The Library Bill of Rights: Article lll

Over a 7 week period, the Faculty at Brookens Library will be sharing a blog series expounding on each article of the Library Bill of Rights. Each of the 6 principles in the Library Bill of Rights broadly outlines an ideal that librarians support and upon which they model behavior, practice, and services. As with most ideals, pursuit of the tenets of the Library Bill of Rights is not an effortless task. Each of the points we’ll be discussing come with their own special challenges and obstacles. This week we are featuring Article lll.

The Library Bill of Rights (LBR), or as it was originally named, Library’s Bill of Rights, of the American Library Association “serves as the library profession’s interpretation of how the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution applies to libraries” (Office for Intellectual Freedom, 2010, p. xix). Specifically related to the First Amendment, the LBR interprets how “the freedom of speech, or of the press” applies to library practices. The ALA interprets these freedoms broadly to include intellectual freedom, “a freedom of the mind, a personal liberty and a prerequisite for all freedoms [End Page 42] leading to action.” Intellectual freedom is “the bulwark of our constitutional republic . . . [and] . . . the rallying cry of those who struggle for democracy worldwide,” according to the ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Manual, the official interpretive document and guide on implementing the LBR within the context of US libraries (Office for Intellectual Freedom, 2010, pp. xvii–xviii). (Reexamining the Origins of the Adoption of the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights, p. 1)

The 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.

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.

Adopted June 19, 1939, by the ALA Council; amended October 14, 1944; June 18, 1948; February 2, 1961; June 27, 1967; January 23, 1980; inclusion of “age” reaffirmed January 23, 1996.


Library Bill or Rights, Article IlI.

Written by: Steven Ward, Visiting Clinical Assistant Professor/ Visiting User Services and Instructional Services Librarian

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

While all articles contained within in the library Bill of Rights deal with issues of intellectual freedom, the third article speaks more specifically to the responsibility of libraries and librarians to provide access to information of all types, and to challenge attempts of censorship when and where they exist. The limiting of access to information deemed too controversial because it runs contrary to the beliefs or opinions of either a single person, or to a group of people, have had some success through censorship, and although the intentions are often only meant to protect a few, they instead work to threaten all who actively pursue enlightenment and knowledge. Librarians must remain active on the front lines of censorship challenges to ensure that intellectual freedom can be preserved for all.

Even though attempts at censoring information and preventing enlightenment are most prevalent in public and school libraries, academic librarians must still actively contribute to the overall conversation, help to support the cause, and always be ready to defend the intellectual and academic freedom of others should challenges arise. Historically, materials that contained offensive language, were sexually explicit, or were ideological in nature, were targets of the censor, but other materials have been targeted simply because the ideas or subject matter put forward was more forward thinking and progressive than what was traditionally accepted at the time. When looking at banned books lists specifically, which provide some evidence of cases of censorship existing in libraries across the United States, it is most often these very materials that eventually gain wide acceptance for both helping to bring about social change, and for helping to shape the course of history. As a librarian, the idea that someone would choose to censor information or ban books was quite surprising to me at first, but after better understanding the responsibility we have in serving our community, as well as the negative implications that such bans can have on intellectual freedom rights, I am committed to ensuring that access to information of all types, controversial or not, is available to all who wish to seek it.

One way to stay informed and to help challenge censorship in libraries, is to celebrate ALA’s “Banned Books Week”. By promoting both successful and unsuccessful cases of banned and challenged books, ALA provides an awareness that allows libraries and librarians to engage the public in a discussion that can only help to highlight the importance of intellectual freedom and the right to read. This year’s event will take place the week of Sept 24th through Sept 30th. I am linking the site below, and I encourage you to browse the various banned books lists and literature found on this page.

Steven Ward, Visiting Clinical Assistant Professor/ Visiting User Services and Instructional Services Librarian


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