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Intellectual Freedom

A guide to how various types of libraries uphold principles of intellectual freedom.

Just as American history is littered with examples of the First Amendment and principles of intellectual freedom being distorted to allow for the expression of hateful, bigoted viewpoints, so too have individuals and groups attempted to utilize the Library Bill of Rights to engage in whataboutism and promote discriminatory views and practices. This may manifest through challenges to library collections, programs, or displays. 

Librarians and community members, including parents, are important partners in confronting attempts at censorship. Below are resources for preparing for and addressing challenges to intellectual freedom. 

Collection Development and Privacy Policies

Robust, up-to-date policies that consider professional ethics as well as regional and federal laws allow librarians to make thoughtful decisions about what materials to include in their collections and how patrons can access those materials. 

Collection development refers to the library’s criteria for selecting, deselecting (also referred to as “weeding”), and reconsidering materials. Such policies ensure that a library is making effective use of its resources (funding, space, and staff time) and maintains a balanced, diverse, up-to-date collection that meets the needs of its user populations. Collection development policies (sometimes referred to as “selection policies”) should also align with the institutions’ mission and policies, as well as any relevant policies from government or other decision-making bodies. 

School libraries are beholden to federal and state laws regarding student privacy, such as the Family Educational Rights Act (FERPA), which gives parents/caregivers access to their child’s educational records. However, even with these limitations, school librarians can still work to ensure that minors’ right to privacy when using library resources is protected through a robust privacy policy. This policy can adhere to local and federal laws while still affirming users’ right to freely access library materials.

ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom offers a range of resources for librarians facing challenges to their materials ( The overarching advice is that libraries and librarians need to have policies and procedures in place before a challenge occurs, both to ensure that the librarian/institution knows how to proceed, and to avoid any suggestion that the librarian/institution’s response is motivated by personal or partisan feelings.