IF Handbook

Intellectual Freedom Handbook
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Updated 4/19/2017

Libraries play a crucial role in the foundations of any democratic society, which succeeds only when people are informed about the issues of the day and are able to explore ideas, even controversial ones. It is a library's responsibility to provide a collection with a depth and breadth of ideas, and to actively engage in resource sharing activities that enable library users to fulfill their information needs. People have their own ideas about what is appropriate for people to find in a library regardless of format. People have a right to share their grievances with library staff and the library must be prepared through policies and procedures to address the public's concerns and uphold the right to information.

Finally, there is a concern about national security and the role of libraries. This requires libraries to carefully maintain a balance between complying with laws about national and local security and protecting the privacy of those who use our libraries. This handbook is designed to help libraries chart a course in today's troubled waters, pitting public concerns about access to information with the public's right to information. Use it to help you help your community participate in all the privileges that a democratic society affords.

Intellectual Freedom Statement
The Colorado Association of Libraries (CAL) subscribes in full to the principles set forth in the American Library Association's Library Bill of Rights, the Interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights, and the Freedom to Read Statement.

Charge of the CAL Intellectual Freedom Committee

  • Educate the Colorado library community about intellectual freedom principles and issues through programs, lectures, and publications
  • Support First Amendment rights in all appropriate venues and, in conjunction with the Legislative Committee, support legislation and ballot initiatives that promote the principles of intellectual freedom
  • Recommend expenditures of the Julie J. Boucher Memorial Fund to the CAL Executive Board

Seeking Assistance from the CAL Intellectual Freedom Committee

CAL cannot provide legal counsel or direct funding to handle requests for reconsideration of materials, but will, through its Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC), offer the skills, experience and energy of its membership to defend established intellectual freedom principles. The CAL office may be reached by calling 303-463-6400 or via e-mail at [email protected].

To help it respond on behalf of libraries and librarians in Colorado who have received requests for reconsideration of items in their collections, the CAL IFC needs to be aware of such incidents. Any library employee, friend or trustee who knows of a problem is encouraged to contact the chair of the CAL IFC. The CAL IFC chair will advise you how to cope with the reported situation. The chair may, if appropriate, refer you to a CAL IFC member with special experience or training by type of library (i.e., school, public, academic, special). Every effort will be made to respond to reported incidents with guidance that is timely, practical and effective.

The CAL IFC will never usurp the local librarian's prerogative to resolve the problem as the local context deems suitable or necessary. The CAL IFC may suggest reporting serious incidents to the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association for additional assistance.

Julie J. Boucher Memorial Fund, Awards, and Lecture Series

The CAL IFC honors the memory of our past chair Julie J. Boucher through the Boucher Memorial Fund, Awards, and Lecture Series. Please visit our memorial page for more information on each of these projects and on how you can donate to the Boucher Memorial Fund.

Confidentiality of Library Records
The confidentiality of library patrons in Colorado is protected under the "Library Law" portion of the Colorado Revised Statutes, Privacy of User Records section, 24-90-119, which reads as:

1. Except as set forth in subsection (2) of this section, a publicly-supported library shall not disclose any record or other information that identifies a person as having requested or obtained specific materials or service or as otherwise having used the library.

2. Records may be disclosed in the following instances:

a. When necessary for the reasonable operation of the library; 
b. Upon written consent of the user; 
c. Pursuant to subpoena, upon court order, or where otherwise required by law. 
d. To a custodial parent or legal guardian who has access to a minor's library card or its authorization number for the purpose of accessing by electronic means library records of the minor.

3. Any library official, employee, or volunteer who discloses information in violation of this section commits a class 2 petty offense and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars.

Intellectual Freedom Checklist

  • Written mission statement defining the kinds of service the library will offer to the community.
  • Written policies including material selection, programs, exhibits, and other services, formally adopted by the governing body and periodically revised.
  • Written procedures including how to handle concerns and requests for reconsideration of materials or services.


  • Regular training of staff, volunteers, and trustees about the library's policies and the principles of intellectual freedom.
  • Regular training of staff and volunteers in public service techniques, including how to handle complaints or expressions of concern.
  • Public relations program aimed at individuals and community groups to inform them of the materials and services provided by the library and how the community benefits from the library's practice of intellectual freedom.


  • Local, state, and national organizations that are advocates of intellectual freedom and have resources to assist libraries.
  • Influential individuals in the community who may have significant impact on the library.

Keep in Touch:

  • Read the newspapers, popular magazines, and professional journals, attend conferences, subscribe to the Intellectual Freedom News, and watch the news... Know about local and global intellectual freedom issues.
  • Be familiar with local, state, and federal legislation as well as Colorado Association of Libraries and American Library Association policy regarding intellectual freedom. This will inform your policy and procedure writing, and offer support in the case of a request for reconsideration.

Share and Announce:

  • Don't wait until you have to defend the Library Bill of Rights... PROMOTE IT! Don't wait for a request for reconsideration or Banned Books Week to broadcast the library's philosophy about intellectual freedom. Every day is a good day to promote free access to ideas and information for all people, regardless of age, origin, background or views. Librarians know how powerful and effective intellectual freedom is; now we need to educate our communities.
  • Get your governing body involved as well. As the political body representing the library, it is the ideal advocate for the library and for intellectual freedom.
  • Initiate and maintain good relationships with civic, religious, educational, and political bodies in your community. These groups may be able to assist with outreach and be there with support in the case of a request for reconsideration. Intellectual freedom is everyone's issue.

Library Policies
Well-developed, formally adopted, written policies are essential to effective library operations. Policies are broadly written statements that set the parameters for service, not the details about how services are provided. Some important things to keep in mind:

  • All library policies, including the mission statement, should reflect a commitment to intellectual freedom.
  • All policies should be aligned with the library's mission statement.
  • When any policy is written, it should be discussed, understood, and approved by the governing body of the library. It is essential that this body supports the policies of the library. When the membership of the governing body changes, the policies should be reexamined and readopted, and all staff should be notified.
  • Ensure that all staff are aware of and understand the library's policies as a part of training.
  • Review the policies regularly, evaluating whether each still meets the needs and serves the goals of the library.

The ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee offers guidance on drafting and implementing policies and procedures:

Dealing with Concerns about Library Resources
Every citizen of your community has a right to request that you reconsider a decision you make regarding selection of or placement of a book or other item in the collection (librarians are not infallible). They do NOT, however, have the right to remove an item from that collection. That decision rests with your governing body and in accordance with your library's written policies and procedures. For more information, visit the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom's Dealing with Concerns about Library Resource.

Intellectual Freedom Documents
The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom makes all the major intellectual freedom documents available on the ALA website.

Other Sources of Intellectual Freedom Assistance
American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom 
800-545-2433, ext. 4223 
"Established December 1, 1967, the Office for Intellectual Freedom is charged with implementing ALA policies concerning the concept of intellectual freedom as embodied in the Library Bill of Rights, the Association’s basic policy on free access to libraries and library materials. The goal of the office is to educate librarians and the general public about the nature and importance of intellectual freedom in libraries."

Freedom to Read Foundation 
800-545-2433 ext. 4226 
"The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees all individuals the right to express their ideas without governmental interference, and to read and listen to the ideas of others. The Freedom to Read Foundation was established to promote and defend this right; to foster libraries and institutions wherein every individual's First Amendment freedoms are fulfilled; and to support the right of libraries to include in their collections and make available any work which they may legally acquire."

Colorado Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union
"The American Civil Liberties Union is the nation's foremost advocate of individual rights -- litigating, legislating, and educating the public on a broad array of issues affecting individual freedom in the United States."

People for the American Way
"People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation work to protect the heart of democracy and the soul of the nation. In Congress and state capitals, in classrooms and in libraries, in courthouses and houses of worship, on the airwaves and on the printed page, on sidewalks and in cyberspace, we work to promote full citizen participation in our democracy and safeguard the principles of our Constitution from those who threaten the American dream."

Last revision 4/2017

The CAL Intellectual Freedom Committee extends its gratitude to the New Hampshire Library Association and to the Texas Library Association for their willingness to share portions of their respective IF manuals with CAL in preparing this handbook. Special thanks to Nancy Bolt, retired Colorado State Librarian, for her contribution of the original Introduction.