To ensure the effective delivery of service and to provide full access to library resources, libraries should develop policies and procedures to address user behavior that may interfere with others’ use and enjoyment1 of the library. Library governing bodies should approach the regulation of user behavior within the framework of the Code of Ethics of the American Library Association, the Library Bill of Rights, and federal, tribal, state, and local law, including the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
There is a significant government interest in maintaining a library environment that is conducive to all users’ exercise of their constitutionally protected right to receive information.2 This significant interest authorizes publicly supported libraries to maintain a safe and healthy environment in which library users and staff can be free from harassment and threats to their safety and well-being. In order to protect all library users’ right to access library facilities, to ensure the safety of users and staff, and to protect library resources and facilities from damage, the library’s governing authority may impose reasonable restrictions on the time, place, or manner of library access. Since the Library Bill of Rights “affirms that all libraries are forums for information and ideas,” all libraries are encouraged to observe these guidelines as they develop policies, regulations, and procedures.
Policy Checklist--User Behavior and Library Use
The American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee recommends that publicly supported libraries use the following guidelines to develop policies and procedures governing the use of library facilities:
- Library policies and procedures governing the use of library facilities should be carefully examined to ensure that they embody the principles expressed in the Library Bill of Rights.
- Libraries are advised to rely upon existing legislation and law-enforcement mechanisms as the primary means of regulating behavior that involves public safety, criminal behavior, or other issues covered by existing federal, tribal, state, or local law.
- If the library’s governing body chooses to write its own policies and procedures regarding user behavior or access to library facilities, services, and resources, the policies should cite statutes or ordinances upon which the authority to make those policies is based.
- Reasonable and narrowly tailored policies and procedures are acceptable when designed either to prohibit a person’s interference with others’ use of the library and its services or to prohibit activities inconsistent with the library’s mission and objectives.
- Such policies and procedures should be reviewed frequently and updated as needed by the library’s legal counsel for compliance with federal, tribal, state, and local law.
- Every effort should be made to respond to potentially difficult circumstances of user behavior in a timely, direct, and transparent fashion. Common sense, reason, and sensitivity should be used to resolve issues in a constructive and positive manner without escalation.
- Libraries should develop ongoing staff training programs based on their user behavior policy. Staff training should address the provision of service to people with disabilities, members of marginalized and traditionally underserved populations, and those experiencing poverty and homelessness, as well as the social, economic, and cultural diversity within communities. Training should also address the unique challenges that library workers face in working in tribal, urban, suburban, and rural communities.
- Libraries should attempt to balance competing interests and avoid favoring the majority at the expense of an individual’s right to access or use library resources and services. Similarly, libraries should not allow any one person’s choice or belief to supersede those of the majority of library users.
- Policies and regulations that impose restrictions on library access should
- apply only to those activities that substantially interfere with the public’s right of access to library facilities, the safety of users and staff, and the protection of library resources and facilities;
- narrowly tailor prohibitions or restrictions so that they are no more restrictive than needed to serve their objectives;
- be based solely upon actual behavior and not upon arbitrary distinctions between individuals or groups based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease;
- be enforced consistently and not in a manner intended to benefit or disfavor any person or group in an arbitrary or capricious manner;
- provide a clear description of the prohibited behavior and the consequences for engaging in that behavior; and
- describe the enforcement measures in place, including due process and fair warning.
- Policies and regulations that impose restrictions on library access should not
- target specific users or groups based upon an assumption or expectation that they might engage in behaviors that could disrupt library services;
- leave those affected without adequate alternative means of access to information in the library;
- be used to limit library users’ access to constitutionally protected speech that may be considered controversial or objectionable by some; or
- restrict access to the library by persons who merely inspire the anger or annoyance of others. Policies based upon appearance or behavior that is merely annoying, or that generates negative subjective reactions from others, do not meet the necessary standard. Such policies should employ a reasonable, objective standard based on the behavior itself.
The user behaviors addressed in these guidelines are the result of a wide variety of individual and societal conditions. Libraries should take advantage of the expertise of local social service agencies, advocacy groups, mental-health professionals, law-enforcement officials, and other community resources to develop community strategies for addressing the needs of a diverse population.
The policy and its descriptions should be continuously and clearly communicated to all library users in all languages in common use in the library’s communities.
1. The word “enjoyment” is used in a number of court decisions addressing regulation of library users’ behavior and appearance. For example, the seminal Kreimer v. Morristown decision states that libraries may adopt regulations that prevent individuals from “unreasonably interfering with other patrons' use and enjoyment of the Library.” In the law, the usage “quiet enjoyment” is used to refer to undisturbed occupancy and use of a space or property.
2. Kreimer v. Bureau of Police for Morristown, 958 F.2d 1242 (3d Cir. 1992)
Due process: The principle, encapsulated in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, that neither the federal nor state and local governments may deprive of life, liberty, or property without appropriate legal procedures and safeguards, such as a right to appeal an adverse decision by a court or a government agency.
Protected speech: Speech that is protected from government censorship or regulation under the First Amendment, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court. Under the law, speech is considered protected speech until a court determines that it falls into a category of unprotected speech. The U.S. Supreme Court has identified several categories of speech that are unprotected by the First Amendment.
Publicly supported libraries: Libraries established by a government entity or libraries that received the majority of their financial support from government funding.
Significant or Compelling government interest: A term used by courts when assessing the burden of government regulation or action upon the exercise of a fundamental right, such as freedom of speech. For sure a rule to withstand constitutional challenge, the government must show more than a merely important reason for the rule. The reason for the rule must be compelling; that is, it must be so important that it outweighs even the most valued and basic freedom it negatively affects.
Strict scrutiny: Test applied to determine whether a restriction on speech is unconstitutional under the First Amendment. To justify a restriction on speech, the government must show that: (1) it has a compelling interest in enforcing the restriction; (2) the restriction is narrowly tailored to achieve that compelling interest; and (3) there is no less restrictive alternative to achieving that interest.
Unprotected speech: Speech or expressive activity that is not protected by the First Amendment. The main categories of unprotected speech identified by the U.S. Supreme Court include obscenity, child pornography, defamation and expression intended and likely to incite imminent lawless action, such as fighting words or true threats.
Adopted by the Intellectual Freedom Committee, January 24, 1993; revised November 17, 2000; January 19, 2005; March 29, 2014; March 24, 2019; July 29, 2019; and August 16, 2020.