Who's In and Who's Out? Library Meeting Room and Exhibit Space Policies

Court Cases - libraries

Pfeifer v. City of West Allis, 91 F. Supp. 2d 1253 (E.D. Wisc. 2000) The Library cannot deny a creationist group the use of its meeting room. http://www.lc.org/misc/pfeifer.htm

Bellospirito v. Manhasset Public Library, No. 93-CV-4484, at 1314 (E.D.N.Y. July 31, 1994), unpublished opinion at http://www.ncac.org/artlaw/op-bel.html (finding the library community room to be a "public forum that has been opened to the general public for at least certain categories of speech" and therefore subject to the "same standards as apply in a traditional public forum." Cited in Daniel Mach, Note, The Bold and the Beautiful: Art, Public Spaces, and the First Amendment, 72 New York University Law Review 383 (May 1997). See also Marilyn C. Mazur, Sex and Censorship: Dangers to Minors and Others? A Background Paper (March 1999), at http://www.ncac.org/issues/sex_censorship.html and Charles P. Wiggins, Censorship and Visual Images: Issues with Examples from Public Libraries, LIS 615, Instructor: Beatrice Kovacs (Sept. 4, 1999), at http://home.att.net/~cpwiggins/librarianship/portfolio/censor_vis.html This student paper cites various sources from the professional library literature about the case.

The library agreed to show oil paintings by artist Robyn Bellospirito. The library did not know that some of the pieces depicted semi-nude women. When it found out, it told the artist it had a "firm" policy against artwork showing nudity. Apparently the policy was not in written form, but the library prohibited the display. The Court may have been ready to strike the library policy on that basis alone (too much discretion to government officials without specific guidance), but the artist did not raise that issue. The artist sued the library, claiming her First Amendment rights had been violated. The court ruled for the artist. It found that the library's exhibit space was a limited public forum. The artistic expression was within the parameters of the forum, and any restriction on its content was subject to strict scrutiny-- that is it must be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest, a nearly impossible test to meet.

Concerned Women for America, Inc. v. Lafayette County, 883 F.2d 32 (5th Cir. 1989) [cannot find a link on the Internet, but an important case] The Library cannot deny a religious women's group the use of the library auditorium.

News Reports - libraries 

White-Rights Speech in Pennsylvania Library Triggers Violence; 25 Arrested, News Briefs for July 1, 2002, American Libraries, at http://www.ala.org/alonline/news/2002/020701.html

White-Rights Speech in Pennsylvania Library Triggers Violence; 25 Arrested, News Briefs for January 21, 2002, American Libraries, at http://www.ala.org/alaonline/news/2002/020121.html

Police Ensure Peaceful Supremacist Meeting in Virginia, News Briefs for May 13, 2002, American Libraries, at http://www.ala.org/alonline/news/2002/020513.html

White Supremacist Sues Library after Speech Cancelled, News Briefs for April 2, 2001, American Libraries, at http://www.ala.org/alonline/news/2001/010402.html - matthale

Supremacist Draws Angry Crowd in Connecticut, News Briefs for March 19, 2001, American Libraries, at http://www.ala.org/alonline/news/2001/010319.html

Library Can Limit Supremacist but Not Bar Him, News Briefs for November 20, 2000, American Libraries, at http://www.ala.org/alonline/news/2001/010319.html

NYLA/SIRS Award Presented Intellectual Freedom Action News December 1997 Professor Haney wrote and produced a play about the Bellospirito case, entitled "Sense and Censorability," which won an award and was broadcast on a public access station on Long Island. http://www.ala.org/alaorg/oif/actionnews_action12.html 

Court Cases - others

Thomas v. Chicago Park District, 534 U.S. 316 (2002) Park officials denied applicant's request in part because he had violated the terms of his permit in 1996 for a prior rally. The District does not need procedural safeguards for appeals that are as strict as content-based regulation safeguards. http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=US&navby=case&vol=000&invol=00-1249

Good News Club v. Milford Central School, 533 U.S. 98 (2001) Public school that opened its classrooms for public use after hours created a limited public forum and could not, therefore, restrict use based on religious use (impermissible viewpoint discrimination). http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/99-2036.ZS.html

Hopper v Pasco, 241 F.3d 1067 (9th Cir. 2000) Controversial artwork with nudity was removed from a city hall. The Court said the city hall space was a designated public forum and could not be removed without satisfying strict scrutiny review (almost impossible to satisfy). http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=search&case=/data2/circs/9th/9835795.html

 

AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION RECOMMENDED POLICIES

MEETING ROOMS

An Interpretation of the LIBRARY BILL OF RIGHTS

Adopted July 2, 1991, by the ALA Council. http://www.ala.org/alaorg/oif/meet_rms.html

Or http://www.ala.org/alaorg/oif/meetingrooms.pdf

 

EXHIBIT SPACES AND BULLETIN BOARDS

An Interpretation of the LIBRARY BILL OF RIGHTS

Adopted July 2, 1991, by the ALA Council.

http://www.ala.org/alaorg/oif/exh_spac.html or http://www.ala.org/alaorg/oif/exhibitspaces.pdf

OTHERS' POLICIES

Indiana Sample Policies

Meeting Rooms http://www.statelib.lib.in.us/WWW/LDO/room.htm

Ohio Sample Policies

Exhibits http://winslo.state.oh.us/publib/samplexh.html

Meeting Rooms http://winslo.state.oh.us/publib/samplmtr.html

See also LibraryLaw.com

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Who's In And Who's Out? Library Meeting Room and Exhibit Space Policies

July 18, 2002 with updates May 9, 2004. This material has been created by Mary Minow and provided through the Infopeople Project [http://www.infopeople.org/], supported by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered in California by the State Librarian. Any use of this material should credit the author and funding source.