ALA Council Adopts Library Bill of Rights Interpretation on Visual and Performing Arts

For Immediate Release
Fri, 02/23/2018


Eleanor Diaz

Program Officer

ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom


ALA Council adopted a Library Bill of Rights interpretation at the 2018 ALA Midwinter Meeting that emphasizes the role art plays in libraries and states libraries should present a broad spectrum of viewpoints in developing art exhibits and programs.  

Visual and Performing Arts in Libraries: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights” — written by the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee — was initiated by former-Office for Intellectual Freedom Director Barbara Jones. OIF staff had been tracking instances where art exhibits and programs were censored, and Jones realized that there was no interpretation librarians could look to for guidance.

"Visual and Performing Arts in Libraries" addresses what should be included in library policies about arts programming and exhibits, how to handle objections to art in the library, and how internet filters affect visual arts. It also refers to the avoidance of “controversial content.”

“Libraries should not avoid developing exhibits or programs because of controversial content, or because of the beliefs or affiliations of those whose work is represented,” states the interpretation.

Before being adopted by ALA Council, the interpretation received feedback from artists, theater experts and librarians. The authors decided to include definitions of “visual art” and “performance art” in the document, as well as describe the role art plays in people’s lives.

“Art predates the written word. It represents, displays and challenges cultural norms as well as bias and prejudice,” said Jo Rolfe, director of the Camarillo Public Library and one of leaders of the working group that wrote the interpretation. “Where better can we actively inspire abstract and concrete ideas, and the exploration of what it means to be human, than in the nation’s libraries?”

“Visual and Performing Arts in Libraries: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights” was endorsed in principle by the Intellectual Freedom Round Table.