Email Jessica Gilcreast Intellectual Freedom Chair email@example.com if you are facing a book challenge or need support.
A public forum is a space or place for speech activities. There are three types of public forum. In the traditional public forum - such as parks, sidewalks, or town commons – anyone can engage in nearly all expressive activities, subject only to reasonable time, place and manner regulation. The designated or limited public forum is a place maintained by the government for designated speech activities by a part or all of the public. Non-public forums are government spaces or buildings that are not open to the public or open to expressive activities by the public.
Public libraries are a type of designated, limited public forum. Public libraries are public forums for the exercise of the First Amendment right to receive information, but not for other expressive activities that are not consistent with the purpose of the library or authorized by the library. The library user has a First Amendment right to access the library and utilize its information resources, but that is subject to reasonable time place and manner rules. A decision to remove or restrict a book or other resource because its content or viewpoint is disfavored is subject to strict scrutiny by the courts and has been ruled to be a violation of library users’ First Amendment rights.
Schools and school libraries are considered to be non-public forums reserved for the use of their designated users, the school’s students and faculty. The public does not have a right to access or use the non-public forum. While school libraries may be non-public forums, courts still protect students’ First Amendment right to receive information in the school library. A number of cases have found that removing or restricting access to books in the school library can rise to a violation of a student’s First Amendment rights if the removal was done to prevent access to ideas, viewpoints, or opinions that are disfavored or disliked by the administration.
Reconsideration policies and process serve to protect books from removal by requiring a number of procedural steps that provide transparency and due process to all affected by the demand to remove a book. Requiring a written complaint detailing the precise complaint, review by a committee using the selection policy criteria to evaluate the book, and providing notice to the public, so that the entire community can voice their opinion on the proposal to remove a book can prevent hasty or precipitous removal of a book simply because one person is critical of the book.
Documents to help you advocate for the freedom to read:
Minors access to resources: an interpretation of the library bill of rights
Policies for selecting controversial materials
Articles to support you:
Do Minors Have First Amendment Rights?
What Makes a Book Appropriate for School?
Additional resources from librarians in New Hampshire