The First Amendment and Library Services

Librarians and library staff are aware that the free and equitable provision of information is an important part of the library's mission. The First Amendment protects the right to speak, publish, read, and view materials in the library, but courts have recognized that libraries also must have reasonable rules in place for patron use of the library, consistent with the library's mission to provide access to library materials and services to the entire library community.

This course, brought to you in collaboration with the Office for Intellectual Freedom, will introduce you to the legal principles behind the First Amendment, their practical implications in daily life, and how those principles affect library work. You will learn basic legal concepts, your rights as library employees, the rights of library patrons, and what the First Amendment does and does not obligate the library to provide.

While this course will be covering basic legal concepts, the content of this course is not legal advice and should not be used in place of legal representation.

After participating in this course, you will understand:

  • Basic legal concepts related to the First Amendment          
  • The legal foundation of patrons’ rights to access the library and resources within it
  • The library’s role in providing patron access to meeting rooms, display cases, and social media within library spaces
  • The difference between speech that is protected by the First Amendment and that which is not

Theresa Chmara is an attorney in Washington, DC. She also is the General Counsel of the Freedom to Read Foundation. She is the author of Privacy and Confidentiality Issues: A Guide for Libraries and their Lawyers (ALA 2009). She has been a First Amendment lawyer for over twenty-five years and is a frequent speaker on intellectual freedom issues in libraries. She is a contributing author for the Intellectual Freedom Manual published by the Office of Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association.

If you have questions or requests regarding accessibility, contact us at  ce@ala.org or at 312-280-5100.