The Library Bill Of Rights A Critique Essay

The Bill of Rights

On September 25, 1789, the First Federal Congress of the United States proposed to the state legislatures twelve amendments to the Constitution. The first two, concerning the number of constituents for each Representative and the compensation of Congressmen, were not ratified.* Articles three through twelve, known as the Bill of Rights, became the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution and contained guarantees of essential rights and liberties omitted in the crafting of the original document.

*Note: The original second amendment proposed by the First Federal Congress dealt with the compensation of members of Congress. Although rejected at the time, it was eventually ratified on May 7, 1992, as the 27th amendment.

Library of Congress Web Site | External Web Sites | Selected Bibliography

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875

This collection contains congressional publications from 1774 to 1875, including debates, bills, laws, and journals.

On June 8, 1789, James Madison introduced his proposed amendments to the Constitution, which would eventually become known as the Bill of Rights.

Debate in the House of Representatives related to the proposed amendments to the Constitution can be located in the Annals of Congress, House of Representatives, 1st Congress, 1st Session, on the following dates in 1789:

*Note: There is no Senate debate because the Senate met in secret at the time. The Senate did not open its doors to the public until 1795.

A copy of the proposed amendments to the Constitution submitted to the state legislatures can be found in the appendix to the Senate Journal, First Congress, First Session.

Information on ratification of the first ten amendments to the Constitution by the various state legislatures is available in the appendix to the Annals of Congress, First Congress.

The Letters of Delegates to Congress contains a letter from James Madison to Thomas Jefferson dated October 17, 1788, that reveals Madison's views on the need for and role of a Bill of Rights.

Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774 to 1789

This collection contains 277 documents relating to the work of Congress and the drafting and ratification of the Constitution.

Search on the phrase "1st 10th Amendments" in this collection to locate additional documents related to the Bill of Rights.

George Washington Papers

The complete George Washington Papers collection from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consists of approximately 65,000 documents.

James Madison Papers, 1723 to 1859

The Madison Papers consist of approximately 12,000 items, spanning the period 1723-1859, captured in some 72,000 digital images.

Search Madison's Papers to find additional material related to the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

Printed Ephemera: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera

The Printed Ephemera collection comprises 28,000 primary-source items dating from the seventeenth century to the present and encompasses key events and eras in American history.

Rare Book Selections

The digitized selections in this collection represent a few of the most interesting and important items in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606 to 1827

The complete Thomas Jefferson Papers from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consists of approximately 27,000 documents.

  • Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, December 20, 1787. Jefferson received a copy of the Constitution in November, 1787, while living in France. Beginning on the second page of this letter, Jefferson expressed his opinions on the new Constitution, including his belief that a Bill of Rights was needed. [Transcription]
  • Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, March 15, 1789. Jefferson replied to Madison's letter of October 17, 1788 (see above in the Letters of Delegates to Congress).

Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division's First 100 Years

In honor of the Manuscript Division's centennial, its staff has selected for online display approximately ninety representative documents spanning from the fifteenth century to the mid-twentieth century.

  • George Washington's first inaugural address called for constitutional amendments to satisfy citizen demands for a Bill of Rights.

Jump Back in Time: The New United States of America Adopted the Bill of Rights, December 15, 1791

Chronicling America

    Search and view millions of historic American newspaper pages.

Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation

The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation (popularly known as the Constitution Annotated) contains legal analysis and interpretation of the United States Constitution, based primarily on Supreme Court case law. This regularly updated resource is especially useful when researching the constitutional implications of a specific issue or topic.

American Treasures of the Library of Congress - Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights

George Mason, of Fairfax County, Virginia, wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights, on which the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are partially modeled. Mason refused to support the original Constitution because it failed to protect essential liberties. This document was also used by the Marquis de Lafayette in drafting the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789).

American Treasures of the Library of Congress - Madison's Copy of the Proposed
Bill of Rights

In response to the demands of the Antifederalists for amendments guaranteeing individual rights, James Madison drafted twelve amendments to the Constitution. Seen here in one of only two known copies of the preliminary printing, these amendments were closely modeled on Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights. Articles three through twelve were ratified by the required number of states in December 1791 and became known as the Bill of Rights.

Creating the United States: Bill of Rights

This online exhibition offers insights into how the nation’s founding documents were forged and the role that imagination and vision played in the unprecedented creative act of forming a self–governing country. The exhibition includes a copy of the proposed amendments to the Constitution (Bill of Rights) prepared under the direction of John Beckley, clerk of the House, which were sent to President George Washington on September 25, 1789, for dispersal to the states for ratification.

Madison's Treasures

The documents presented in this exhibition are among the most significant items in the Library of Congress' James Madison collection, the largest single collection of original Madison documents in existence. The majority of these documents relate to two seminal events in which Madison played a major role: the drafting and ratification of the Constitution of the United States (1787-8) and the introduction (1789) in the First Federal Congress of the amendments that became the Bill of Rights.

Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor

This exhibition commemorates the 800th anniversary of the creation of Magna Carta, the charter of liberties that England’s King John granted to his barons in 1215 in order to halt their rebellion and restore their allegiance to his throne. The exhibition contains a section on the Magna Carta and the U.S. Constitution, which includes Madison's copy of the proposed Bill of Rights.

Religion and the Founding of the American Republic

Explores the role religion played in the founding of the American colonies, in the shaping of early American life and politics, and in forming the American Republic. Includes a section entitled Religion and the Federal Government, which discusses references to religion and the Bill of Rights.

September 17, 1787

Members of the Constitutional Convention signed the final draft of the Constitution on September 17, 1787.

October 27, 1787

Known as the Federalist Papers, the first in a series of eighty-five essays by "Publius," the pen name of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, appeared in the New York Independent Journal on October 27, 1787.

December 15, 1791

The new United States of America adopted the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, confirming the fundamental rights of its citizens on December 15, 1791.

America's Founding Documents, Bill of Rights, National Archives and Records Administration

The Founders' Constitution, University of Chicago Press and the Liberty Fund

Interactive Constitution, National Constitution Center

Our Documents, Bill of Rights, National Archives and Records Administration

Cogan, Neil H., ed. The Complete Bill of Rights: The Drafts, Debates, Sources, and Origins. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.[Catalog Record]

Conley, Patrick, and John P. Kaminski, eds. The Bill of Rights and the States: The Colonial and Revolutionary Origins of American Liberties. Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1992. [Catalog Record]

Hickock, Eugene W., Jr. The Bill of Rights: Original Meaning and Current Understanding. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991.[Catalog Record]

Labunski, Richard E. James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. [Catalog Record]

Monk, Linda R. The Bill of Rights: A User's Guide. Alexandria, Va.: Close Up Publishing, 2000. [Catalog Record]

Lewis, Thomas T., ed. The Bill of Rights. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 2002. [Catalog Record]

Veit, Helen E., Kenneth R. Bowling, and Charlene Bangs Bickford, eds. Creating the Bill of Rights: The Documentary Record from the First Federal Congress. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991. [Catalog Record]

Banks, Joan. The U.S. Constitution. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2001. [Catalog Record]

Baxter, Roberta. The Bill of Rights. Chicago: Heinemann Library, 2013. [Catalog Record]

Graham, Amy. A Look at the Bill of Rights: Protecting the Rights of Americans. Berkeley Heights, N.J.: Enslow Publishers, 2008. [Catalog Record]

Heymsfeld, Carla R. and Joan W. Lewis. George Mason, Father of the Bill of Rights. Alexandria, Va.: Patriotic Education Incorporated, 1991. [Catalog Record]

Leavitt, Amie Jane. The Bill of Rights. Hockessin, Del.: Mitchell Lane, 2012. [Catalog Record]

Meltzer, Milton. The Bill of Rights: How We Got It and What It Means. New York: Thomas Crowell, 1990. [Catalog Record]

Sobel, Syl. The Bill of Rights: Protecting Our Freedom Then and Now. Hauppauge, N.Y.: Barrons Educational Series, 2008. [Catalog Record]

This article is missing information about its history and social impact. Please expand the article to include this information. Further details may exist on the talk page.(January 2008)

The Library Bill of Rights is the American Library Association's statement expressing the rights of library users to intellectual freedom and the expectations the association places on libraries to support those rights. The Association's Council has adopted a number of interpretations of the document applying it to various library policies.

The Library Bill of Rights[edit]

The Library Bill of Rights was adopted by the American Library Association Council on June 19 1939. It was amended in 1944, 1948, 1961, 1967, and 1980. The inclusion of 'age' was reaffirmed in 1996.[1] It reads:

I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.

II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.

IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.

V. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.

VI. Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.

History of the Original Bill[edit]

Originally written by Forrest Spaulding, director of the Des Moines Public Library, in 1938, the Library Bill of Rights was adopted by the American Library Association in 1939, and has been revised several times since. Its original adoption was introduced with the statement, "Today indications in many parts of the world point to growing intolerance, suppression of free speech, and censorship affecting the rights of minorities and individuals," a reference to the emergence of totalitarian states during that time.[1]

History of Revisions[edit]

Cold War Era[edit]

During the Cold War period, the Library Bill of Rights supported opponents of censorship of materials interpreted as communist propaganda. In 1948, the association adopted a major revision of the document, which strengthened it significantly to address the new wave of censorship attempts that marked the beginning of the Second Red Scare, better known as McCarthyism, and was subsequently attacked in newspapers as "leftist," a "red front," and a "Communist organization."[2]

Language Revisions[edit]

A 1967 revision shortened the document and removed rhetorical flourishes, also removing the qualification "of sound factual authority," which it was felt could have been used to justify censorship; also, "age" (along with background, origin, and views) was added to the attributes that should not be a basis for denying access to information.[3] The document was revised again in 1980.

In 1996, the American Library Association reaffirmed the inclusion of age as an attribute that should not be the basis for denying access to information. This occurred after the American Library Trustee Association (ALTA) brought a request for this to the ALA Council.[4]


Shirley Wiegand, professor emeritus of law at Marquette University, asserts that the Library Bill of Rights uses rhetoric disconnected from the legal understanding of "rights." "Bills of Rights", and "rights" themselves, are in this understanding legally enforceable and backed by well-developed arguments. The Library Bill of Rights has no such force or backing, because it is simply a statement of principles. Wiegand argues that the Library Bill of Rights (and the accompanying rhetoric) needs to be supplanted by a code well-grounded in the case law and language of the First Amendment and its accompanying legal principles. Something similar to the Library Bill of Rights could be retained as an accompanying "aspirational creed", such as a revised form of the ALA Code of Ethics, but it would need to provide more practical guidance.[5]

David Woolwine of Hofstra University has criticized the philosophical underpinnings of the Library Bill of Rights, specifically objecting to the use of utilitarianism and "rights discourse" in defense of the principles. The "moral calculus" of the utilitarian argument that free access of information produces the greatest good for the greatest number can also be used to argue in support of restrictions for the purposes of safety and national security. Rights discourse relies on the assertion of rights with minimal referencing, while neglecting detailed argumentation. Woolwine asserts that utilitarianism and rights discourse need to be replaced by a synthesis of modern and post-modern philosophy to coherently and soundly justify the principles of the Library Bill of Rights.[6]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ALA Bulletin. Vol. 33, No. 11 (October 15, 1939).
  2. ^Thomison, Dennis (1978). A History of the American Library Association: 1876-1972. Chicago: American Library Association. ISBN 0-8389-0251-0. 
  3. ^Two Hundred Years of Young Adult Library Information Services History, a Chronology
  4. ^American Library Association, Office for Intellectual Freedom (2006). Intellectual Freedom Manual, Seventh Edition. Chicago: American Library Association. p. 70. ISBN 0-8389-3561-3. 
  5. ^ Wiegand, S.A. "Reality Bites: The Collision of Rhetoric, Rights, and Reality in the Library Bill of Rights." Library Trends 45, (1), 76-86 (1996).
  6. ^ Woolwine, David E. "Libraries and the Balance of Liberty and Security." Library Philosophy and Practice (E-Journal), Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln (2007).

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