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Intellectual Freedom Resources
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Materials Selection Policy

The library must have a material selection policy, and it must be in writing. The material selection policy should apply to all library materials, from books to videos to electronic sources, including the Internet, whatever media the library uses to deliver information. It should reflect the library's philosophy of service to the community. 

If a library is faced with a formal request for reconsideration, the written material selection policy will give the governing body a local statement on which to rely in its response to the request. Obviously, book reviews and other outside sources are helpful in defending the material, but a formally adopted material selection policy provides an excellent defense because it was created with input from local residents, i.e. the governing body.

The governing body of the library must adopt the material selection policy in a formal meeting that is posted to allow the public to attend and comment.

The library's material selection policy must include a standard written form for the patron to complete, usually called "Request for Reconsideration of Library Materials."

The library staff and governing body must be aware of the contents of the material selection policy. If there is a request for reconsideration of library materials, all must speak with one voice. A basic understanding of the library's selection policy will help ensure this unity.

All staff members involved in selecting materials should understand the policy and follow its guidelines when making collection development decisions, so there will be less chance of "internal censorship" on the part of the library staff. 

Elements of a Materials Selection Policy

  1. Goals of the library (mission statement, philosophy of access to materials) 

  2. Purpose of the Material Selection Policy 

  3. Community profile 

    • Library's service area, including projected growth 

    • Types of people in the community 

    • Educational background of the community 

    • Special factors which might influence the selection of materials 

  4. Intellectual freedom statements 

    • Library Bill of Rights 

    • Free Access to Libraries 

    • Statement on Labeling 

    • Freedom to Read Statement 

    • First Amendment to the Constitution

  5. Library's role in cooperation, e.g., coordinated buying agreements, interlibrary loan 
  6. Organization of the selection process 
    • Qualifications of selectors
    • Authority for selection decisions (ultimate and delegated)
    • Legal responsibility for selection
  7. Some possible selection criteria 
    • Present and potential relevance to community needs 
    • Relevance of subject, format, and reading level for the intended audience 
    • Importance as a document of the times 
    • Literary and artistic merit 
    • Accuracy of content 
    • Appropriateness and effectiveness of medium to content 
    • Format is appropriate to library use and is not easily damaged 
    • Reputation and/or significance of author, publisher or producer 
    • Author or producer is already represented in the collection 
    • Author or illustrator is local 
    • Positive reviews by critics, staff members and/or professional journals 
    • Coverage in local or popular media 
    • Popularity with library patrons 
    • Continuation of a series 
    • Balances existing materials in the collection 
    • Enhances a specific collection in the library 
    • Insufficient materials available on the subject 
    • Not available from other lending sources 
    • Within limits of budget for materials 
    • Winners of recognized awards 
  8. Formats (types of materials to be included in the collection) 
    • Print: Books, newspapers, periodicals, paperbacks, vertical file, government documents, maps
    • Non-Print: films/filmstrips, videocassettes, records, cassettes, compact disks, microforms, art prints, educational games and toys, realia
    • Electronic: CD-ROM programs and databases, computer software, on-line services, Internet, other wide area networks
  9. Special collections
    • Local history
    • Genealogy
    • Large print
    • Foreign language
  10. Limits of the collection (areas in which the library will not be purchasing)
    • Monetary limitations
    • Formats
    • Abridgments
  11. Space limitations
  12. Gift and memorial policy
    • Materials
    • Personal property and money 
  13. Preservation policy, including binding, microfilming, restoration, housing, and storage 
  14. Replacement and duplicates policies 

  15. Withdrawing and discarding policies 

  16. Requests for reconsideration of materials 

    • Procedure for handling requests 

    • Reconsideration of materials form 

  17. Reevaluation of the materials selection policy 

    • How often 

    • By whom 

  18. Approval by governing body

General Elements of a Policy

Some libraries have a specific Intellectual Freedom Policy; others have intellectual freedom issues addressed within other policies. Whichever way you go, your policies should include the following elements:


The library should reaffirm the mission statement, the Library Bill of Rights, and the Freedom to Read Statement. Together, these documents attest that the library's materials and services will not be denied based on any factor that could be prejudicial.


The library should make a commitment to strict confidentiality of information for all patrons and staff members in all library operations including registration information, circulation records, overdue notices, and notification of reserved materials.

Facility Use

The library should clearly designate who is responsible for the use of meeting space, display space, and bulletin boards. The principles of intellectual freedom should be affirmed in all cases, whether it is the library or some outside entity making use of any of these facilities.

Rights of Children

The library should affirm the rights of children to enjoy all the benefits of intellectual freedom that adults enjoy, including freedom of access to information and confidentiality.

Special Note: The Internet

While the principles of intellectual freedom should not change in regard to information in any format, a special mention may be necessary if the library offers Internet access. Library policy should include a disclaimer that the library is not responsible for material found on the Internet or World Wide Web, the policy on the use of the Internet by minors, and possibly a statement defining "acceptable use." Governing all this should be the principle that the library does not exist to limit access to information. Policies should affirm the ways in which the Internet is meant to augment the information available at the library.

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