A – demonstrate awareness of the ethics, values, and foundational principles of one of the information professions, and discuss the importance of intellectual freedom within that profession;
Meaning and Importance
Before I ever started working in a library, I found and read the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights. I don’t remember how I found it, but I do remember how reading it made me feel. I was relieved! The Library Bill of Rights guarantees that, as a library patron, the library (and library staff) have an ethical obligation to safeguard my intellectual freedom.
The Library Bill of Rights states that information professionals must provide books and other materials for “the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves,” and that materials should not be excluded because of the “the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation” (American Library Association, 2011). This also ties into the next two statements: that libraries “should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues” as well as “challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment” (American Library Association, 2011).
This means that librarians have an obligation to maintain a collection that is representative of their community and its needs, that their collections should have balanced viewpoints, and that censorship should be challenged at all levels. Practically, this is a tougher issue than expected or desired. Many libraries have communities that only want one certain viewpoint in their collection, and they vocally want opposing viewpoints removed. Or, perhaps because of how popular one type of book is over another, the collection development starts leaning towards buying more of that type and the balance is lost.
Libraries also frequently get in “trouble” for particularly polarizing books in their collection, which can often lead to calls for removal of those books from the collection. Many libraries do remove those books, or put them in less accessible areas, or just stop buying those types of books altogether, in an effort to appease their vocally unhappy patrons. This is an unfortunate side of librarianship which runs contrary to the ideals of the ALA Library Bill of Rights, but which can have an effect on budget, staffing, and patron attendance. Furthermore, it runs contrary to the idea of intellectual freedom which so many librarians hold dear (including me!).
Librarians have an ethical and moral obligation to their patrons to provide access to books and materials, regardless of any potential controversy. This ties into the Library Bill of Rights’ 5th statement, that “a person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.” Removing books from a collection, or deliberately not adding books to a collection, because they might be found controversial by a segment of the library’s community, is doing a disservice to the ideals of intellectual freedom and our patrons as a whole.
Somewhat related to that is the issue of patron privacy. Patrons have the right to not have their reading choices, internet history/computer activity, and personal account information (fines, overdue books, books on hold, etc.) given to others without their consent. This can be particularly important for patrons who want to read something that is “controversial”– it is not a librarian’s job to dictate what people can read, and it is not our job to discuss that reading choice with other people. Everybody has the right to privacy, and librarians need to safeguard that right.
Librarians also need to safeguard the fact that patrons have equal access to materials and information resources. In fact, librarians should actively promote and increase access! This could be anything from adding handicap ramps to buying adequate amounts of large print to promoting audiobooks and audio services for patrons with problematic eyesight. Libraries must provide “access to materials, without prejudice, to every member of the community must also be assured” (ALA, 2015) or else do a huge disservice to their community.
I think it is equally important that librarians pass on these values to their patrons, to the best of our ability. Not only should we encourage access to materials, etc., but we should discuss WHY we do this with our communities. We should show how important it is to maintain intellectual freedoms, to have equal access to information, to have the right to privacy. This will benefit both the libraries and its patrons: libraries will have a stronger connection with their community, and patrons will understand not only how the library benefits them beyond “free stuff,” but also how they play a part in the larger library community.
For INFO 200 INFORMATION COMMUNITIES, I wrote a critical review of Consent of the Network by Rebecca MacKinnon (2012). Consent of the Network is about worldwide internet rights, particularly in how they interact with government censorship. In fact, a large part of the book was focused on China, their firewall, and Chinese internet activists; at the time it was written, there was a lot of news and interest in China and the citizens who were fighting back against their control. I read the book because of its focus on an information community, which was the focus of the class, but I learned a lot about intellectual freedom on the whole.
For instance, I learned that it’s not just government and governing bodies that can censor or restrict access to information. That’s a large part of it, but an equally important part is the lack of knowledge amongst the general populace. People don’t know how important it is to maintain, because they’ve never been fully educated about the dangers of eroding freedoms. This ties into the duty of a librarian: not only do we need to defend the freedoms of our patrons, but we need to educate them about why those freedoms are so important.
Also for INFO 200, I wrote a blog post about the information community I was researching at the time (historians) and the problem of plagiarism. To write my blog post, I researched professional papers and discussions about the problem of plagiarism. I found out that plagiarism is a continuing problem in historian circles, especially as technology has made it easier than ever to copy-paste someone else’s work.
Historical research is dependent on “honest research, open discourse, verification of sources and methodology, and an even-handed sharing of conclusions, followed by independent critical review” (Zangrando, 1991) and that means not falling prey to the lure of an easy data grab. This same situation can come up in many different scenarios: as a librarian who often helps students, I have had to dissuade someone from copying an entire webpage for their paper one too many times. I have also run into people accidentally copying something because they haven’t been keeping track of their sources.
In writing this blog post, I learned that the American Historical Association has created a Statement on Plagiarism in its guidelines on professional conduct. Besides just saying not to do it, they also provide excellent resources for creating good research habits. After seeing that, I realized that I could create something similar for my patrons who were having a difficult time keeping up with their source list. I also realized that there are many ways that we librarians can use our understanding of our profession’s ethics and values to help guide our patrons, one of which is to encourage positive responsibility in scholarship.
I know that all libraries are different, and that policies differ even more between them. However, in my future as a library professional, I will do my best to uphold the ideals of the Library Bill of Rights. I won’t restrict what patrons read or check out, and I’ll do my best to provide equal access to a wide variety of materials and information sources. I will also guide my patrons towards using ethical practices when doing their own research or using library resources, for the betterment of the wider information community.
American Library Association. (2015). “Access to Library Resources and Services.” Retrieved November 16, 2018, from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/access
American Library Association. (2006). “Library Bill of Rights.” Retrieved November 16, 2018, from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill
Zangrando, R. L. (1991). Historians’ procedures for handling plagiarism. Publishing Research Quarterly, 7(4), 57.