Library Bill of Rights

The American Library Association affirms that all libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that the following basic policies should guide their services.

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.

Adopted June 18, 1948.
Amended February 2, 1961, and January 23, 1980,
inclusion of "age" reaffirmed January 23, 1996,
by the ALA Council.

June 18

ALA Adopts Library
Bill of Rights (1948)

It was on this date, June 18, 1948, that the American Library Association adopted its "Library Bill of Rights," an affirmation that libraries are charged with providing the information and ideas necessary for an informed populace and a vibrant democracy. It has been amended twice since 1948 and its current version is still less than 200 words. The "Library Bill of Rights" exhorts each library to select and to make available its information and facilities without prejudice for or against religious or political correctness, to represent a diversity of viewpoints in the materials provided, to challenge censorship and to ally with groups promoting free expression.

When librarians receive a complaint about items in the collection, instead of defending or removing the material, the protester is asked to suggest something to add that would provide balance to the library collection. This represents a more mature attitude toward suppression of alternative viewpoints often sought by religious groups. The answer to speech considered offensive is not suppression but facilitation: that is, more speech, not less.

So when one library posted a sign saying, "We guarantee that there is something in this library to offend everyone" it might have been better, not to mention more consistent with the ALA's guiding philosophy, had it read, "We guarantee that there is something in this library to offend and to please everyone." There is no better way to encourage critical thought than by exposure to a rainbow of viewpoints.

But the "Library Bill of Rights" was adopted in a pre-Internet, pre-CIPA* era, when children could be much more easily protected from bad things. The only trouble is agreeing on what constitutes "bad things": do we make all libraries safe for children? Then they become nearly useless for adults. The ALA addressed this quandary in the "Library Bill of Rights" and firmly advocates open access, and no Internet filtering, for children. This is consistent with the library mission of dispensing information, not restricting it.

*Children's Internet Protection Act. From the ALA website: "CIPA requires libraries and schools to install filters on their Internet computers to retain federal funding and discounts for computers and computer access. Because this law directly affected libraries and their ability to make legal information freely available to their patrons, the American Library Association and the Freedom to Read Foundation filed a lawsuit to overturn CIPA, but the Supreme Court on June 23, 2003, in a 6–3 decision, upheld the constitutionality of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA)."

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Alphonse Laveran (1845)

It was also on this date, June 18, 1845, that French epidemiologist Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran was born in Paris. His first medical training was as an army doctor in the Franco-Prussian War. Laveran's keen observations, and later travels and researches, not only made him an expert in tropical diseases, but won him the 1907 Nobel Prize in Medicine for tracing the propagation of malaria from a blood-borne protozoan parasite inserted from the bite of a mosquito.

Laveran worked from 1896 until his death in 1922 at the Pasteur Institute, named for Louis Pasteur, the discoverer of the germ theory of disease that shattered the medieval conception that disease signified divine disfavor and that faith and fetishes could cure it. Laveran garnering the Legion of Honor and fellowships in the French Académie des Sciences and the British Royal Society.

Two years before his death, which followed a long illness, when told that his American contemporary Thomas Edison had expressed an interest in Spiritualism, Laveran remarked that he "did not believe a word of the report," and that he himself "did not believe in spirits." Both Laveran and Edison were Atheists.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.
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