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Dear Realist Librarian

Note: Part 2 of the answer to “Looking Out for the Kids” will appear in an upcoming edition of Realist Librarian. Part 1 was published on 5/15.

Dear Realist Librarian,

I recently found out that libraries have their own “bill of rights.” Is that real? If so, what’s included in the bill and why does it matter?


Wondering How Serious This Is

Dear Wondering,

Yes, the Library Bill of Rights is a real thing! It is named after the American Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the US Constitution which have come to be seen as a symbol of freedom and the foundation of the ideals of individual liberty (Source 4). The Library Bill of Rights was adopted by the American Library Association in 1939 and has been updated several times since then. It consists of seven [statements] that, according to the ALA website, should be seen as “unambiguous statements of basic principles that should govern the service of all libraries” in the country (Source 1).

I first learned about the Library Bill of Rights in the first semester of my library science graduate program. I liken it to a doctor’s Hippocratic Oath; guidelines to live by when I’m acting on behalf of my library system. It’s one of the first things they teach in library school to start laying a foundation of why we do what we do. While there has been some discourse and various interpretations of some of its points (Source 2), these statements are generally agreed to be gospel for academic and public libraries across the country. I personally appreciate them as reminders of what is expected of Jes the Librarian, an unbiased professional—as opposed to Jes the human who has their own personal set of morals and beliefs—when I’m making displays, recommending materials, and evaluating our collection.

The seven statements are as follows:

I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.

II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.

IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.

V. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.

VI. Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.

VII. All people, regardless of origin, age, background, or views, possess a right to privacy and confidentiality in their library use. Libraries should advocate for, educate about, and protect people’s privacy, safeguarding all library use data, including personally identifiable information.

If you’re looking for a jumping-off point to do more research on the Library Bill of Rights, BookRiot (Source 3) has a very cool article detailing exactly what each point means.

For more information, visit the banned books page on my blog MillenniaLibrarian or my Linktree.

My tik tok is @surpriseitsjes

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