Appendix 5: Free access to libraries for minors: An interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights

Some library procedures and practices effectively deny minors’ access to certain services and materials available to adults. Such procedures and practices are not in accord with the Library Bill of Rights and are opposed by the American Library Association.

Restrictions take a variety of forms, including, among others, restricted reading rooms for adult use only, library cards limiting circulation of some materials to adults only, closed collections for adult use only, collections limited to teacher use, or restricted according to a student’s grade level, and interlibrary loan service for adult use only.

Article 5 of the Library Bill of rights states that, “A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.” All limitations on minors’ access to library materials and services violate that article. The “right to use a library” includes use of, and access to, all library materials and services. Thus, practices, which allow adults to use some services, and materials, which are denied to minors, abridge the use of libraries based on age.

Material selection decisions are often made and restrictions are often initiated under the assumption that certain materials may be “harmful” to minors, or in an effort to avoid controversy with parents. Libraries or library boards which would restrict the access of minors to materials and services because of actual or suspected parental objections should bear in mind that they do not serve in loco parentis. Varied levels of intellectual development among young people and differing family background and child-rearing philosophies are significant factors not accommodated by a uniform policy based upon age.

In today’s world, children are exposed to adult life much earlier than in the past. They read materials and view a variety of media on the adult level at home and elsewhere. Current emphasis upon early childhood education has also increased opportunities for young people to learn and to have access to materials, and has decreased the validity of using chronological age as an index to the use of libraries. The period of time during which children are interested in reading materials specifically designed for them grows steadily shorter, and librarians must recognize and adjust to this change if they wish to serve young people effectively. Librarians have a responsibility to ensure that young people have access to a wide range of informational and recreational materials and services that reflects sufficient diversity to meet the young person’s needs.