Key Intellectual Freedom Definitions

Below are key definitions for the purposes of better understanding intellectual freedom (direct from the Intellectual Freedom Manual):


The removal of materials from a library based on the objections of a person or group.


Limiting or removing access to words, images, or ideas. The decision to restrict or deny access is made by a governing authority. This could be a person, group or organization/business. Censorship by the government is illegal.


An attempt to have a library resource removed, or access to it restricted, based on the objections of a person or group.

Collection Development Policy

Guidelines libraries use for the selection, purchasing, and deselection of materials. The policy assists library workers in building a collection that aligns with the Library's mission and can be made public to inform library users of the guidelines. It also has procedures for handling challenges.

Harmful to Minors

Sexually explicit materials that adults have a legal right to access, but that lack any serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors. It is illegal to knowingly distribute these materials to any minor. The fact that a work has topics addressing sex, or contains sexual content, does not make the material "harmful to minors." Whether materials are considered "harmful to minors" is determined by a court using the same three-part test for obscenity.

Intellectual Freedom

Intellectual freedom gives people the right to think for themselves. It respects individual dignity and self-rule. This freedom allows people to form their own ideas and opinions by questioning the world around them. Every person has the right to access information from all points of view, in all formats, and without restriction. Privacy is required for true intellectual freedom. Protection of this freedom assures every person's right to form their own ideas and opinions. 

Obscenity or Obscene Material

Sexually themed speech or expressive materials that are not protected by the First Amendment. The legal test for obscenity includes the following criteria: (1) whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to "prurient interest," (2) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and (3) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. Only a judge or jury can find that a work is legally obscene. 


Written or visual materials that are designed to cause sexual excitement. 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.