Recently I weighed into a discussion that’s been happening on the BCLA listserv about Vancouver Public Library’s Internet Usage Policy and intellectual freedom. Some smart people like Tara, Myron and Catelynne have said things. This is what I said:
I really appreciate [colleagues who have affirmed] the importance of debate here, especially because earlier in the conversation there seemed to be moves to shut down or invalidate some points of view.
And there are two different points of view being expressed in the conversations happening on this listserv, on blogs, and elsewhere, two different opinions that point to a paradox with libraries: on one hand libraries purport to uphold the democratic virtues of intellectual freedom and unrestricted access to information for everyone; on the other hand many libraries are extremely hierarchical, and therefore internally undemocratic. So while it’s orthodox to claim that (public) libraries are for everyone, and that debate is good, there is a contrary direction of discourse that seeks to curtail intellectual freedom and normalize dominant power structures.
As uncomfortable as it may be, if libraries are to commit to intellectual freedom they need to genuinely engage in debate and open themselves to criticism, they need to encourage debate from within their workforce, and they need to be democratic in practice in taking steps to fill citizens’ information needs, regardless of whether those needs make library workers uncomfortable.