The Importance of Library Policies

Libraries have a responsibility to meet the information needs of every­one in their communities. To do so, they must promote and protect users’ intellectual freedom and ensure that the delivery of library services to the community is fair, equitable, and non-discriminatory. This can be achieved only if the library has developed and adopted formal, written library policies and procedures. Written policies are essential because they provide a legal framework for the operations of the library and provide a bulwark against claims that the library or its staff is acting in violation of its mission or the law.

Well-written, board-approved policies and up-to-date procedures based on those policies achieve several things:

  • They encourage stability and continuity in the library’s operations while reducing ambiguity and confusion about ongoing practice and procedure
  • Inform the community about the library’s intent, goals, and aspirations
  • Give the public a means to evaluate library performance and show that the library is willing to be held accountable for its decisions
  • Dispel unfounded claims of bias or arbitrary selection when the library’s operations are based on policies and procedures that reflect thorough research, sound judgment, and careful planning
  • Serve as evidence of the library’s normal practices, which can be helpful if the library is sued for enforcing reasonable policies.

Tools and Resources for Developing Intellectual Freedom Policies

ALA offers tools to help libraries develop policies, including:

Guidelines for Library Policies

Selection and Reconsideration Policy Toolkit for Public, School, & Academic Libraries, available online, provides tools and guidance for all types of libraries seeking to review or implement sound collection development policies.

The Intellectual Freedom Manual, 10th Edition edited by Martin Garnar and Trina Magi (ALA Editions, 2021) provides guidance for drafting and improving library policies, including policies addressing collection development and requests for reconsideration.

Creating Policies for Results: From Chaos to Clarity, written by Sandra Nelson and June Garcia for the Public Library Association (2003, ALA Editions) provides a detailed roadmap and advice for developing all types of library policies.

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Additional Tools

First Amendment and Censorship, an online resource that explains the role of libraries in upholding the First Amendment.

Libraries, the First Amendment, and Censorship, an online resource for ALA members (login required) that describes court cases related to the First Amendment and libraries.

The staff at the Office for Intellectual Freedom are available to consult on library policy development related to intellectual freedom. Contact