Material Selection Policy


The Free Library of Philadelphia is guided by the principle that it is an educational force, an intellectual and cultural center, and a catalyst for individual, economic, and community development. The Library provides materials, resources and programs to satisfy the widely varied interests of the citizens of Philadelphia. It makes information and resources freely and easily available, providing the freedom to explore ideas without fear of judgment or censure.

The Free Library seeks to be responsive to the needs of a changing and dynamic city and region with a diverse population by offering a collection of materials that is, inclusive, wide-ranging in view and format, and which sustains the principles embodied in the Library Bill of Rights and the Freedom to Read statements as articulated by the American Library Association (see appendices). Materials are selected for different age and educational levels; different racial, ethnic, cultural, economic and religious groups; a wide spectrum of political points of view; and people with different sexual orientations.

Selection of a given item for the Library's collections should not be interpreted as an endorsement of a particular viewpoint. No material is excluded because of the race, nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, political or social views of the author. In following this policy, neither the Library nor its Trustees endorses every thought, expression or belief represented in the Library's collections.

Approved by Board of Trustees on November 13, 2007

Responsibilities for Selection of Library Materials

In the Free Library Trustees by-laws, authority for "the selection and purchase of all books, periodicals, newspapers, maps, manuscripts and other material for acquisition" is delegated to the Director, subject to the policies approved by the Trustees. The Library's President and Director delegates the development and maintenance of the Library's collection to knowledgeable librarians in the Materials Management Division and other designated divisions.

Library Collection Priorities

The Materials Selection policy serves as a guide in the selection and retention of materials; outlines the criteria by which these decisions are made; and supports the Free Library's mission of providing for all segments of Philadelphia's diverse population a comprehensive collection of recorded knowledge, ideas, artistic expression, and information in a variety of media, including current technology.

The Library's collections include current materials of high interest in a variety of formats for persons of all ages; offer timely and accurate information; support the educational goals of all Philadelphians by providing the resources which correspond to their needs; and encourage children of all ages to develop an enjoyment and love of reading, learning and libraries. In general, selection decisions will be made on the basis of expected popularity, content, currency, and ease of use. The Library will also consider the importance of emerging new trends, as well as changing information formats and technologies.

The Free Library strives to support the latest technology in its commitment to providing citizens of Philadelphia with timely, accurate information in a variety of formats. In addition to meeting its customers' current interests and informational needs, the Free Library endeavors to anticipate future informational needs and formats as more Philadelphians integrate technology into their daily lives. The Free Library recognizes that its virtual presence is increasingly central to the lives of its users.

In selecting materials, the Library considers the availability of materials through other community institutions. The Free Library also recognizes its responsibility as the Public Library for the City of Philadelphia, as a District Library Center for the library system of the County of Philadelphia, and as a Statewide Resource Center for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Selection Criteria

The Free Library provides collections containing a wide variety of materials in print, audio-visual, electronic formats and other formats. In selecting materials and developing collections for adults, as well as for children and teens, library staff includes materials that represent the broad range of human experience, reflecting the ethnic, religious, racial, and socio-economic diversity of the Philadelphia region; as well as a broad range of opinion on issues of the day. Collections contain popular works, classic works that have withstood the test of time, and other materials of general interest. Works are not excluded or included in the collection based solely on subject matter or on political, religious or ideological grounds.

In building collections, library staff is guided by the principle of selection, rather than censorship. General criteria include, but are not limited to, the following for all formats: inclusion on well-regarded best seller lists such as The New York Times, Essence or Billboard magazines; media tie-ins; local demand; award winners; reputation of the author or creator; availability of other material on the same topic in different formats; depth and scope of coverage; and accuracy of the information.

The Internet

The Library recognizes and embraces the impact of the Internet. It is not only a place where people get information, but also a place where they interact, exchange, and create information. The Free Library plays a critical role in creating and hosting content, and as a provider of access to these resources for City residents who would otherwise not be able to participate in this process. As noted in the Free Library's policy about Electronic Resources and the Internet (P.S. #90, rev.), access to the Internet allows users to reach sites that are well beyond the scope of the Library's collections and mission of the Library. However, some uses of the Internet may not be legal and/or appropriate for a public library. The Library may de-select or otherwise limit access to certain sites on library computers as outlined in library procedures.

Electronic Resources

Electronic materials play an increasingly important role in the Library's collections and are selected in accordance with this Materials Selection Policy. These materials include, but are not limited to, databases, internet based tools, downloadable and e-books, and downloadable and streaming music and video. In addition to standard criteria used in selecting other formats, special selection criteria include ability to offer to remote users, availability of content in other formats, compatibility with existing technical set-ups, vendor usage statistics, and cost.

Special Collections

The Free Library maintains and enhances a number of special collections donated to it over time which are of significant research value such as sheet music, historical children's materials, and rare books, among others. Priorities for these special collections are outlined in the Special Collections Policy (PS #2). The Library is a selective depository of the Federal Depository Library Program, as well as a state resource collection for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In accordance with the Philadelphia City Code, it is a depository for City of Philadelphia publications. The Free Library also administers the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, which, as a regional service of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Libraries, selects Braille and recorded books provided by the National Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress.


Gifts of materials are reviewed using the same criteria as purchases. (See PROC#2 Gift Receipt and Acknowledgement.) The Library reserves the right to dispose of any gifts that are given to the Library. Materials not added to library collections may be used for programs, or given to other organizations such as schools or the Friends of the Free Library.

Collection Maintenance

The continuous review of library materials in all formats by knowledgeable staff is part of a systematic evaluation process designed to maintain library collections that are current, accurate, vital, and relevant to customers' information needs. Evaluation is based on both direct observation and statistical use data compiled by library staff and/or provided by vendors. Circulation and registration statistics, turnover rate, in-house use surveys, reference transactions, customer surveys and community profiles are examples of the type of information that is gathered as part of this review.


Materials are withdrawn from library collections when the information in the material becomes outdated or obsolete, when the materials are no longer of interest or in demand, or when the condition of the material is damaged beyond repair. PS#1 (Collection Maintenance, Central Library), P.S. #61, 61A, and 61B outline criteria used in deselecting or weeding of Central Library and branch collections.

Age Level Guidance


The Free Library provides materials to meet the interests and needs of youth between the ages of 12 and 18. Teen Collections encourage teens to read for pleasure and self-awareness, and support the school curriculum. They also are intended to support teens' transition from children's to adult materials, with an emphasis on providing a wide range of popular materials in a variety of subjects, formats, and reading levels.

Teens have unrestricted use of all materials while in library agencies. Parents and guardians are responsible for overseeing their teen's exposure to and use of library materials, including online resources and the Internet. Additionally, they may restrict their teen's borrowing of audio visual materials.


The children's collection serves the wide range of needs and interests of children from birth to age 11. It also includes a limited selection of adult materials about children's literature and its use in developing reading skills in children. The main purpose of the children's collection is to develop in children the enjoyment of reading by providing quality materials that are current, up-to-date, of immediate interest to them, and fun to read. Staff acquires material and formats, including appropriate electronic resources and software, that cover a broad range of knowledge and a wide variety of fictional genres. Selection criteria include consideration of the developmental, educational, and recreational needs of children; popularity; accuracy and timeliness of factual materials; quality of writing and illustrations; and the diversity of Philadelphia's community. Additionally, materials are available to supplement the city's school curriculum.

While in the Library, children have access to materials regardless of their age. Parents and guardians are responsible for overseeing their child's exposure to and use of materials, including online resources and the Internet. In addition, parents and guardians may: restrict borrowing to only those titles specifically selected for children, including books, videos, CDs, and DVDs; prohibit their child from borrowing all videos, whether intended for children or adults; permit their child to have an adult card (an "open access" card) which automatically includes permission to borrow adult videos; or permit their child to have an open access card but restrict the borrowing of all videos, whether for children or adults.

Reevaluation of Materials

Staff and members of the public may recommend titles for removal or inclusion in the collection at any time. Formal requests to have titles reconsidered are made by filling out the "Request for Reconsideration of Library Materials" form:

Once the form is filled out, print and mail it to:

Materials Management Division
Attn: Request for Reconsideration
Free Library of Philadelphia
2000 Hamilton, Ste 201
Philadelphia, PA 19130

Requests for purchases of new titles not yet in our collection may also be sent online through our Ask A Librarian form.