Intellectual Freedom Manual
The American Library Association
Public Libraries and the Public Forum Doctrine
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By contrast, the court will uphold exclusions where the rules are objective and precisely defined and the library offers some process, formal or informal, for appeal. For example, in Neinast v. Board of Trustees,24 a court upheld the constitutionality of evicting a barefoot patron from library premises. The district court held that the library was a limited public forum but that the shoe requirement was constitutional. The court held that "[t]he shoe requirement is a valid, content-neutral regulation that promotes communication of the written word in a safe and sanitary condition" because "[a]s evidenced by various incident reports, the Library's floor sometimes contains feces, semen, blood, and broken glass, all of which pose a significant danger to barefoot individuals."25 The Sixth Circuit appellate court affirmed the trial court's decision, concluding that the shoe requirement was narrowly drawn to achieve the goal of protecting barefoot patrons from harm that might come to them from materials found on the library floors and to protect the library itself from the potential of lawsuits and litigation costs if sued by a patron for injuries sustained while barefoot.26
Thus, when crafting policies on use of the public library and its various services, library officials must ensure that the policies are (1) written, (2) objective, (3) consistently enforced, (4) reasonable and related to library use, (5) accompanied by an appeal mechanism, even if that mechanism is informal.
24. 190 F.Supp.2d 1040 (S.D. Ohio 2002), aff'd, 346 F.3d 585 (6th Cir. 2003), cert. denied, 124 S.Ct. 2040 (2004). [Back]
25. Id. at 1044. [Back]
26. See also People v. Taylor, 630 N.Y.S.2d 625, 164 Misc.2d 868 (Sup.Ct. 1995), in which the chour upheld the conviction for trespass of a patron who violated a ban against playing cards and board games in the library after being unsuccessful in his attempt to have the library lift its ban and despite being requested by the director of the library and three police officers to abide by the library rules. [Back]