|An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights
THE HERITAGE OF FREE MEN IN OURS
In the Bill of Right to the United States Constitution,
the founders of our nation proclaimed certain fundamental
freedoms to be essential to our form of government. Primary
among these is the freedom of expression, specifically
the right to publish diverse opinions and the right to
unrestricted access to those opinions. As citizens committed
to the full and free use of all communications media
and as professional persons responsible for making the
content of those media accessible to all without prejudice,
we, the undersigned, wish to assert the public interest
in the preservation of freedom of expression.
Through continuing judicial interpretations of the First
Amendment to the united States Constitution, full freedom
of expression has been guaranteed. Every American who
aspires to the success of our experiment in democracy
- who has faith in the political and social integrity
of free men - must stand firm on those Constitutional
guarantees of essential rights. Such Americans can be
expected to fulfill the responsibilities implicit in
WE, THEREFORE, AFFIRM THESE PROPOSITIONS:
1. We will make available to everyone who needs or desires
them the widest possible diversity of views and modes
of expression, including those which are strange, unorthodox
Creative thought is, by its nature, new. New ideas
are always different and, to some people, distressing
and even threatening. The creator of every new idea is
likely to be regarded as unconventional - occasionally
heretical - until his idea is first examined, then refined,
then tested in its political, social or moral applications.
The characteristic ability of our governmental system
to adapt to necessary change is vastly strengthened by
the option of the people to choose freely from among
conflicting opinions. To stifle non-conformist ideas
at their inception would be to end the democratic process.
Only through continuous weighing and selection from among
opposing views can free individuals obtain the strength
needed for intelligent, constructive decisions and actions.
In short, we need to understand not only what we believe,
but why we believe as we do.
2. We need not endorse every idea contained in the materials
we produce and make available.
We serve the educational process by
disseminating the knowledge and wisdom required for
the growth of the mind
and the expansion of learning. For us to employ our own
political, moral, or esthetic views as standards for
determining what materials are published or circulated
conflicts with the public interest. We cannot foster
true education by imposing on others the structure and
content of our own opinions. We must preserve and enhance
the people’s right to a broader range of ideas
when those held by any librarian or publisher or church
or government. We hold that it is
wrong to limit any person to those ideas and that information another believes
to be true, good and proper.
3. We regard as irrelevant to the acceptance and distribution
of any creative work the personal history or political
affiliations of the author or others responsible for
it or its publication.
A work of art must be judged solely on its own merits.
Creativity cannot flourish if its appraisal and acceptance
by the community is influenced by the political views
or private lives of the artists or the creators. A society
that allows blacklists to be compiled and used to silence
writers and artists cannot exist as a free society.
4. With every available legal means, we will challenge
laws or governmental action restricting or prohibiting
the publication of certain materials or limiting free
access to such materials.
Our society has no place for legislative
efforts to coerce the taste of its members, to restrict
reading matter deemed suitable only for children, or
to inhibit the efforts of creative persons in their attempts
to achieve artistic perfection. When we prevent serious
artists from dealing with truth as they see it, we stifle
creative endeavor at its source. Those who direct and
control the intellectual development of our children
- parents, teachers, religious leaders, scientists, philosophers,
statesmen - must assume the responsibility for preparing
young people to cope with life as it is and to face the
diversity of experience to which they will be exposed
as they mature. This is an affirmative responsibility
that cannot be discharged easily, certainly not with
the added burden of curtailing one’s access to
art, literature, and opinion. Tastes differ. Taste, like
morality, cannot be controlled by government, for governmental
action, devised to suit the demands of one group, thereby
limits the freedom of all others.
5. We oppose labeling any work of literature or art,
or any persons responsible for its creation, as subversive,
dangerous, or otherwise undesirable.
Labeling attempts to predispose users of the various
media of communication, and to ultimately close off a
path to knowledge. Labeling rests on the assumption that
persons exist who have a special wisdom, and who, therefore,
can be permitted to determine what will have good and
bad effects on other people. But freedom of expression
rests on the premise of ideas vying in the open marketplace
for acceptance, change, or rejection by individuals.
Free men choose this path.
6. We, as guardians of intellectual freedom, oppose
and will resist every encroachment upon that freedom
by individuals or groups, private or official.
It is inevitable in the give-and-take of the democratic
process that the political, moral, and esthetic preferences
of a person or group will conflict occasionally
with those of others. A fundamental premise of our free society is that each
citizen is privileged to decide those opinions to which he will adhere or
which he will recommend to the members of a privately organized group or
association. But no private group may usurp the law and impose its own political
or moral concepts upon the general public. Freedom cannot be accorded only
to selected groups for it is then transmuted into privilege and unwarranted
7. Both as citizens and professionals, we will strive
by all legitimate means open to us to be relieved of
the threat of personal economic, and legal reprisals
resulting from our support an defense of the principles
of intellectual freedom.
Those who refuse to compromise their ideals in support
of intellectual freedom have often suffered dismissals
from employment, forced resignations, boycotts of products
and establishments, and other invidious forms of punishment.
We perceive the admirable, often lonely, refusal to succumb
to threats of punitive action as the highest form of
true professionalism: dedication to the cause of intellectual
freedom and the preservation of vital human and civil
In our various capacities, we will actively resist
incursions against the full exercise of our professional
responsibility for creating and maintaining an intellectual
environment which fosters unrestrained creative endeavor
and true freedom of choice and access for all members
of the community.
We state these propositions with conviction, not as
easy generalizations. We advance a noble claim for the
value of ideas, freely expressed, as embodied in books
and other kinds of communications. We do this in our
belief that a free intellectual climate fosters creative
endeavors capable of enormous variety, beauty, and usefulness,
and thus worthy of support and preservation. We recognize
that application of these propositions may encourage
the dissemination of ideas and forms of expression that
will be frightening or abhorrent to some. We believe
that what people read, view, and hear is a critically
important issue. We recognize, too, that ideas can be
dangerous. It may be, however, that they are effectually
dangerous only when opposing ideas are suppressed. Freedom,
in its many facets, it a precarious course. We espouse
Adopted 6/25/71 by the ALA Council. Endorsed 6/18/71
by the Board of Trustees, Freedom to Read Foundation.
Adopted by ALA Council: 6/25/53