Free Access to Libraries for Minors
An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights
Library policies and procedures that effectively deny
minors equal and equitable access to all library resources available to other
users violate the Library
Bill of Rights. The American Library Association opposes all attempts to
restrict access to library services, materials, and facilities based on the age
of library users.
Article V of the Library Bill of Rights states, "A
person's right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of
origin, age, background, or views." The "right to use a library" includes free
access to, and unrestricted use of, all the services, materials, and facilities
the library has to offer. Every restriction on access to, and use of, library
resources, based solely on the chronological age, educational level, literacy
skills, or legal emancipation of users violates Article V.
Libraries are charged with the mission of developing
resources to meet the diverse information needs and interests of the communities
they serve. Services, materials, and facilities that fulfill the needs and
interests of library users at different stages in their personal development are
a necessary part of library resources. The needs and interests of each library
user, and resources appropriate to meet those needs and interests, must be
determined on an individual basis. Librarians cannot predict what resources will
best fulfill the needs and interests of any individual user based on a single
criterion such as chronological age, educational level, literacy skills, or
Libraries should not limit the selection and development of
library resources simply because minors will have access to them. Institutional
self-censorship diminishes the credibility of the library in the community, and
restricts access for all library users.
Children and young adults unquestionably possess
First Amendment rights, including the right to receive information in the
library. Constitutionally protected speech cannot be suppressed solely to
protect children or young adults from ideas or images a legislative body
believes to be unsuitable for them.1 Librarians and library governing
bodies should not resort to age restrictions in an effort to avoid actual or
anticipated objections, because only a court of law can determine whether
material is not constitutionally protected.
The mission, goals, and objectives of libraries cannot
authorize librarians or library governing bodies to assume, abrogate, or
overrule the rights and responsibilities of parents. As "Libraries:
An American Value" states, "We affirm the responsibility and the right of
all parents and guardians to guide their own children's use of the library and
its resources and services." Librarians and governing bodies should maintain
that parents—and only parents—have the right and the responsibility to restrict
the access of their children—and only their children—to library resources.
Parents who do not want their children to have access to certain library
services, materials, or facilities should so advise their children. Librarians
and library governing bodies cannot assume the role of parents or the functions
of parental authority in the private relationship between parent and child.
Lack of access to information can be harmful to minors.
Librarians and library governing bodies have a public and professional
obligation to ensure that all members of the community they serve have free,
equal, and equitable access to the entire range of library resources regardless
of content, approach, format, or amount of detail. This principle of library
service applies equally to all users, minors as well as adults. Librarians and
library governing bodies must uphold this principle in order to provide adequate
and effective service to minors.
v. City of Jacksonville, 422 U.S. 205 (1975)-"Speech that is neither obscene
as to youths nor subject to some other legitimate proscription cannot be
suppressed solely to protect the young from ideas or images that a legislative
body thinks unsuitable [422 U.S. 205, 214] for them. In most circumstances, the
values protected by the First Amendment are no less applicable when government
seeks to control the flow of information to minors. See Tinker
v. Des Moines School Dist., supra. Cf. West
Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943)."
Adopted June 30, 1972, by the ALA Council; amended July 1,
1981; July 3, 1991, June 30, 2004.