Massachusetts Public Library Trustees Handbook
Collection development and materials policies are guided by the principles of intellectual freedom. These stem from the First Amendment of the Constitution, which affirms a citizen's right to hold individual beliefs and to express them. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press also apply to its counterpart, the right to unrestricted access to the expressions and beliefs of others.
Public libraries play a unique role in the preservation of democracy by providing an open, non-judgmental institution where individuals can pursue their interests and gain an understanding of diverse opinions. Trustees play an essential role in safeguarding the intellectual liberty of the public and they must recognize, understand, and support freedom of access. Who can argue with the lofty ideals of freedom and democracy? The test of a trustee's commitment comes when he/she is called upon to allow and defend the expression of ideas opposed to personal beliefs of right or wrong.
Censorship campaigns have been wages against ideas and works throughout history for many different reasons; politics, sex, religion, science, civil rights, and race. History has often shown that what is censored at one time or by one person may be a classic in another time or for another person. Trustees have an obligation to assure that the public library provides readers with a variety of materials representing a continuum of viewpoints; liberal, conservative and "middle of the road," regardless of special interest pressure groups.
The politically astute board and library director should prepare comprehensive collection development and public service policies to guide the selection of materials and defuse potential censorship. Trustees must recognize the right of citizens to question any board actions and be willing to listen and to explain the policies of the library. The board should be open and concerned without accommodating censorship demands.