…articulate the ethics, values, and foundational principles of library and information professionals and their role in the promotion of intellectual freedom
The role of libraries in our society is to provide democratized access to information resources, services, and programs to all who seek it, regardless of gender, age, ability, sexual orientation, religion, or ethnicity. Librarians believe vigorously in offering this public service to both global and local communities, but recognize the need for support on this path to information provision and education. As such, librarians look to several documents on information policies and patron rights purported by the American Library Association (ALA).
Library Bill of Rights
One such document is the Library Bill of Rights, which promulgates the foundational principles of library and information services. Among these core values and principles are equity of access for all patrons as well as the need for libraries to provide multi-perspectival and heterogeneous “materials and information on current and historical issues.” (ALA, 1996) Library and information professionals recognize that knowledge is a broad avenue featuring various points of view, and that knowledge seekers are best served with due and unencumbered access to the pursuit of it. Patrons have the right to “free expression and free access to ideas”, a principle upheld by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. (ALA, 1996)
Freedom to Read
Intellectual freedom is the ability to think and believe what one wills as well as the right to access information freely. Is this not the greatest freedom, namely for its resilience and endurance in times of challenge and struggle? While our beliefs may evolve and shift as time passes, it is the pursuit of knowledge that facilitates these freedoms. It is at risk, to be sure; yet, the right for all individuals to think and believe what they desire is extant if not free from ridicule. Intellectual freedom as defined by library and information professionals and the ALA maintains that individuals lose this right to uphold singular beliefs if the right to access “words and images conveying the thoughts and beliefs of others is restricted.” (Gorman, 2008, p. 19) If individual and equitable access is restricted, individuals lose the opportunity to heighten awareness, acquire knowledge, improve their understanding, and achieve pluralized and considerate evaluative analyses. The freedom to read enables all individuals’ myriad opportunities for creative inquiry and reflective engagement, and also fosters the acquisition and honing of problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
“For librarians, intellectual freedom embodies the strong conviction that a democratic society functions best when ideas can be openly expressed.” (Rubin, 2008, p. 10) Access to a myriad of diverse and conflicting ideas challenges individuals to think carefully and engage in rational analyses in order to find their place in the order of ideas, ideologies, history and society. Gorman (2008) writes “there are only three ways in which human beings learn:…experience, …interaction with people who know more than they,…and from interacting with the human record.” (p. 18) Equitable access to heterogeneous and diversified perspectives and knowledge institutions is critical to ensuring the educational future of our society and its communities. As stewards of the human record, it is vital for library and information professionals to provide and maintain free and equitable access to both physical and virtual collections to ensure information-rich and knowledge-robust future generations.
Censorship is a battleground on which library and information professionals must engage to reassert library foundational principles and core values. Both public and school libraries must defend their collections and patrons against challenges to both physical and virtual library materials.
School library media specialists operate in loco parentis (in the place of the parent) and receive calls to block, ban or restrict access to materials considered by some (or sometimes just one) parent[s] as containing “objectionable” or “unsuitable” content for minors. However, while parents may wish for their children to avoid certain materials, it remains that age does not prohibit patrons from reading, listening, or viewing resources of their choosing.
The role of school library media specialists is essential to the development of lifelong learners. It is our responsibility as educators to encourage students to develop a love for reading, and to help them edify themselves through literature. The issue of censorship and book banning in middle schools is a threat to the trust inherent in a student-librarian relationship not to mention a direct violation of code II of the ALA’s code of ethics: “We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.” (ALA, 2008)
While public libraries do not operate in loco parentis, materials are challenged for a variety of reasons that necessitate action and institutional support. For example, book and resource challenges have not solely originated with patron or parent concerns. As information gatekeepers, library and information professionals have also been known to both unintentionally and intentionally block or restrict access to challenged or “questionable” library materials and resources, both virtually and traditionally for a variety of reasons. This behavior directly conflicts with the foundational principles and ethical values of our profession, and warrants attention if not dismissal. It is our role as library and information professionals to improve, not impede information access, as well as to create avenues for scholarship and inquiry. Upholding these core beliefs is the heart of library service.
As future librarians, we can expect to face myriad information policy challenges. One such challenge is the commoditization of information by big business. With the prevalence of e-readers, it seems plausible that a day will come when libraries must charge patrons to read the same texts electronically that they were once able to read for free. It also concerns me that libraries may need to radically alter information sharing policies in order to stay current with new releases of e-books by opting into the pay to play system.
Another serious challenge to libraries is privacy concerns due to going “bookless.” As a patron, there is something discreet, almost clandestine around checking books out of the library. The digitization of our culture is rapidly changing how we share, disseminate, and control information. How much control can be asserted digitally to maintain privacy rights and intellectual freedoms of patrons? The prevalence of bookless libraries is completely destabilizing how we consider the role of libraries in our lives. In my opinion, it is reducing the wealth of our library collections to bits and bytes and blips and potentially puts patrons’ privacy rights at risk. One of my career goals is to work with patrons to evaluate sources and make informed choices about the outcomes for utilizing book or Internet resources, and encourage learners to find new ways to use them together. It is my belief that integrating these services will minimize learning barriers, and encourage lifelong learning.
As a librarian, I aim to support patrons with information requests and facilitate open access to resources, services, and programs without judgment or criticism. I hope to celebrate the diversified interests of library patrons so we may all continue on our individual paths to knowledge, free from fear and becoming wise.
My first piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency A is a term paper I completed for LIBR 200: Information and Society in which I advocate for libraries to continue to promote reading and information literacy in our current digital age. During the course of the Fall 2010 semester, several respected institutions reduced their traditional collections or went totally “bookless” in an attempt to “remain current” and make room for e-books and improved access to emerging technologies. In this paper, I discuss the value and importance of access to traditional library collections, services, and programs to support users’ educational, recreational, and information needs. I also discuss ways of integrating both current and emerging technologies in libraries to serve a range of transliteracy and multimodal needs.
Another concern I address in this paper is how the “digitization of our culture is rapidly changing how we share, disseminate, and control information” as well as its impact on intellectual freedoms and patron privacy rights.
This paper demonstrates my competency in advocating for the freedom to read as well as diversified access to information resources to promote a healthy information society.
My second piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency A is a final research paper I created for LIBR 204: Information Organizations and Management in which I discuss the need for school and public libraries to honor teens’ intellectual freedoms and privacy rights, as well as improve both traditional and virtual access to information resources.
Censorship and book challenges are common in school libraries, and hinder teen access to YA materials and create barriers to lifelong learning. For many teens grappling with unfamiliar physical social, emotional, and intellectual concerns or problems, libraries should be friendly environments for teens to gain knowledge and support in their educational, recreational, and informational endeavors. Libraries are also primed to help them improve their critical thinking and problem solving skills, which are critical for teens to develop into successful adults.
In this paper, I describe efficient ways to improve teen services. For example, teens “require their own services area where they may socialize, access the Internet and word-processing software, study, read, and gain access to library stacks. Trusting teens to take responsibility for their space, while respecting the rights of their fellow patrons as well as librarians will encourage a sense of ownership in their library.” In their Competencies for Librarians Serving Youth, YALSA (2010) recommends that YA staffs “establish an environment in the library wherein all staff serve young adults with courtesy and respect, and all staff are encouraged to promote programs and services for young adults.” (p.4).
This paper demonstrates my competency in advocating for an underrepresented demographic in the library and improving teen access to library materials while protecting their intellectual freedoms.
My third piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency A is a recording of an ALASC Banned Books reading in which I participated to commemorate Banned Books Week. My portion of the reading begins at 2:17:36. In this segment, I read a long passage from Hold Still by Nina LaCour, a fellow Mills College alum whose novel was challenged in Missouri. According to American Libraries, “the Blue Springs (Mo.) School District removed Nina LaCour’s young adult novel Hold Still from its library and classrooms in response to parental complaints about its language and sex scenes.” (Flagg, 2011)
Attendees for ALASC’ Banned Books Week reading were asked towards the end of the recording to read additional selections from banned or challenged books if desired. Happily, I surveyed my personal bookshelves to realize I had quite a collection to select from. At 2:36:52, I read an additional passage from Two Pure Girls by Camille Roy, anthologized in The New Fuck You and edited by Eileen Myles and Liz Kotz. The act of reading aloud and sharing knowledge of highly controversial subjects in literature deepened my reverence for the library professions’ ongoing crusade to “provide access to all” (ALA, 2012)
“We believe in intellectual freedom because it is as natural to us, and as necessary to us, as the air that we breathe.” (Gorman, 2008, p. 19) As new knowledge breathes life into us, it is little wonder that we become enriched as a species and as communities by open and free access to spectral viewpoints of the human record. Indeed, exposure to multiple perspectives opens pathways to new learning, and creates new dialogues about our history as well as our future. As a librarian, I am honored to continue this legacy by guaranteeing patrons their rights to privacy, access, and the pursuit of knowledge.
American Library Association. (2012). Access. Accessed October 29, 2012: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/access
American Library Association. (2008). Code of Ethics of the American Library Association. Accessed November 7, 2012: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/proethics/codeofethics/codeethics
American Library Association. (2004). Freedom to Read Statement. Accessed November 7, 2012: http://www.ala.org/offices/oif/statementspols/ftrstatement/freedomreadstatement
American Library Association. (1996). Library Bill of Rights. Accessed November 7, 2012: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill
Flagg, Gordon. (November 30, 2011). Hold Still Pulled after “Big Misunderstanding.” Retrieved from http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/censorship-watch/hold-still-pulled-after-big-misunderstanding
Gorman, Michael. (2008). Professional Ethics and Values in a Changing World. In Haycock and Sheldon (Eds.), The Portable MLIS (15). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Rubin, R. E. 2010. Foundations of library and information science (3rd ed.). New York: Neal-Schuman.
Rubin, Richard E. (2008). Stepping Back and Looking Forward: Reflections on the Foundations of Libraries and Librarianship. In Haycock and Sheldon (Eds.), The Portable MLIS (3). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
YALSA. (2010). YALSA’s competencies for librarians serving youth: Young Adults deserve the best. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/yalsa/guidelines/yacompetencies2010
apoetlibrarian by Melissa Eleftherion is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.