The Role of University Education in Enabling Free Access to Information

Article excerpt

The course on free access to information presented here is defined primarily for library education programs in the countries where academic institutions are understaffed and short of academic, technical and logistic support. Emphasizes the magnitude of the university as a place for unhampered exchange of ideas and inviolable pursuit of truth. Explores the conceptual framework and the historical dimension of freedom of access to information. Goes on to discuss the concept of tolerance and the way it relates to the mission of libraries and librarians' professional practice. Examines the responsibility and role of libraries in developing and safeguarding free access to information in a mix of formats in various societal contexts. Considers the purpose, content, academic level and structure of courses on free access to information in schools of library and information science. Outlines modules covering such principal aspects as legislative and regulatory frameworks, the ethics of the information society, censorship and intellectual freedom. Also presented are examples of topics to be discussed by students in conducting case studies in classroom contexts.

Introduction

For decades theorists and scholars have been trying to answer the question whether there is such a thing as library responsibility, and two approaches have been polarized in answering it. In the answers provided, social responsibility is often identified with the presence of libraries in political life and with their invaluable role in censoring the freedom of reading. Or the library is seen as an educational, cultural and spiritual center, utterly apart from any type of extreme commitment. Thus, the library has been socially accepted in extremes: most frequently as a silkworm's placid cocoon, but also as an undesirable caterpillar slowly but resolutely nibbling at the tissue of the political leaf. Following different social and technological changes on the one hand and intellectual freedom and library tolerance on the other has its full justification. Freedom of access to information is conditioned by both categories mentioned. If it is always limited by a form of censorship, protected by the accepted professional ethical codes and elementary premises of intellectual property, to what extent is it possible to talk about freedom? Is freedom of access to information defended or limited by constructing social responsibility? Is it so that the process of educating academie citizens in general along with the preparation of future librarians help systematically form the consciousness of intellectual freedom as well as the awareness of access to information?

The university as the home of free ideas and as a community of lecturers and students associated in the process of searching for the truth, as Karl Jaspers saw it, nowadays has to dedicate itself to adopting the principles of democratic tolerance and intellectual freedom.1 Tolerance, which we appeal to increasingly in mutual contacts among people, parties, or states and nations, can perhaps be best exhibited and brought closer in libraries. A tolerant relation to diverse media and their contents facilitates one's development into an individual capable of partaking in an open dialogue, which can be initiated only if the level of information and education is adequately high. "Nowadays, the traditional somewhat inflexible scheme of roles characterizing basic figures in the field of library practice (librarian-reader) has undergone some change. The transformation in progress has grown from the relations between people who used to be distant to each other due to ideological dogmas and bureaucratic norms and who were compelled to promote and order materials within some prescribed circle of resources. But these people now have bright prospects of turning into like-minded persons and coauthors equally necessary to one another."2

Education is the most important and the longest-lasting segment of social life while at the same time being the most difficult sector to influence without being directed by the official institutional policy. …