Library Bill of Rights, Article IV

It’s National Library Week, April 9-15!

People often don’t know much about the work that libraries do, or that there is a Library Bill of Rights. That’s right, we have our own guiding principles that help determine how we serve our patrons and communities. We hope you learn a little big more of our library, our librarians and the Library Bill of Rights during National Library Week.

Throughout National Library Week, the Faculty at Brookens Library will be sharing a blog series expounding on each article of the Library Bill of Rights. Each of the 6 principles in the Library Bill of Rights broadly outlines an ideal that librarians support and upon which they model behavior, practice, and services. As with most ideals, pursuit of the tenets of the Library Bill of Rights is not an effortless task. Each of the points we’ll be discussing come with their own special challenges and obstacles. Today we are featuring Article IV.

Library Bill of Rights, Article IV

Written by: Sally LaJoie, Clinical Assistant Professor/Instructional Services Librarian

Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.

Historically, libraries have supported free and equitable access to ideas. Librarians enable access to information by providing free access to resources, as well as the technology to use those resources, with the belief that it is against the fundamentals of the Library Bill of Rights for any group to impose its views on others through efforts to limit access to views they oppose. Nevertheless, since information is created and disseminated by different governmental bodies, businesses, and individuals, those in power often have the ability to limit access to ideas.

The fourth of six articles in the Library Bill of Rights recognizes the importance of free access to information and advises libraries to “cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.” Free access to ideas is constantly being challenged from numerous fronts: government agencies debating policies on net neutrality and internet privacy, school boards voting to ban books, and law enforcement pressuring libraries to turn over data on patron activities. With these kinds of restrictions happening, the Library Bill of Rights acknowledges the fact that libraries are strategically positioned to provide support to groups and individuals who are resisting this type of censorship.

Within academia, libraries are expected to encourage the free flow of information and ideas within the scope of their roles and responsibilities. Academic libraries support this freedom in a variety of ways, including maintaining policies that support unfiltered access to the internet and respecting patron privacy. Content filtering devices and content-based restrictions are at odds with an academic library’s mission to further learning through the broadest possible range of ideas and resources. Such restrictions can be a fundamental violation of intellectual freedom. Libraries also promote the free access of ideas through supporting library users’ rights to privacy by engaging in limited tracking of user activities so people can feel comfortable accessing resources on confidential, controversial, or unpopular topics.

Censorship and the restriction of access to information can be harmful to society and individuals. When people don’t have access to information they need, they make decisions based on the information that is freely available to them, sometimes regardless of whether that information is factual or telling the whole story. When information is withheld, our basic democratic rights are threatened as people can no longer make informed decisions.

Libraries stand for free access to ideas, even those that might make us feel uncomfortable. Library users are the curators of the ideas that inform their own beliefs, and libraries continue to be a place where people have unfettered access to put difficult ideas in context, learn about them more deeply, and formulate their own opinions.

Written by: Sally LaJoie, Clinical Assistant Professor/Instructional Services Librarian

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