Advocacy & ActivismJason Griffey | December 16, 2016
The idea that libraries are neutral spaces has been well and disabused over the last few years. From the services we offer to the collections that we curate, the decisions that libraries and librarians make are political ones that reflect values. Sometimes those are the values of the organization, sometimes the values of the individuals, and sometimes they are the values of the communities that the library serves. Those values are illustrated by our technologies, our ontologies, and our descriptors. Those who attempt to hold that “neutrality” of information access is an ideal for which to strive have had a hard time holding to that stance as increasing numbers of librarians question and deconstruct our profession. I would like to suggest something even stronger…that even if it were possible for libraries to be neutral spaces, that to create such a space would be morally questionable, and potentially actively morally wrong.
I say this as someone who firmly believes in the maxim of combating bad speech with more speech. I am not here advocating controls or restrictions on speech. But it is not the responsibility of every library to collect and distribute literature of hate, or falsehoods, or lies. Some libraries do need to collect everything, the good and the bad, for archival and historical study purposes, but those libraries are fairly obviously identified in practice and the vast majority of libraries should and could take a stand with their actions, programs, policies, and collections to be on the side of justice and scientific fact.
Neutrality favors the powerful, and further marginalizes the marginalized. In the face of the current political climate, with the use of opinions as bludgeons and disinformation as the weapon of choice for manipulation and intellectual coercion, it is up to those who value fact and believe in the care of those in need to stand up and positively affirm that to do otherwise is evil.