Access to One, Access to All

Lately I have been thinking a lot about my politics with respect to the ALA’s position on intellectual freedom and access. I am a left of left liberal, a champion of the working class, a bleeding-heart, tree hugging “everybody get together try to love one another,” child of the hippie generation. That being said, I take a lot of issue with information that I think fosters hate and discrimination. I know that as a librarian I am going to have to put aside my ideals and serve each individual without prejudice. But do I think that is possible? How does one tolerate hate?

In considering the latter I came across an article about a situation in which a white supremacist group was meeting in a room at a local library. After one of the meetings a fight broke out in the parking lot and the police were called in to resolve the matter. No one was hurt and the matter was taken care of quickly. When asked if she would continue to allow the group to meet at the library, the librarian said, “if I don’t let them have access, I can’t let anyone have access.” My reaction to her statement surprised me, because although I abhor white supremacist ideology and have known several people who have been very hurt by this group, what I felt was pride. She was so brave, I thought, to continue her responsibility to intellectual freedom when the group she was protecting was so disdainful. I felt proud to be associated with a profession that upholds its commitment to intellectual freedom and access. So, in that situation I strongly disagree with the principles of that particular group, but in another situation I might be protecting the rights of an oppressed populace. I might be fighting to keep a library open so that people are not so separated by the digital divide. I might be pushing for an increase in Spanish language books or protecting the religious texts of Muslim patrons. If a librarian can stand up for the access rights of a group white supremacists, I think we can accomplish almost anything.

No matter how difficult it is to consider that I may one day be in the position where I am protecting the rights of someone who proliferates hate, it makes me feel so privileged to consider myself a warrior in the fight for intellectual freedom.

J. A. Lee

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6 Responses to Access to One, Access to All

  1. A library is not doing its job in representing everyone it can if someone is not offended. If this is going to be a profession that hold intellectual freedom to its highest merit, then those in the profession must put aside all opinion. This includes the bleeding heart idea that everyone is equal. I’m not singling out anything in the post, I am definitely a bleeding heart who cannot stand the idea of inequality. I was also raised in a household quite the opposite of a fundamentalist Christian one, where religion was always viewed as being something negative and un-trustable. In being taught to have an open mind, but then seeing that this way of thinking is not open at all, I learned that to accept everyone, even ideas such as having an open mind have to be checked.

    I agree with the post that I am proud of moments like these when people in my profession hold by their principals. Its actions, not words that put things into perspective for others and role models are what the world needs, not fighters.

    Lucie B.

  2. Well, I come from a very traditional Christian background. I think it’s great that we can all agree that this librarian did a great job standing up for our professional principles. That’s one of the more attractive attributes of libraries, I think. People are people. They’re not judged by politics, race, belief, or anything else. I’m sure we all get sick of all the hate in the world.

  3. It is imperative for all information organizations to have policies in place concerning access and collection development. Without them, LIS professionals have nothing to support their actions and could be pressured into banning books, denying access to meeting rooms, or alike. It is also advantageous to link these policies back to the ALA or SAA’s Code of Ethics for it legitimizes our principles.

    The librarian who stood up for the white supremacists’ rights was courageous but without policies in place, a community group could have pressured her into denying the supremacists access.

    Should policies, or brief outlines of such policies, be placed on the library/archive websites? Or are our missions, visions and beliefs statements adequate?

    K. Yockey

  4. In response to Katie’s post, I think that libraries and archives should definitely provide access to their policies on their websites. The mission, visions, and beliefs are all fine and dandy, but it is not always rainbows and butterflies when it comes to issues that arise in our institutions (as made obvious by this post). People need to be informed of what policies are in place, and should be able to access them at will, rather than having to actually go into the library ask a librarian to sift through a dusty old binder to find a specific policy.

  5. Allie B. says:

    This is, indeed, a powerful story, and it highlights one of the primary reasons I think many of us are attracted to this profession. How better to uphold the ideals of democracy than to be a proponent of free speech and intellectual freedom? Although I, too, feel personally uncomfortable with groups that propagate hatred, it’s pretty amazing to be entering a profession that protects the intellectual freedom of all people. I do agree with Jill that policies should be transparent, though, particularly in situations like this one that might be easily misinterpreted by onlookers.

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