users.
8. Policies and regulations that impose restrictions on library access:

  • a. should apply only to those activities that materially interfere with the public’s right of access to library facilities, the safety of users and staff, and the protection of library resources and facilities;
  • b. should narrowly tailor prohibitions or restrictions so that they are not more restrictive than needed to serve their objectives;
  • c. should attempt to balance competing interests and avoid favoring the majority at the expense
  • of individual rights, or allowing individual users’ rights to supersede those of the majority of
  • library users;
  • d. should be based solely upon actual behavior and not upon arbitrary distinctions between individuals or classes of individuals. Policies should not target specific users or groups of users based upon an assumption or expectation that such users might engage in behaviors thatcould disrupt library service;
  • e. should not restrict access to the library by persons who merely inspire the anger or annoyance of others. Policies based upon appearance or behavior that is merely annoying or that merely generates negative subjective reactions from others, do not meet the necessary standard. Such policies should employ a reasonable, objective standard based on the behavior itself;
  • f. must provide a clear description of the behavior that is prohibited and the various enforcement measures in place so that a reasonably intelligent person will have both due process and fair warning; this description must be continuously and clearly communicated in an effective manner to all library users;
  • g. to the extent possible, should not leave those affected without adequate alternative means of access to information in the library;
  • h. must be enforced evenhandedly, and not in a manner intended to benefit or disfavor any person or group in an arbitrary or capricious manner. 
The user behaviors addressed in these Guidelines are the result of a wide variety of individual and societal conditions. Libraries should take advantage of the expertise of local social service agencies, advocacy groups, mental health professionals, law enforcement officials, and other community resources to develop community strategies for addressing the needs of a diverse population.

Adopted by the Intellectual Freedom Committee
January 24, 1993; revised November 17, 2000; revised January 19, 2005
[ISBN 8389-7763]