The selection of library materials is a process strongly related to intellectual freedom. To be prepared to meet challenges to intellectual freedom, every local library board should have in place a written “Collection Development Policy” adopted by the Board of Trustees. This policy should be developed by the library board and director.
“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people” John Kennedy, February 26, 1962
The library is a selector, not a censor. A selector believes in the individual’s right to examine and evaluate materials and make personal choices about them; a censor believes in examining, evaluating and choosing materials for others. The collection development policy should support the right of all members of the community to have access to a wide range of materials, even if that includes items which some people might find objectionable.
The library director, staff and board of trustees must be familiar with the collection development policy. If there is a challenge to library materials, the library must speak with one voice.
Two important elements that should be included in a collection development policy are:
- selection criteria for all types of resources (print, audiovisual, electronic)
- policy on reconsideration of materials
When a censorship attempt occurs, the trustees and staff should keep in mind the following principle:
DON’T DEFEND THE PARTICULAR ITEM BEING CHALLENGED
DEFEND INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM
Be prepared by following the steps below:
- Develop and adopt a written Collection Development Policy
- Be familiar with the American Library Association's Library Bill of Rights and Freedom to Read statements
- Develop a method for handling complaints. (Complaints should be made in writing and signed.)
- Provide training for trustees and staff on what to do if a challenge occurs.
- Be informed about local and state legislation related to censorship
When a member of the community complains about an item in the library’s collection, often they just want someone to listen to them and to take their concern seriously. A formal challenge may be averted if the library director takes the time to listen.
If your library is faced with a formal challenge, the library board should:
- Review the library’s Collection Development Policy and the American Library Association's Bill of Rights and Freedom to Read Statement
- Explain the collection development policy
- Take into consideration the rights of the whole community
- Make a decision consistent with library policies and your principles
“Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is the hallmark of an authoritarian regime…” Justice Potter Stewart, dissenting Ginzberg v. U.S. (1966)
An ongoing issue in the area of intellectual freedom is access to information via the Internet. The First Amendment applies to the provision of information in the library including the Internet. In 2003 the U.S Supreme Court ruled that the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was constitutional only if the Internet filters required by CIPA could be readily disabled upon the request of adult library users.