The world is in the midst of an electronic communications
revolution. Based on its constitutional, ethical, and
historical heritage, American librarianship is uniquely
positioned to address the broad range of information
issues being raised in this revolution. In particular,
librarians address intellectual freedom from a strong
ethical base and an abiding commitment to the preservation
of the individual’s rights.
Freedom of expression is an inalienable human right
and the foundation for self-government. Freedom of expression
encompasses the freedom of speech and the corollary right
to receive information. These rights extend to minors
as well as adults. Libraries and librarians exist to
facilitate the exercise of these rights by selecting,
producing, providing access to, identifying, retrieving,
organizing, providing instruction in the use of, and
preserving recorded expression regardless of the format
The American Library Association expresses these basic
principles of librarianship in its Code of Ethics and
in the Library Bill of Rights and its Interpretations.
These serve to guide librarians and library governing
bodies in addressing issues of intellectual freedom that
arise when the library provides access to electronic
information, services, and networks.
Issues arising from the still-developing technology
f computer-meditated information generation, distribution,
and retrieval need to be approached and regularly reviewed
from a context of constitutional principles and ALA policies
so that fundamental and traditional tenets of librarianship
are not swept away.
Electronic information flows across boundaries and barriers
despite attempts by individuals, governments, and private
entities to channel or control it. Even so, many people,
for reasons of technology, infrastructure, or socio-economic
status do not have access to electronic information.
In making decisions about how to offer access to electronic
information, each library should consider its mission,
goals, objectives, cooperative agreements, and the needs
of the entire community it serves.
The Rights of Users
All library system and network policies, procedures
or regulations relating to electronic resources and services
should be scrutinized for potential violation of user
User policies should be developed according to the policies
and guidelines established by the American Library Association,
including Guidelines for the Development and Implementation
Policies, Regulations and Procedures Affecting Access
to Library Materials, Services and Facilities.
Users should not be restricted or denied access for
expressing or receiving constitutionally protected speech.
Users’ access should not be changed without due
process, including, but not limited to, formal notice
and a means of appeal.
Although electronic systems may include distinct property
rights and security concerns, such elements may not be
employed as subterfuge to deny users’ access to
information. users have the right to be free of unreasonable
limitations or conditions set by libraries, librarians,
system administrators, vendors, network service providers,
or others. Contracts, agreements, and licenses entered
into by libraries on behalf of their users should not
violate this right. users also have a right to information,
training and assistance necessary to operate the hardware
and software provided by the library.
Users have both the right of confidentiality and the
right of privacy. The library should uphold these rights
by policy, procedure, and practice. Users should be advised,
however, that because security is technically difficult
to achieve, electronic transactions and files could become
The rights of users who are minors shall in no way be
Equity of Access
Electronic information, services, and
networks provided directly or indirectly by the library
should be equally,
readily and equitably accessible to all library users.
American Library Association policies oppose the
charging of user fees for the provision of information
by all libraries and information services that receive
their major support from public funds (50.3:53.1.14;
60.1; 61.1). It should be the goal of all libraries
to develop policies concerning access to electronic
resources in light of Economic Barriers to Information
Access: an Interpretation of the Library Bill of
Rights, and Guidelines for the Development and Implementation
of Policies, Regulations and Procedures Affecting
to Library Materials, Services and Facilities.
Information Resources and Access
Providing connections to global
information, services, and networks is not the
same as selecting and purchasing
materials for a library collection. Determining the
accuracy or authenticity of electronic information
may present special problems. Some information accessed
electronically may not meet a library’s selection
or collection development policy. It is, therefore,
left to each user to determine what is appropriate.
Parents and legal guardians who are concerned about
their children’s use of electronic resources
should provide guidance to their own children.
Libraries and librarians should not deny or limit access
to information available via electronic resources because
of its allegedly controversial content or because of
the librarian’s personal beliefs or fear of confrontation. Information retrieved
or utilized electronically should be considered constitutionally
protected unless determined otherwise by a court with
Libraries, acting within their mission and objectives,
must support access to information on all subjects that
serve the needs or interests of each user, regardless
of the user’s age or the content of the material.
Libraries have an obligation to provide access to government
information available in electronic format. Libraries
and librarians should not deny access to information
solely on the grounds that it is perceived to lack value.
In order to prevent the loss of information, and to
preserve the cultural records, libraries may need to
expand their selection or collection development policies
to ensure preservation, in appropriate formats, of information
Electronic resources provide unprecedented opportunities
to expand the scope of information available to users.
Libraries and librarians should provide access to information
presenting all points of view. The provision of access
does not imply sponsorship or endorsement. These principles
pertain to electronic resources no less than they do
to the more traditional sources of information in libraries.
Adopted by the ALA Council, 1/24/96.