'Not I' said the pig: who defends intellectual freedom for librarians?

Author:Sens, Jean-Mark


I read with particular interest the article "Who Defends Intellectual Freedom for Librarians" by John Buschman as it came as a very pertinent reflection on a practical issue of freedom of expression and collection development at the Ellender Memorial Library at Nicholls State University where I have been working for the past four years.

Having worked in the academia both as a teaching faculty member and a librarian, I would like to offer some reflections about what censorship represents as infringing on intellectual freedom and freedom of expression--which are not the same, although the former is included in the latter, and I would like to present actual examples, that although modest, are illustrations of an authoritarian attitude underlying censorship.

From the perspective of a library professional, censorship is not only a moral issue, it is also a practical issue, because the practice of censorship puts a real constraint on the selection of materials, and just by the necessity of preserving one's job and avoiding conflicts in a climate of censorship a librarian could decide to avoid acquiring materials that represent a risk. At some point, if not opposed, censorship becomes insidious, part of a practice that generates itself without any further authoritarian intervention and also indicates a submissive obedience to authority that pervades a whole academic institution.

That censorship generates self-censorship is a truism that could be easily verified, as most of us prefer the short-term contentment of a false trouble-free environment to being vocal about intellectual freedom. Maybe there emerges a difference between the liberal arts and the applied field of library science. At the beginning of his article, quoting the major library organization, John Buschman reminds us that "the ALA stated in its endorsement that "academic freedom means for the librarian intellectual freedom," which was in turn linked to the "practice of [our] profession without fear of interference or of dismissal for ... unjust reasons." (15) One reason for the disappointment Buschman experiences with ALA's weakness in defending intellectual freedom is that over the years the library profession has come further apart from the liberal arts tradition of freedom of expression and intellectual speculations for more vocational and managerial endeavors. Librarians and scholars brush shoulders within the same environment but rarely converse. In fact they are often set apart, and by a lack of genuine communication they share a reciprocal disdain. Examining this pervading phenomenon in "The Librarian-Scholar," Kenneth Carpenter rightly uses the term "enmity" to describe the divisiveness within librarianship between those playing a scholarly role and those in charge of managerial and technical functions (393). This divisiveness is...

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