Public librarians have long held to the social justice philosophy of free access to information for all people. The issue of censorship relates to the professional principles oft he Australian Library and Information Association and to the role public librarians play in nurturing social capital in communities. This paper considers the philosophy of free access to information in the context of contemporary item selection and classification processes within public libraries. A survey of Queensland public librarians identified attitudes towards, the public right to information, and determined the degree to which censorship is practised or prevented in public libraries. The findings support those of international research that anticensorship attitudes are not always indicative of censorship behaviours, and that some librarians employ self censorship of materials to avoid censorship challenges. Edited version of a paper presented at the 2004 Alia biennial conference Gold Coast Queensland under the title 'Zero censorship! Who are we kidding? An exploratory analysis of the opinions and experiences of Queensland based public librarians with regard to the censorship of materials in public library collections'
In September 1964 the then Library Association of Australia published its Statement of principles on freedom to read. The catalyst for the development and endorsement of such a policy was the presidential address to the Association by W G K Duncan in 1961. He asserted
... a librarian is not only entitled, but is duty bound, to
disagree both from the government of the day and
from a majority in the community whenever this
disagreement flows from his vocation ... to promote
and foster the free flow of information and ideas
throughout his community (1)
In 2001, the Australian Library and Information Association (Alia) released its Statement on freedom to read as one of its three seminal statements. (2) The most recent incarnation of this philosophy, the Statement on free access to information, was also adopted in 2001. The pursuit of this philosophy within public libraries requires an inclusive and dedicated approach by all library professionals, particularly with regard to controversial or nonmainstream materials.
Little research has been conducted, however, on the attitudes and practices of Australian public librarians towards the inclusion of such materials in their collections. This lack of research was addressed by a survey of the attitudes and behaviours of Queensland public librarians about censorship of library collections. Internet censorship in libraries was not researched, due to its unique issues.
Free access to information
The issue of free access to information has been known under a variety of terms throughout the history of libraries. 'Intellectual freedom' and 'freedom to read' occur frequently in the literature. In this paper they are used interchangeably with the more recent term 'free access to information'. The following indicates the definition used.
The Alia Statement on free access to information (3) is based on the principle that
Freedom can be protected in a democratic society only
if its citizens have unrestricted access to information
The statement explicitly outlines seven responsibilities of libraries
1 Asserting the equal and equitable rights of citizens to information regardless of age, race, gender, religion, disability, cultural identity, language, socioeconomic status, lifestyle choice, political allegiance or social viewpoint
2 Adopting an inclusive approach in developing and implementing policies regarding access to information and ideas that are relevant to the library and information service concerned, irrespective of the controversial nature of the information or ideas
3 Ensuring that their clients have access to information from a variety of sources and agencies to meet their needs and that a citizen's information needs are met independently of location and an ability to pay
4 Catering for interest in contemporary issues without promoting or suppressing particular beliefs and ideas
5 Protecting the confidential relationships that exist between the library and information service and its clients
6 Resisting attempts by individuals or groups within their communities to restrict access to information and ideas while at the same time recognising that powers of censorship are legally vested in state and federal governments
7 Observing laws and regulations governing access to information and ideas but working towards the amendment of those laws and regulations which inhibit library and information services in meeting the obligations and responsibilities outlined in this statement. …