Intellectual freedom is a major concern of libraries. Almost inevitably, all libraries will encounter a situation in which a library patron or patrons want to censor library material that they find objectionable. Such objections may include a formal request for the offensive material to be censored or banned from the library.
Libraries and library boards have a responsibility to champion the cause of intellectual freedom, including fighting censorship efforts. While this can be a difficult and uncomfortable responsibility to carry out, it is necessary for the proper functioning of the library.
What is censorship?
Censorship is the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons or groups find objectionable or dangerous.
In the context of libraries, censorship is the power to delete parts of published materials or ban, suppress, remove, label, or restrict library materials.
Censorship is of great concern to libraries because it pre-judges the appropriateness of information and denies individuals the opportunity to choose from all possible alternatives.
What is intellectual freedom?
Intellectual freedom is the right of individuals to seek and receive information that represents all points of view. Libraries support the belief that educated, free individuals possess powers of discrimination and are to be trusted to determine their own actions. Libraries wish to provide free access to all expressions of ideas through which all sides of an issue may be explored.
Intellectual freedom also emanates from the belief that individual choice is basic to the functioning and maintenance of democracy and that only through a thoroughly informed electorate can real choice be made to guarantee the effectiveness and continuance of the democratic process.
Policy Guidelines for Libraries
Libraries should have policies that address Intellectual Freedom principles and outline procedures for dealing with censorship attempts.
The American Library Association's (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom and the Canadian Library Association's (CLA) Statement on Intellectual Freedom provide useful materials for developing these policies and procedures.
Both ALA and CLA affirm that all libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that the following basic policies, taken from the "Library Bill of Rights", should guide their services:
- "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.
- 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.
- Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.
- Libraries should cooperate with persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgement of free expression and free access to ideas.
- A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.
- Libraries that make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use."