|An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights
Libraries are a traditional forum for the open exchange
of information. Attempts to restrict access to library
materials violate the basic tenets of the Library Bill
Historically, attempts have been made
to limit access by relegating materials into segregated
These attempts are in violation of established policy.
Such collections are often referred to by a variety of
names, including “closed shelf,” “locked
case,” “adults only,” “restricted
shelf,” or “high demand.” Access to
some materials also may require a monetary fee or financial
deposit. More recently, some libraries have applied filtering
software to their Internet stations that prevent users
from finding targeted categories of information, much
of which is constitutionally protected. In any situation
which restricts access to certain materials, a barrier
is placed between the patron and those materials. That
barrier may be age-related, linguistic, economic, or
psychological in nature.
Because restricted materials often deal
with controversial, unusual, or “sensitive” subjects, having
to ask a librarian or circulation clerk for access to
them may be embarrassing or inhibiting for patrons desiring
the materials. Needing to ask for materials may pose
a language barrier or a staff service barrier. Because
restricted materials often feature information that some
library patrons consider “objectionable,” the
potential user may be predisposed to think of the materials
as “objectionable” and, therefore, are reluctant
to ask for access to them.
Barriers between the materials and the
patron which are psychological, or are affected by
are nonetheless limitations on access to information.
Even when a title is listed in a catalog with a reference
to its restricted status, a barrier is placed between
the patron and the publication. (See also “Statement
There may be, however, countervailing
factors to establish policies to protect library materials – specifically,
for reasons of physical preservation including protection
from theft or mutilation. Any such policies must be carefully
formulated and administered with extreme attention to
the principles of intellectual freedom. This caution
is also in keeping with ALA policies, such as “Evaluating
Library Collections,” “Free Access to Libraries
for Minors,” and the “Preservation Policy.”
Finally, in keeping with the “Joint Statement
on Access” of the American Library Association
and Society of American Archivists, restrictions that
result from donor agreements or contracts for special
collections materials must be similarly circumscribed.
permanent exclusions are not acceptable. The overriding
impetus must be to work for free and unfettered access
to all documentary heritage.
Adopted 2/2/73; amended 7/1/81; 7/3/91; 7/12/00, by
the ALA Council.