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Library Bill of Rights

The Library Bill of Rights is the American Library Association's statement expressing the rights of library users to intellectual freedom and the expectations the association places on libraries to support those rights. The Association's Council has adopted a number of interpretations of the document applying it to various library policies.


  • The Library Bill of Rights 1
  • History 2
  • Criticism 3
  • References 4

The Library Bill of Rights

The Library Bill of Rights was adopted by the American Library Association Council on June 19 1939. It was amended in 1944, 1948, 1961, 1967, and 1980. The inclusion of 'age' was reaffirmed in 1996. [1] It reads:


Originally written by

In 1996, the American Library Association reaffirmed the inclusion of age as an attribute that should not be the basis for denying access to information. This occurred after the American Library Trustee Association (ALTA) brought a request for this to the ALA Council.


Shirley Wiegand, professor emeritus of law at Marquette University, asserts that the Library Bill of Rights uses rhetoric disconnected from the legal understanding of "rights." "Bills of Rights", and "rights" themselves, are in this understanding legally enforceable and backed by well-developed arguments. The Library Bill of Rights has no such force or backing, because it is simply a statement of principles. Wiegand argues that the Library Bill of Rights (and the accompanying rhetoric) needs to be supplanted by a code well-grounded in the case law and language of the First Amendment and its accompanying legal principles. Something similar to the Library Bill of Rights could be retained as an accompanying "aspirational creed", such as a revised form of the ALA Code of Ethics, but it would need to provide more practical guidance.

David Woolwine of Hofstra University has criticized the philosophical underpinnings of the Library Bill of Rights, specifically objecting to the use of utilitarianism and "rights discourse" in defense of the principles. The "moral calculus" of the utilitarian argument that free access of information produces the greatest good for the greatest number can also be used to argue in support of restrictions for the purposes of safety and national security. Rights discourse relies on the assertion of rights with minimal referencing, while neglecting detailed argumentation. Woolwine asserts that utilitarianism and rights discourse need to be replaced by a synthesis of modern and post-modern philosophy to coherently and soundly justify the principles of the Library Bill of Rights.


  1. ^ "Library Bill of Rights". 
  1. ^ ALA Bulletin. Vol. 33, No. 11 (October 15, 1939).
  2. ^ Thomison, Dennis (1978). A History of the American Library Association: 1876-1972. Chicago: American Library Association.  
  3. ^ Two Hundred Years of Young Adult Library Information Services History, a Chronology
  4. ^ American Library Association, Office for Intellectual Freedom (2006). Intellectual Freedom Manual, Seventh Edition. Chicago: American Library Association. p. 70.  
  5. ^ Wiegand, S.A. "Reality Bites: The Collision of Rhetoric, Rights, and Reality in the Library Bill of Rights." Library Trends 45, (1), 76-86 (1996).
  6. ^ Woolwine, David E. "Libraries and the Balance of Liberty and Security." Library Philosophy and Practice (E-Journal), Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln (2007).
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