The ethical presuppositions behind the library bill of rights

Martin Frické, Kay Mathiesen, Don Fallis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


The American Library Association's (ALA's) Library Bill of Rights is based on a foundation of ethical presuppositions. In this article, these presuppositions are spelled out and critically examined in light of several ethical theories (for example, utilitarianism, natural rights theory, and social contract theory). We suggest that social contract theory provides the strongest argument for a right to access to information (and to have that information provided by public libraries). We argue, however, that the right to access to information is not unlimited. Limiting access (including censorship) is appropriate, for example, when such a limitation is necessary to protect a more fundamental right. Finally, we argue that the ALA's advocacy of an unlimited right to access is based on a mistaken understanding of what follows from the fact that all of our judgments are fallible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)468-491
Number of pages24
JournalLibrary Quarterly
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Library and Information Sciences


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