Table of Contents

Overview on Intellectual Freedom
Glossary of Terms
Official Organizations and their Policies on Intellectual Freedom
Examples of how Libraries Deal with Intellectual Freedom
Censorship in the Past
Recent Attempts at Censorship
Public Response to Censorship
Strategies or Tactics to Combat Censorship
Theoretical concerns or problems

Overview on Intellectual Freedom

"As teen and young adult librarians, we are on the front lines of intellectual freedom issues more than anyone else in our profession" (Petrilli, 2009, p.4).

Drawing upon the First Amendment right to free speech, intellectual freedom is "the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction and without having the subject of one's interest examined or scrutinized by others" (Intellectual Freedom Manual, n.d.). While freedom of speech is recognized as a fundamental right of Americans, its interpretation has been debated over the years, and it was not until 1943 that the First Amendment rights of minors was confirmed by the Supreme Court (Stripling, Williams, Johnston, & Anderton, 2010).

Glossary of Terms

Censorship: One who acts as a censor, while a censor is one who examines information sources with the intent to suppress information "deemed objectionable of moral, political, military, or other grounds" or someone who "supervises the manners or morality of others" (

Intellectual Freedom: "the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explore" (

Official Organizations and their Policies on Intellectual Freedom

Paragraph 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 inclusion of "age" first appeared in 1967, and was reaffirmed by the American Library Association Council in January, 1996 (Stripling et al., 2010; American Library Association, 2011, Library Bill of Rights). Several statements offering interpretations of the Bill of Rights have been developed over the years to specifically address the intellectual freedom of children and young adults. They include:

Common themes running through these interpretations include: equitable access as an important aspect of the First Amendment rights of minors, the reponsibility of librarians for ensuring equitable access within the constraints of law, and upholding the responsibility of parents to determine what is appropriate material for their own children. Notwithstanding these similar themes, each statement provides contextual details, which can especially be observed in the statements on nonprint materials and the Internet. See more on the Intellectual Freedom For Youth and the Internet in Recent Attempts at Censorship.

International organizations, such as the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), also issued statements on intellectual freedom and the rights of children in the library. Members of the Standing Committees of the IFLA Libraries for Children and Young Adults Section and the Reading Section adopted a text entitled "Internet and Children 's Library Services" at the annual World Library and Information Congress in 2007. This text contains some of the ideas already developed by the ALA and cited above, and adds new ones. This statement is based on the IFLA/UNESCO Internet Manifesto and has been written as a recommendation to the staff of public libraries and other organizations.
Here are the main ideas of this statement:
- Each public library, similarly to the other traditional printed mediums, should offer free access and use of the Internet to children. Equipment and software must be available to all children, regardless of their potential disabilities.- The assertion that children should have the freedom to seek, receive and impart information in any form or by means of their choice.- The assertion that every child should have access to a wide variety of materials. These materials may come from national and international sources. It should especially support access to useful materials, ie. those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health.- Each library must have guidelines in order to protect children and young adults of content that are not appropriate to their age and may affect their well-being.- Libraries should not use filters to block access to certain content on the Web. Indeed, filters say children that we do not trust them and that someone outside is watching what they are doing. Besides, the filters are not always reliable. There should not be any censorship.- However, libraries should monitor the Internet is not used at their premises by children or adults with pornography, violence, discrimination, etc. Even if they do not have filters, libraries should offer a selection of good quality sources.- Libraries should have a clear policy regarding the use of the Internet by children and young adults. This policy must be known and explained to everyone, especially parents and caregivers responsible for children who use the library premises.- Librarians should consider the use of the Internet by children as an opportunity for them to act as mediators of information. They can teach the child how to use the Web, how to interpret the information obtained. This objective is called "media- education" and involves not only the responsibility of librarians, but also parents, teachers, and even children.- Therefore, children librarians must be both capable of transmitting digital learning and children's literature.- The most important thing is to find a new way to work with parents, children and librarians in order to agree on common rules about children’ intellectual freedom.
Most public and academic libraries have an official policy on censorship and/or intellectual freedom. Each one depends on the institutions take on how to protect- if that is their goal- the rights of the users to information. However not all are openly posted on the library websites. Places to check for these policies include the Lending, Use, Collection, Materials Selection, and Acquisition policy pages.

Here are some examples of policies in some public and academic institutions:

Examples of how Libraries Deal with Intellectual Freedom

Librarian Responsibilities: In 2009, the ALA Council approved "Minors and Internet Activity: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights" (American Library Assocation, 2009), which confirms that minors' rights extend beyond access--to include the rights to interact with, create, and share information on the Internet--and that these are extensions of their First Amendment rights (Stripling et al., 2010). The interpretation lays out librarians' roles to:
  • monitor limits being placed on intellectual freedom for minors and to advocate for extending access to Internet applications;
  • educate minors to use the Internet "responsibly, ethically, and safely;" and
  • use the interpretation to educate policymakers, administrators, and parents as well, about the importance of helping youth to become responsible digital citizens. (Stripling et al., 2010)

When facing a challenge, libraries are urged to report this to the American Library Association using the Challenge Reporting Form.

Censorship in the Past

History of Censorship
Most attempted censorship in the United States today focuses on books for children and youth. Those calling for the censorship are largely parents and community members. The usual cause of the censorship has to do with moral values. These three things -- the censors, their targets, and their reasons -- have changed greatly in our country's history, but some of the founding ideas and legal precedents that protect us today come from those unfamiliar foundations.

Seeds of Freedom
Government censorship in the American colonies was widespread. The main target of the censorship was political, not moral. This suppression was almost total and unchecked until the 1720s. During this decade, more and more people were printing without the approval of the government, and the government mostly turned a blind eye. Popular sentiment supporting a free press grew.

1733 - A court in New York found John Peter Zenger not guilty after he published satire of the government, effectively setting the legal precedent for the free press.

Declaration of Independence

Alien & Sedition Act

1821 - Fanny Hill is banned for obscenity.

1835 - President Jackson recommends that publications that might incite the slaves to riot be censored in the south. The bill is subsequently defeated in Congress.

1873 - Illegal to transport obscene material

"The librarian who would allow an immoral novel in his library for circulation would be as culpable as the manager of a picture gallery who should have an indecent picture on his walls" 1870s - William Frederick Poole, later president of the ALA

"Librarians then generally conceived their mission to be 'the elevation of taste and the development of skills" [11, p. 283] along with "improving manners, and teaching virtue and good citizenship' [12, p. 315]." (Doyle).

Supreme Court -- Lady Chatterley's Lover

WWI - Libraries pulled German-language books and anti-war books.

1920s/30s - Librarians begin to value freedom of ideas in libraries

1939 - Library Bill of Rights

1953 - ALA publishes Freedom to Read.

1957 - Roth v. United States

1963 - Fanny Hill is republished and banned again. In 1966, the Supreme Court ruled that it did not meet the Roth criteria for obscenity because it could not be proven that the book had no redeeming social value.

1960s/70s - Social Responsibility Movement

1982 - Board of Education, Island Trees School District v. Pico

Censorship in that Past... Right?
Book banning, book burning, and protests over books are all in the past, right? Sorry to disappoint, but challenges of materials happen all too often in the US each year. Here are definitions of each, followed by some examples:

Banning Books
defined: when a particular title is removed from a library system as a matter of policy.

Burning Books (or other methods of targeted destruction)
defined: when a book or set of books is burned intentionally, as a political and symbolic act.
  • Alamogordo, NM had a church publicly burned books from the Harry Potter series.
  • San Francisco, CA Public Library had their books on homosexuality slashed.
  • Gainesville, FL had a church burn the Quran, despite pleas from the Department of Defense not to.

defined: when a title or group of titles is challenged by a group or individual, where the challenger is ultimately hoping to restrict access to the title in question. Protests can take many forms.
  • Amazon hosted a book about pedophilia that came under intense scrutiny and nearly national protest. That book was eventually removed from sale.
  • The Bureau of Prisons removed books from chapels that were not on the list of approved reading- this action was actually under protest by members of the House of Representatives.
  • Several parent-based or conservative based webpages protest the ALA's Freedom to Read values.
  • The Parents Protecting the Minds of Children organization has an entire website encouraging parents to protests books.
  • The Parents Against Bad Books in Schools (PABBIS) is one of a number of parent groups around the country challenging children's and young adult books in public libraries, classroom teaching and schools. These parents aim at not only restricting access to certain books for their own children, but also restricting access for other parents' children by getting one or more books removed from the library shelves or having access to the books restricted. They store an online list of K12 school books that they consider as subjects to controversy and they present some excerpts of those books.

Recent Attempts at Censorship

The ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom tracks media and library reports, and compiles an annual bibliography of challenged and banned books. A challenged book is one whose content has been questioned, and which typically remains in the collection until the issue has been resolved; whereas, a banned book has been removed from a collection because an individual or group has determined that patrons should be denied access to it (Scales, 2007). This annual bibliography includes the titles of the books, the location and nature of the challenge.

Statistics and data on censorship

Nearly all of the concerns regarding Books Challenged or Banned in 2010-2011 were in relation to appropriateness for youth. Parents are the primary initiators of challenges, and the top three reasons from 1990-2010 were:
  1. Sexually explicit
  2. Offensive language
  3. Unsuitable to age group

( American Library Association, 2011, Statistics)

Aside from the three most frequent reasons for challenging books, the ALA’s 2010 top 10 list includes:
  • Homosexuality
  • Religious viewpoint
  • Racism
  • Sex education
  • Violence
  • Insensitivity
  • Drugs

According to a report from the ALA, school libraries as professionals are subject to several forms of censorship:

- Legal or Governmental
- Individual or group
- Self-censorship

Those who try to control and restrict access to certain resources may belong to one of those three groups: parents/guardians, community members, organisms.There are many factors for challenges, including language, illustrations or specific titles. According to the ALA, here are the four main reasons for challenges:

- Family Values
- Religion
- Political Views
- Minority Rights.

A study conducted by the ALA between 2000 and 2009 has shown that 5099 challenges were reported to the Office for Intellectual Freedom Over this recent past decade. Here is the detail of the factors that motivate the challenges:
  • 1,577 challenges due to "sexually explicit" material;
  • 1,291 challenges due to "offensive language";
  • 989 challenges due to materials deemed "unsuited to age group";
  • 619 challenged due to "violence"' and
  • 361 challenges due to "homosexuality."

(Source : ALA)

The 10 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2012
According to the American Library Association, the following books are the 10 Most Challenged Books of 2012. We can find the reasons cited for the challenges after the title and author of each book:
  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
    Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
  3. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
  5. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
    Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group
  6. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
    Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
  8. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
    Reasons: Unsuited for age group, violence
  9. The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
  10. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence

(Source: ALA)

The School Library Journal notes that And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell has recently become a favorite target for challengers. The “true story of two male penguins who hatch and parent a baby” has won the top slot in four out of five years since 2005, the year in which the book was published. Of course, this book is essentially the replacement for Alice Walker's Color Purple (another book featuring homosexuality), which is no longer seen in the top ten. Many other top ten features have also replaced previous favorites with similar subject matter (School Library Journal).

Intellectual Freedom for Youth and the Internet
The Internet has opened up new considerations and concerns, as public and school libraries balance protecting the privacy and safety of youth, with protecting their intellectual freedom. From Federal law to organizational policies, requirements and practices are being implemented that have implications for intellectual freedom.

Children's Internet Protection Act(CIPA)- In reaction to fears of online predators and harmful materials, the Children's Internet Protection Act was signed into law on December 21, 2000. On June 23, 2003, it was found to be constitutional by the United States Supreme Court. CIPA requires that K-12 schools and libraries in the United States that use Internet filters and implement other measures to protect children from what can be considered harmful content as a condition of certain deferral funding.

The federal government has no means to directly control local schools and libraries, however, many of those institutions utilize universal service fund discounts for their Internet access. Congress, in passing CIPA, required libraries and K-12 schools using these discounts, or E-Rate discounts, to purchase and use a technology protection measure on every computer connected to the Internet. CIPA now requires that schools and libraries may not receive these discounts unless they meet all the requirements presented in the act. First, libraries and schools must "provide reasonable public notice and hold at least one public hearing or meeting to address the proposed Internet safety policy" (47 U.S.C. § 254(1)(B) as added by CIPA sec. 1732).

The policy proposed at this meeting must address certain issues: the measures to restrict a minor's access to inappropriate or harmful materials on the Internet; security and safety of minors using chat rooms, email, instant messaging, or any other types of online communications; unauthorized disclosure of a minor's personal information; and unauthorized access, such as hacking, by minors. (

Under this legislation, all Internet access must be filtered or blocked for minors and adults. The following content must be filtered or blocked:
  • Obscene
  • Child Pornography
  • Harmful to Minors

'Inappropriate Matter' and what is considered 'Harmful to Minors' are explained in the law. Under the Neighborhood Act (47 U.S.C. § 254(I)(2) as added by CIPA sec. 1732), 'Inappropriate Matter' is locally determined:
Local Determination of Content - a determination regarding what matter is inappropriate for minors shall be made by the school board, local
educational agency, library, or other United States authority responsible for making the determination. No agency or instrumentality of the Government
may - (a) establish criteria for making such determination; (b) review agency determination made by the certifying school, school board, local
educational agency, library, or other authority; or (c) consider the criteria employed by the certifying school, school board, educational agency, library,
or other authority in the administration of subsection 47 U.S.C § 254(h)(1)(B)

CIPA defined "Harmful to minors" as:
Any picture, image, graphic image file, or other visual depiction that - (i) taken as a whole and with respect to minors, appeals to a prurient interest in
nudity, sex, or excretion; (ii) depicts, describes, or represents, in a patently offensive way with respect to what is suitable for minors, an actual or
simulated sexual act or sexual contact, actual or simulated normal or perverted sexual acts, or a lewd exhibition of the genitals; and (iii) taken as a
whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value as to minors. (Secs. 1703(b)(2), 20 U.S.C. sec 3601(a)(5)(F) as added by CIPA sec
1711, 20 U.S.C. sec 9134(b)(f )(7)(B) as added by CIPA sec 1712(a), and 147 U.S.C. sec. 254(h)(c)(G) as added by CIPA sec. 1721(a)).

The only exception to the filtering is called Bona Fide Research. Any institution can disable Internet filters for adults who are in pursuit of Bona Fide Research or another type of lawful purpose. Unfortunately, the law provides no definition for this term. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that libraries would be required to adopt an Internet use policy where they can unblock the Internet for adult users, without a requirement that the library inquire into the user's reasons for disabling the filter. Justice Rehnquist stated "[a]ssuming that such erroneous blocking presents constitutional difficulties, any such concerns are dispelled by the ease with which patrons may have the filtering software disables. When a patron encounters a blocked site, he need only ask a librarian to unblock it or (at least in the case of adults) disable the filter" (United States v. American Library Association).

The American Library Association voted to challenge CIPA on January 17, 2001. They claimed it improperly required them to restrict the First Amendment rights of their patrons. The first charge was because CIPA's enforcement policy involved removing federal funds intended to assist disadvantaged facilities.

The American Library Association voted to challenge CIPA on January 17, 2001. The grounds were that the law required libraries to unconstitutionally block access to constitutionally protected information on the internet. Together with the American Civil Liberties Union, the ALA successfully challenged the law and went all the way to the Supreme Court where it was upheld as constitutional as a condition imposted on institutions in exchange for government funding. (United Stated v. American Library Association)

In the ruling, the Justice's concluded two points. First, "Because public libraries' use of Internet filtering software does not violate their patrons' First Amendment rights, CCIPA does not induce libraries to violate the Constitution, and is a valid exercise of Congress' spending power." (United States v. American Library Association). The argument here is that because of how much information is available online, and how quickly it changes, libraries cannot separate individual items to exclude, and blocking entire websites has the chance to exclude valuable information. The Justice's concluded that it is reasonable for public libraries to restrict access based on categories of content.

The second point the Justice's concluded with was, "CIPA does not impose an unconstitutional condition on libraries that receive E-rate and LSTA subsidies by requiring them, as a condition on that receipt, to surrender their First Amendment right to provide the public with access to constitutionally protected speech." (United States v. American Library Association). This means that the Government can offer public funds to help institutions fulfill their roles, ie libraries providing access to information, but because libraries, traditionally, do not include pornographic material in their print collections, the Court can reasonably uphold a law that imposes a similar limitation for online materials.

Interestingly, while schools and public libraries both have financial incentives to comply, and both have an interest in protecting children, they have responded differently to CIPA. Jaeger & Zheng (2009) found that only a small portion of schools and public libraries had implemented filters prior to CIPA. However, 96% of public schools were in compliance by 2001, and 100% had implemented filtering by 2005. On the other hand, while the number of public libraries which have implemented CIPA has increased since the Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality in 2003, the number of libraries not applying for the e-rate also increased from 15.3% to 31.6% from 2006-2008. In 2008, 51.3% of public libraries were filtering Internet access because of e-rate, compared to 100% compliance by schools. Certainly, as Jaeger & Zheng observed, schools have significant pressures and expectations to maintain student safety, as well as a large number of computers, making it financially persuasive to comply, while public libraries serve not only children but also adults.

Organizational Policies/Practices-Wolf (2008) prompts us to broaden our thinking to include the Internet when we review and revise organizational policies, for instance:
  • Selection/collection policies often do not provide guidance about online materials, including games, informational sites, and videolinks. If policies are format-specific, or too vague, they may be interpreted in ways which are contrary to the tenets of intellectual freedom.
  • Separately, acceptable use policies which define how students, teachers, and staff use computers in schools may also inadvertently limit access. If parents do not sign acceptable use policies, they are restricting intellectual freedom. Acceptable use policies commonly remind students that using the Internet is "a privilege, not a right." Yet if necessary educational content is online, restricting the Internet violates intellectual freedom. Broad interpretation of what is unacceptable may block blogs, social networking sites, and games because they do not fall under the definition of "instructional purposes."

Bell (2007) found that schools are also imposing filters on websites beyond what is required by CIPA--filtering the filters. Some schools allow only "district approved" websites or place computers on kiosk mode to prevent open surfing; others place time limits on certain sites. Often times, it is the technology department which determined what is an appropriate website, rather than teachers or librarians. As a result, students miss out on potentially valuable educational resources, as well as the opportunity to learn how to use the Internet safely on their own (Stripling et al., 2010). Sometimes, local policies seem to defy logic. Bell found a school blocking the weather website, even when many of the students used the ferry to travel between school and home; another blocked all sites related to automobiles in order to discourage "frivolous use" (2007, p.41). This also creates two levels of access to information for students--those who are able to access the unfiltered Web from home, and those who are not. As Bell observes, while filters may make media specialists and librarians lives easier, they "go against everything we stand for" (2007, p.40).

Controversy related to the harmful ramifications of Internet censorship in libraries
The controversy involving the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is directly related to the youth people’s intellectual freedom in libraries. According to Deborah Caldwell-Stone in her article "Filtering and the First amendment, when it is okay to block speech online?" (2013), some libraries have gone beyond the legal exigencies of the Children’s Internet Protection Act. This misinterpretation of the law has resulted in a broad and unnecessary censorship. Therefore, many library users (mostly students) would not be able to have access to constitutionally protected websites. (Deborah Caldwell-Stone, 2013)
In his article "The Cost of Censorship in Libraries: 10 Years Under the Children’s Internet Protection Act" Rainey Reitman reminds us about the the CIPA's foundations. The Children’s Internet Protection Act does not cover all institutions: libraries that do not support subsidies "e-rate discounts or Library Services and Technology Act grants for Internet access" does not have to implement this filter.
For libraries that accept these grants, the application of the Children’s Internet Protection Act involves three steps.
- The adoption of a written policy that includes an Internet filter
- The holding of a public meeting so that the policy is adopted.
- The filtering setting up. (Reitman, 2013)
Deborah Caldwell-Stone emphasizes that the implementation of Children’s Internet Protection Act software implies two main measures:
- Preventing adults from seeing obscene pictures and being in connection with child pornography.
- Blocking minors’ access to harmful sexually explicit images without any literary, artistic, political or scientific values.
Therefore, the author emphasizes that the images are the only things that the Children’s Internet Protection Act leads to block. Entire sites or texts should not be censored under the Children’s Internet Protection Act. Therefore libraries are not required to control access to content simply because it is sexual, given that everything sexual is not necessarily obscene. Reitman gives some examples of websites where you can find sexual content with a literary, educational or artistic value. In particular, the sites that deal with controversial, political, LGBTQ issues, or even social networks do not necessarily have to be filtered.
Although that in theory, these sites do not have to be filtered, some libraries have an extensive reading of the law and block access to these websites. According to Reitman (2013), this is a barrier to access to knowledge and thus to intellectual freedom. He emphasizes several problematic issues directly related to the use of Children’s Internet Protection Act and to the use of filters in general:
- The Children’s Internet Protection Act is used by some libraries as an excuse to censor more than necessary.
- The filters automatically block constitutionally protected sites.
- In some cases, libraries choose to define some filters that block a wide range of content. The consequence of these findings is that the filters block libraries of "legitimate" content including: museum websites, pages LGBTQ, sites on the role plays, etc.
- In addition, some filters are not very reliable for detecting truly obscene content. Many filters are far from being perfects: filters are never 100% accurate. Therefore, they not only block certain content that are not necessarily pornographic and obscene, but also they do not actually effectively block pornographic content.
- Many children and adolescents have their first experience of the Web in a local library or school. In this case, they only experience a filtered and protected Web via the CIPA. As a consequence they are not prepared to navigate in an unfiltered web and they do not acquire the necessary skills for navigation on the open Web. This situation prevents librarians and teachers to teach them how to best protect themselves and choose the right content. To illustrate this problem, the library of San Jose did a study that tests four filters. The study showed up that the filters do not always work well, and a certain number of images of sexual nature were not blocked.
- In general, a lack of transparency results from the use of filters: we do not know exactly what is filtered. Therefore it is difficult to know to what extent the individual freedom is not respected. (Reitman, 2013)

Public Response to Censorship

This section has some notable responses to issues concerning intellectual freedom- many of which took place in public internet venues such as newspapers, opinion columns, forums, and blog postings.

One major controversy occured when Meghan Cox Gurdon wrote a piece in the online version of the //Wall Street Journal//.
-Sherman Alexie, a popular author whose works for YA is often a target of bannings, responds to concerns about YA fiction being too dark for the target audience to be capable of handling in this piece.

Sue Corbett writes a piece similar to Gurdon's article that is critical about the level of Gothic or dark elements in works aimed at teens. Available at from Publisher's Weekly
-Tamora Pierce, YA author, blogs about the piece

Strategies or Tactics to Combat Censorship

Ways to address Internet Censorship: (see below for additional general strategies to promote intellectual freedom):
  • Become familiar with state education standards, which may include students learning responsible use of the Internet
  • Identify specific ways in which locally-created filter policies create problems, and advocate for more reasonable solutions
  • Ensure that collection/selection policies incorporate online content, and also acknowledge changing formats
  • Consider ways to modify plans of access for students whose parents are concerned about Internet use
  • Build relationships with decision makers, including administrators and technology staff
  • Join the technology committee to help shape policies
  • Become the person in the organization who has the ability to unblock website filters
(Bell, 2007; Wolf, 2008)

Strategies/Tactics to Promote Intellectual Freedom:

The American Library Association provides a website of Strategies and Tips for Dealing with Challenges to Library Materials, which includes a variety of tips on how to handle the media, library trustees, and information on how your body language and tone is just as important as what you say. Sample questions and answers are also included, as are tips for library directors, and public libraries in general.

The Center for Children’s Books also provides information (found here) on how to handle a challenge in your library, providing websites to explore as a preventative measure and specifically addressing some procedures to follow once a challenge has been issued.

Have a Policy in Place
Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst: As mentioned in the ALA's site with Strategies and Tips, having a clear policy available for those who do want to challenge a particular item is incredibly useful. Having to fumble around and create a policy on the fly can create the impression that the library is unable to perform routine duties and allow the challenger to feel the library is not taking their concerns seriously.

Challenges are often generated by well-meaning people. In order to handle the challenge fairly, it is vital for a library to have a policy in place to respond to challenges, in addition to a well-thought out selection policy. Policies can contain basic space for basic bibliographic information for the challenged material, contact information for the person or organization issuing the challenge, and reasoning for the challenge. Libraries can also include space for the person issuing the challenge to suggest more appropriate material, include material from the American Library Association Bill of Rights, or the library collection policies. When your library has a policy in place, make sure that staff members are trained in how to handle challenges and can explain the policy to those interested in more information.

Click here to see the University of North Carolina's School of the Arts guide to challenging materials at the Seman's Library.
Click here to see the Northbrook Public Library's Request for Reconsideration form.

Tips for Children’s and Young Adult Librarians
  • Make sure you and your staff are familiar with the library’s collection policy and can explain it in a clear, easily understandable way.
  • Take time to listen to and empathize with a parent’s concern. Explain in a non-defensive way the need to protect the right of all parents to determine their own children’s reading.
  • Keep your director informed of any concerns expressed, whether you feel they have been successfully resolved or not.
  • Join professional organizations to keep abreast of issues and trends in library service to children and families.
  • Encourage parents or guardians to participate in choosing library materials for their young people and to make reading aloud a family activity. Host storytelling, book discussion groups and other activities that involve adults and youth.
  • Offer “parent education” programs/workshops throughout the year. National Library Week in April, Teen Read Week in October and Children’s Book Week in November provide timely opportunities. Suggested topics: how to select books and other materials for youth; how to raise a reader; how books and other materials can help children and teens cope with troubling situations; the importance of parents being involved in their children’s reading and library use; concepts of intellectual freedom.
  • Reach out to the media. Offer to write a newspaper column or host a radio or TV program discussing good books and other materials for children and teens. Give tips for helping families get the most from libraries.
  • Build bridges. Offer to speak to parent and other groups on what’s new at the library, good reading for youth, how to motivate children and teens to read, how to make effective use of the library and other topics of special interest.

Source: ALA

Theoretical concerns or problems

Here are some problems that are fairly common when materials are challenged. If you are thinking a particular book may be an issue (say the town over had it challenged and now you are afraid your library will also see it challenged) looking at that material from a variety of angles may help you build a defense for that material.

- Legal
  • There is an argument of the legalities of censoring and whether it violates the First Amendment of the US Constitution (Freedom of Speech, which is generally interpreted as freedom to express an opinion, even when others deem it morally or ethically unsound). There is also the problem of misinterpretation of what you can or cannot do according to the constitution, and what that enables patrons to do (remove items, because they have the freedom of speaking their mind about a particular work).
  • Sometimes there are laws that require censorship in order to obtain funding. While working to dissolve these laws, this is a long battle. Creating awareness of these laws is also important so that patrons are informed that their product is in some way limited. One upcoming issue is the SOPA law, so tracking current legislation is just as important as knowing how current laws affect the library.

- Policy not in place
  • If there is not a policy that covers all aspects of the library- print, audio/visual works, internet aspects- then working with a challenge becomes much more difficult. It is like attempting to go to a completely new place without a map and being forced to guess how to get there. This can also lead to confusion on how to handle a censorship issue, who has the authority to make decisions about challenges, and how to proceed through the steps of a challenge (does the challenged material stay on the shelf, does it immediately get removed from the collection, etc.).

-Councils/boards not supportive of intellectual freedom response
  • Not all boards agree with the values of intellectual freedom or the Right to Read. Whether or not you have the authority to choose the members of the board, understanding their perspective on sensitive topics will be useful in knowing how to shape your argument if/when they play a role in intellectual freedom topics. If there is not a requirement for the board to read challenged material, try to encourage such an addendum.

-Repercussions- angering the wrong person when an influential person wants a specific outcome that does not happen
  • Being familiar with those who have power within their niches can help spread a message- for good or bad. Every patron and their concern should be treated with the utmost respect and integrity, but it never hurts to be aware of the movers and shakers in the community. If the head of the home schooling community feels that their concerns are not being treated seriously, that can expand to the home schooling community at large feeling like they are not being taken seriously. Being aware and showing respect can go a long way to creating relationships and not incidents.

-Mishandling by staff- things don't go smoothly
  • If a member of the staff is approached with a concern that may involve a question of intellectual freedom, it is imperative they know how to handle the situation. If they are not equipped with either knowledge or the power to handle the situation, a staff member who is capable of resolving the situation should be brought in. Floundering around the topic- or worse, misinforming the patron- could make the patron annoyed and angrier at the process than the initial problem would have otherwise. Just think- how would you feel if a retail store did this to you, and understand why the patron might be reacting in a certain manner.

-Community disagrees
  • Sometimes the many overwhelm the voices of the few. The pressure that can be brought to bear may difficult for any one individual or institution to bear. Just remember some of the key points of the Right to Read- each reader has a right to the information they desire, but not all books will be a good fit for all readers.

-Staff put bias on the collection
  • Librarians are human, and may put a bias on the collection through the materials selected. Simply acknowledging that this bias will almost certainly exist can help create awareness to prevent a collection from trending too much to one particular attitude or style. Ensure that there are collection policies in place, encourage staff to browse through other collections besides their specialty (put a fresh pair of eyes on it to spot holes that might need to be filled), and treat all patron requests equally according to the collection policy.

-What constitutes "appropriate" materials
  • The unending question is what is appropriate material to put in front of a child that is 6 years old, for 12 years old, for 17 years old? Being able to point out that it is generally a library's practice to not restrict patrons from materials is all grand, but making this point without offending patrons (some may take this as implying the parents are not being good parents) is another skill entirely. Practice this with coworkers, in your head, or put it on paper. Know how your library categorizes materials and why. Have statistics, journal articles, or other evidence to back this up. Be prepared!


Children's Internet Protection Act This website is a supplement to the print version of the CIPA law.
Comic Book Defense Fund
While comic books have existed for decades, they are experiencing a new popularity through graphic novels, especially among young adults. As Greyson (2007) points out, because of the visual nature of comic books, the "explicit" content can be more obvious, and become the target of challenges. Library collection policies may not have been written with comic books and graphic novels in mind.

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the First Amendment rights of the comics art form and its community of retailers, creators, publishers, librarians, and readers. The CBLDF provides legal referrals, representation, advice, assistance, and education in furtherance of these goals (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, 2011).
Federal Communications Commission
This page on the Federal Communications Commission website explains the federal law, CIPA, requiring that schools and libraries which receive E-rate discounts implement filters to block certain Internet content and to implement Internet safety policies, in order to protect children.
Freedom to Read Foundation
The Freedom to Read Foundation is an offshoot of the American Library Association. It offers financial assistance to librarians and libraries in support of litigation related to challenges and censorship.
Intellectual Freedom Manual WebsiteThis website is a supplement to the print version of the Intellectual Freedom Manual, eighth edition.
YALSA Intellectual Freedom Committee This post on the YALSA blog describes the functions and activities of the YALSA Intellectual Freedom Committee, along with quick links to related materials.


American Library Association. (2001). American Library Association votes to Challenge CIPA. Retrived from on November 10, 2013

American Library Association. (2010). A Study of Self-Censorship by School Librarians. Retrieved from
on November 9, 2013.

American Library Association. (2010). The Children's Internet Protection Act. Retrieved from on November 10, 2013.

American Library Association (2012). Frequently challenged books of the 21st century. Retrieved from
on November 9, 2013.

American Library Association. (2011). Library bill of rights. Retrieved from on November 15, 2011.

American Library Association (2011). Statistics. Retrieved from on November 15, 2011.

Bell, M. (2007). The elephant in the room. School Library Journal, 53(1), 40-42.

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. (2011). About Us. Retrieved from on November 15, 2011.

Caldwell-Stone, D. (2013). Filtering and the First Amendment : when is it okay to block speech online? Retrieved from on November 7, 2013.

Greyson, D. (2007). GLBTQ content in comics/graphic novels for teens. Collection Building, 26(4), 130-134.

Intellectual Freedom Manual. (n.d.). Intellectual Freedom: An enduring and all-embracing concept. Retrieved from on November 17, 2011.

International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (2007) Internet and Children’s Library Services. Retrieved from November 7, 2013.

Jaeger, P.I., & Zheng, Y. (2009). One law with two outcomes: Comparing the implementation of CIPA in Public Libraries and Schools. Information Technology & Libraries, 28(1), 6-14.

Petrilli, K. (2009). Banned books week: Celebrating your (and your teens!) freedom to read. Young Adult Library Services, 7(4), 4-5.

Reitman, R. (2013). The Cost of Censorship in libraries: 10 Years Under the Children’s Internet Protection Act. Retrieved from November 7, 2013.

Scales, P. (2007). Ain't that a shame. School Library Journal, 53(9), 30.
Stripling, B., Williams, C., Johnston, M., & Anderton, H. (2010). Minors & internet interactivity: A new interpretation of the LBOR. Knowledge Quest, 39(1), 38-45.

United States v. American Library Association. (2003). United States v. American Library Association. Retrieved from on November 10, 2013

Wolf, S. (2008). Coping with mandated restrictions on intellectual freedom in K-12 schools. Library Media Connection, 27(3), 10-12.