Library Bill of Rights

Library Bill of Rights

The Library Bill of Rights is the American Library Association's statement expressing the rights of library users to intellectual freedom and the expectations the association places on libraries to support those rights. The Association's Council has adopted [ a number of interpretations] of the document applying it to various library policies.

The Library Bill of Rights

The Library Bill of Rights, as adopted by the American Library Association in 1948 and amended in 1961, 1967, and 1980, reads:

cquote|I. 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.

II. 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.

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

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

V. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.

VI. 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.


Originally written by Forrest Spaulding, director of the Des Moines Public Library, in 1938, the Library Bill of Rights was adopted by the American Library Association in 1948, and has been revised several times since. Its original adoption was introduced with the statement, "Today indications in many parts of the world point to growing intolerance, suppression of free speech, and censorship affecting the rights of minorities and individuals," a reference to the emergence of totalitarian states during that time.ref|39proc During the Cold War period, the Library Bill of Rights supported opponents of censorship of materials interpreted as communist propaganda. In 1948, the association adopted a major revision of the document, which strengthened it significantly to address the new wave of censorship attempts that marked the beginning of the Second Red Scare, and was subsequently attacked in newspapers as "leftist," a "red front," and a "Communist organization."ref|hist A 1967 revision shortened the document and removed rhetorical flourishes, also removing the qualification "of sound factual authority," which it was felt could have been used to justify censorship; also, "age" (along with background, origin, and views) was added to the attributes that should not be a basis for denying access to information.ref|age The document was revised again in 1980.

In 1996, the American Library Association reaffirmed the inclusion of age as an attribute that should not be the basis for denying access to information. This occurred after the American Library Trustee Association (ALTA) brought a request for this to the ALA Council.ref|lbr


Some scholars assert that the Library Bill of Rights uses rhetoric disconnected from the legal understanding of "rights", such as Dr. Shirley Wiegand, professor emeritus of law at Marquette University. "Bills of Rights", and "rights" themselves, are legally enforceable and backed by well-developed arguments. The Library Bill of Rights has no such force or backing, because it is simply a statement of principles. Dr. Wiegand argues that the Library Bill of Rights (and the accompanying rhetoric) needs to be supplanted by a code well-grounded in the case law and language of the First Amendment and its accompanying legal principles. Something similar to the Library Bill of Rights could be retained as an accompanying "aspirational creed", such as a revised form of the ALA Code of Ethics, but it would need to provide more practical guidance.ref|wiegand1

Other scholars, such as Dr. David Woolwine of Hofstra University, have criticized the philosophical underpinnings of the Library Bill of Rights, specifically objecting to the use of utilitarianism and "rights discourse" in defense of the principles. The "moral calculus" of the utilitarian argument that free access of information produces the greatest good for the greatest number can also be used to argue in support of restrictions for the purposes of safety and national security. Rights discourse relies on the assertion of rights with minimal referencing, while neglecting detailed argumentation. Dr. Woolwine asserts that utilitarianism and rights discourse need to be replaced by a synthesis of "modern" and "post-modern" philosophy to coherently and soundly justify the principles of the Library Bill of Rights.ref|woolwine


# "ALA Bulletin." Vol. 33, No. 11 (October 15, 1939).
# cite book
last = Thomison
first = Dennis
title = A History of the American Library Association: 1876-1972
year = 1978
publisher = American Library Association
location = Chicago
isbn = 0838902510

# [ Two Hundred Years of Young Adult Library Information Services History, a Chronology]
#cite book
last = American Library Association
first = Office for Intellectual Freedom
title = Intellectual Freedom Manual, Seventh Edition
url =
year = 2006
publisher = American Library Association
location = Chicago
isbn = 0838935613
pages = 70

# Wiegand, S.A. " [ Reality Bites: The Collision of Rhetoric, Rights, and Reality in the Library Bill of Rights] ." "Library Trends 45, (1)", 76-86 (1996).
# Woolwine, David E. " [ Libraries and the Balance of Liberty and Security] ." "Library Philosophy and Practice (E-Journal)", Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln (2007).

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