You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience.

Join TLA


The definitions below are largely excerpted from Terms and Definitions Related to Intellectual Freedom & Censorship, a document written as part of the United for Libraries Tools for Trustees. Posted 16 Feb 2022. United for Libraries is a division of ALA.

  • Ban – A removal of materials from a library based on the objections of a person or group. Sometimes the ban is a decision made by a committee, and other times an administrator or staff member removes books without following a library’s policy.
  • Challenge – “An attempt to have a library resource or program removed or access to it restricted, based on the objections of a person or group. Challenges may not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they may be an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. Challenges sometimes lead to censorship.” 
  • Censor (Noun): a person who supervises conduct and morals: such as an official who examines materials (such as publications or films) for objectionable matter. ( )
    • Commonly in 2022-3, an individual or group who wants to rate, restrict, and/or remove a resource(s) from a library collection.
  • Censorship is the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons—individuals, groups or government officials—find objectionable or dangerous. It is no more complicated than someone saying, “Don’t let anyone read this book, or buy that magazine, or view that film, because I object to it! ” Censors try to use the power of the state to impose their view of what is truthful and appropriate, or offensive and objectionable, on everyone else. Censors pressure public institutions, like libraries, to suppress and remove from public access information they judge inappropriate or dangerous, so that no one else has the chance to read or view the material and make up their own minds about it. The censor wants to prejudge materials for everyone.
  • Complaint – When a patron expresses concern about the appropriateness of a library program, service, or material. Some complaints are resolved with a simple conversation with the librarian. A complaint does not necessarily trigger the full Reconsideration Procedure.
  • First Amendment to  the US Constitution provides that Congress make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise. It protects freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. The Second Amendment gives citizens the right to bear arms.
  • Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored.
  • Obscenity – Obscenity is defined as anything that fits the criteria of the Miller test (from Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15, 24, 93 S. Ct. 2607, 2615, 37 L. Ed. 2d 419 (1973)) which may include, for example, visual depictions, spoken words, or written text. Miller Test – The three-pronged Miller test is as follows: 
    • 1. Whether the average person, applying contemporary adult community standards, finds that the matter, taken as a whole, appeals to prurient interests (i.e., an erotic, lascivious, abnormal, unhealthy, degrading, shameful, or morbid interest in nudity, sex, or excretion); 
    • 2. Whether the average person, applying contemporary adult community standards, finds that the matter depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way (i.e., ultimate sexual acts, normal or perverted, actual or simulated, masturbation, excretory functions, lewd exhibition of the genitals, or sado-masochistic sexual abuse); and
    • 3. Whether a reasonable person finds that the matter, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. (
  • Parental rights – Any parent has the right to request that any library prevent access by the children of their own family to specific resources or types of resources. No parent has the right to affect the access of any other children than their own to any library resources. Despite current efforts in state legislatures, no further laws are needed to enact these rights.
  • Pornography – A colloquial term referring to the portrayal of sexual imagery or behavior in books, photographs, motion pictures, videos, and other media that is intended to cause sexual excitement. In more recent times, has been extended to any item or image intended to incite desire (e.g., “food porn”). The decision about what is pornographic is largely subjective and reflects changing community standards and the subjective views of the individual. Imagery that might be considered merely erotic or even religious in one society may be condemned as pornographic in another. Under U.S. law, “pornography” has no legal definition. Instead, courts and legislatures identify illegal sexually themed content as “obscenity,” which is defined by statute in federal and state law. 
    • printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings. (dictionary) 
    • material that depicts nudity or sexual acts for the purpose of sexual stimulation. 
    • Numerous states have laws that make it a crime to distribute, display, or provide obscene, pornographic, or sexually explicit content to minors. Some of these laws specifically exempt Teachers and library staff from prosecution if the material(s) were provided to or obtained by the minor(s) in the course of the library staff performing their duties, or as part of an approved school curriculum. Library directors and boards, as well as teachers, should determine if their state has a similar law, and if that law contains an exemption from prosecution that applies to them. 
    • Some consider anything related to human reproduction or gender identity to be pornography, but that misconception holds no legal standing.
  • Reconsideration policy and procedure – The formal procedure available to patrons who wish a material removed from a library collection beginning with a written complaint, then completion of the Reconsideration form detailing the claim, the committee membership who will consider the challenge, and the resolution of that claim as well as any possibilities for appeal. Also known as Materials challenge policy. A similar process may be initiated concerning library sponsored programs.
  • Weeding – The systematic removal of resources from a library based on selected criteria. It is the opposite of selecting material, though the selection and deselection of material often involve the same thought process. Weeding is not censorship; it is a vital process for an active collection because it ensures the collection stays current, relevant, and in good condition. Weeding should be done on a continuous, on-going basis. (Larson, Jeanette (2008), CREW: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries, Revised and Updated (PDF), Austin, TX: Texas State Library and Archives Commission, retrieved October 7, 2014.) A “well-maintained, well-pruned collection is far more useful than one filled with out-of-date or unused materials.” Lehman, Kathleen (2014), “Collection Development and Management”, Library Resources & Technical Services, 58 (3): 169–177, doi:10.5860/lrts.58n3.169.

Another useful resource for definitions is the ALA Intellectual Freedom and Censorship Q&A.