The Library Bill of Rights: Article IV

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 IV.

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.

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Library Bill of Rights, Article IV

Written by: Sally LaJoie, Clinical Assistant Professor/Instructional Services Librarian

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

Historically, libraries have supported free and equitable access to ideas. Librarians enable access to information by providing free access to resources, as well as the technology to use those resources, with the belief that it is against the fundamentals of the Library Bill of Rights for any group to impose its views on others through efforts to limit access to views they oppose. Nevertheless, since information is created and disseminated by different governmental bodies, businesses, and individuals, those in power often have the ability to limit access to ideas.

The fourth of six articles in the Library Bill of Rights recognizes the importance of free access to information and advises libraries to “cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.” Free access to ideas is constantly being challenged from numerous fronts: government agencies debating policies on net neutrality and internet privacy, school boards voting to ban books, and law enforcement pressuring libraries to turn over data on patron activities. With these kinds of restrictions happening, the Library Bill of Rights acknowledges the fact that libraries are strategically positioned to provide support to groups and individuals who are resisting this type of censorship.

Within academia, libraries are expected to encourage the free flow of information and ideas within the scope of their roles and responsibilities. Academic libraries support this freedom in a variety of ways, including maintaining policies that support unfiltered access to the internet and respecting patron privacy. Content filtering devices and content-based restrictions are at odds with an academic library’s mission to further learning through the broadest possible range of ideas and resources. Such restrictions can be a fundamental violation of intellectual freedom. Libraries also promote the free access of ideas through supporting library users’ rights to privacy by engaging in limited tracking of user activities so people can feel comfortable accessing resources on confidential, controversial, or unpopular topics.

Censorship and the restriction of access to information can be harmful to society and individuals. When people don’t have access to information they need, they make decisions based on the information that is freely available to them, sometimes regardless of whether that information is factual or telling the whole story. When information is withheld, our basic democratic rights are threatened as people can no longer make informed decisions.

Libraries stand for free access to ideas, even those that might make us feel uncomfortable. Library users are the curators of the ideas that inform their own beliefs, and libraries continue to be a place where people have unfettered access to put difficult ideas in context, learn about them more deeply, and formulate their own opinions.

Written by: Sally LaJoie, Clinical Assistant Professor/Instructional Services Librarian

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