Meeting Rooms, Exhibit Spaces, and Programs

Meeting Rooms | Exhibits, Displays & Artwork Censorship | Programming | Religion in Libraries

When the public library invites the community to use spaces within the library —a meeting room, an auditorium, bulletin board, or exhibit case—the library takes on the responsibility to uphold First Amendment rights of free expression.

Access to these spaces should conform to the Library Bill of Rights: Article I states, “Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.” Article II states, “Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”

Article VI maintains that meeting facilities and exhibit space should be made available to members of a community on "an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use." A library may control time, place, and manner of use, provided those statements do not discriminate against users based on ideology or speech.

ALA Statements and Policies on Meeting Rooms

Meeting Rooms: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (2019)
Many libraries provide meeting rooms for individuals and groups as part of a program of service. Article VI of the Library Bill of Rights states that such facilities should be made available to the public served by the given library "on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use."

Publications and Webinars about Meeting Rooms

Ethics of Library Meeting Rooms (2017)
By Andrew Hart published in Public Libraries Online
We have all heard that we are gatekeepers of information. This is true, but we must not forget that we are also gatekeepers of materials and services. Being that we have so much power and influence, our professional association, the ALA, has created a Code of Ethics and a Library Bill of Rights to give patrons inalienable rights as they use library resources.

The Library's Legal Answers for Meeting Rooms and Displays (2016)
By Mary Minow, Tomas A. Lipinski, and Gretchen McCord
Grounded in the authors’ expert guidance, this e-book will give your staff the knowledge they need to keep your library out of messy legal problems. The convenient Q&A format offers straightforward answers to common situations

Library Meeting Room Conflicts (2016)
By Mark Troknya published in Public Libraries Online
In February of 2016, the Nashville Public Library informed the local chapter of Black Lives Matter that they would not be able to continue hosting meetings in the library, as their policy of excluding non-black participants conflicts with the library’s meeting room policies. The Nashville chapter had been meeting there monthly since October 2015.

Suit Convinces Eighth PL to Revise Meeting Room Policy to Allow Religion, Politics (2015)
By Bob Warburton published in Library Journal
The article reports that the Lawrence Public Library in Lawrence, Massachusetts has changed meeting room policy by removing restrictions against political or religious expression in the facility. It mentions that the approach of the library was followed by a lawsuit filed by the nonprofit Christian organization Liberty Counsel against the library related to its meeting room policy.

Exhibits, Displays & Artwork Censorship

The term “display” has multiple definitions in the library vocabulary. Some displays are a space designated for a rotation of subjects and organizations. These displays are often requested by the public and approved by a librarian or a committee of library staff. The materials are on loan to the library and when the display period is over, the materials are returned to their owners.

Some displays are a creation of librarians on a variety of topics using materials in the library collection. These ideas and topics have a foundation in marketing the library’s resources and creating awareness and excitement and drawing the eye of the visitors. The staff wants to reinforce that libraries are vibrant places for learning and fun—and people of all ages are responding to it.

Displays can also be created within display cases or bulletin boards. Some are designed to be open for public use like literature tables where reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions can be implemented. Display areas, of all types, should have policies adopted to protect against censorship and to promote the access of information for all members in the community.

ALA Statements and Policies on Exhibits, Displays & Artwork Censorship

Visual and Performing Arts in Libraries: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (2018)
ALA affirms that visual and performing arts can be powerful components of library collections and services. The arts play a vital role in our ability to communicate a broad spectrum of ideas to all people. Developing an understanding and appreciation of visual and performing arts promotes artistic literacy. Libraries should offer opportunities for the community to experience art.

User-Initiated Exhibits, Displays, and Bulletin Boards: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (2019)
Libraries often provide exhibit spaces and bulletin boards. The uses made of these spaces should conform to the Library Bill of Rights: Article I states, "Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation." Article II states, "Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval." Article VI maintains that exhibit space should be made available "on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use."

Publications, and Articles about Exhibits, Displays & Artwork Censorship

How Do Library Displays Happen? (2017)
By Kerry O’Donnell

Museum Best Practices for Managing Controversy
By National Coalition Against Censorship and endorsed by the Association of Art Museum Curators, American Alliance of Museums, College Art Association, Americans for the Arts, Association of Academic Museums and Galleries and the Vera List Center for Art and Politics
This document is designed to provide museums and other cultural institutions of any size or scope with guidelines that can help manage controversial content and transform controversy into a learning moment about the nature of diverse opinions and an institution’s ability to address them.

Bulletin Boards and Library Spaces
By Lance M. Werner, Library Law Specialist, Library of Michigan
"Libraries basically have two options when making policies regarding this issue, public use vs. no public use. If a library selects the first option, it should make sure that its policy clearly states that the space is equally available to all."


Libraries are no longer a warehouse for books. Libraries provide space and opportunities for hands on learning and engagement beyond education or entertainment. In recognition of this shift in a library’s role and value, programming and creation spaces have grown exponentially. Just as with books, the content of programs can draw criticism. Article II of the Library Bill of Rights states, “Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.” Likewise, programs should not be canceled because of the ideas or topics of the program or the views expressed by the participants or speakers. Libraries should vigorously defend the First Amendment right of speakers and participants to express themselves.

ALA Statements and Policies on Programming

Library-Initiated Programs and Displays as a Resource: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (2019)
Library-initiated programs and displays utilize library worker expertise for community interests, collections, services, facilities, and providing access to information and information resources. They introduce users and potential users to library resources and the library’s role as a facilitator of information access. Concerns, questions, or complaints about library-initiated programs and displays are handled according to the same written policy and procedures that govern reconsiderations of other library resources. These policies should apply equally to all people, including, but not limited to, library users, staff, and members of the governing body.

Publications, Articles and Webinars about Programming

3-D Printing in Libraries: Policies & Best Practices (2018)
By ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom
This updated resource provides guidelines and resources for developing library policies for 3-D printer resources with a large selection of policy examples.

Responding to and Preparing for Controversial Programs and Speakers Q&A (2018)
By ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee
This Q&A offers strategies and resources for preparing your library to approach community concerns as well as reaction to potentially controversial programs, events, and speakers.

Q&A: Makerspaces, Media Labs and Other Forums for Content Creation in Libraries (2017)
This guide helps libraries create policies for makerspaces and other content creation forums within their facilities. It is not intended to be a template for such policies but rather a source for answers to questions that are likely to be asked as libraries formulate content creation policies.

Webinar: Controversial Speaker Coming to Campus? (2017)
Speakers are Mark Osler, Glenn Geher, and Judy Russell; and moderated by Jemimah Steinfeld of Index on Censorship magazine.
With the rise of stories about how authors, thought leaders, and others have become disinvited or pressured to withdraw from university speaking engagements because they don’t promote prevailing ideology, this webinar addresses the question: what are the consequences of disallowing diverse viewpoints on campus and what can speakers, faculty, and librarians do to support intellectual freedom in academia?

Convening Community Conversations | Programming (2017)
By Jennifer A. Dixon published in Library Journal
Libraries can be trusted places for users to share opinions, questions—even politics—with librarians facilitating the process and keeping it civil.

Webinar: What Happened in Kansas City: Free Speech, Library Programs and the Law (2016)
Speakers are Steven Woolfolk and Deborah Caldwell Stone
Libraries are places for discovery that extends beyond the shelves — to classes, public programs and civil discourse. What responsibility do we, as library professionals, have to ensure that the content of our programs adheres to the same standards as our collections? To what extent are we obligated to protect the free speech of our patrons as well as our authors?

Religion in Libraries

Religion includes formal organized systems of belief and practice and often informal individual spiritualities. The term religion can refer to major world religions, newer, smaller sects and even no religion at all. Libraries offer resources and programs for their community to learn and discover, including religious discovery.

ALA Statements and Policies on Religion in Libraries

Religion in American Libraries: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (2016)
The First Amendment guarantees the right of individuals to believe and practice their religion or practice no religion at all and prohibits government from establishing or endorsing a religion or religions. Thus the freedom of, for and from religion, are similarly guaranteed.

Publications, Articles and Webinars about Religion in Libraries

Religion in American Libraries: Questions and Answers (2010)
By ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee
This Q&A provides guidance to libraries and librarians in protecting First Amendment rights to five freedoms: freedom of the press, speech, petition, assembly and religion. Courts have consistently held that for freedom of the press and speech to be meaningful, people must have the right to receive information: that is, to read, view, hear or access what they choose.

Religion, the First Amendment and America’s Public Libraries (2013)
By J. Douglas Archer published in Indiana Libraries
A brief history of the interrelationship between the freedom of and from religion and First Amendment freedoms is followed by an examination of their place in American public libraries divided into multiple sections: collections and access; meeting rooms, exhibits and literature distribution; subject headings and labeling; and personnel and patron issues.

Webinar: Muslim Journeys and Your Community: Managing Controversy, Maximizing Impact (2013)
Speakers are Martin Garnar and Lesley Williams provided by ALA Public Programs Office
Best practices for preparing for and responding to intellectual freedom challenges, and implementing Muslim Journeys programs.


Assistance and Consultation

The staff of the Office for Intellectual Freedom is available to answer questions or provide assistance to librarians, trustees, educators and the public. Areas of assistance include policy development, First Amendment issues, and professional ethics. Inquiries can be directed via email to or via phone at (312) 280-4226.

Updated July 2019