Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Democratic Communication and the Library as Workplace

Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Democratic Communication and the Library as Workplace

Article excerpt

When social rights are added to civil and political rights we start to move from treating human beings as "things" to be bought and sold, to a consideration of their essential humanity and its sustenance and development. The individual's isolation in the market is replaced by a concern to maintain the means for the development of his or her individuality as a human being. Thus, social rights of citizenship when added to civil liberties and political democracy may present a major challenge to free market capitalism.-Fred Twine


A guarantee that the individual and the public as a whole have access to as wide and as diverse a selection of knowledge as that which exists, free of charge and ideally without restriction, represents for many the greatest and most essential rights of citizenship in western liberal society. For this reason, a dedicated commitment to the principles of intellectual freedom and freedom of expression, along side a resistance to censorship in any form, are often recognized as among the major driving forces behind the modern library discourse. One needs simply to turn to the professional statements of various North American library associations to see how the library and the librarian are conceptualized as the guarantor's of intellectual freedom or a "...state of a∂airs in which each human being has the freedom to think, say, write, and promulgate any idea or belief "(Gorman 88). For instance, the Canadian Library Association's Statement on Intellectual Freedom reads in part:

Libraries have a basic responsibility for the development and maintenance of intellectual freedom. It is the responsibility of libraries to guarantee and facilitate access to all expressions of knowledge and intellectual activity, including those which some elements of society may consider to be unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable. To this end, libraries shall acquire and make available the widest variety of materials.

Despite the importance and significance of the principles represented in this statement, the scholarly and professional library literatures o∂er no or very few indications of the library employee's right to freely express her or his opinion in the library workplace. The public library as a place of work, as most other workplaces in a liberal market economy, is typically based upon a hierarchical organizational structure (Buschman and Rosenzweig 37). Such organizational structures are inherently adverse to the protection of intellectual freedom, since they are based upon the authority and visibility of certain voices over others in the communicative process. Allowing certain voices a privileged position or dominant role in the communication of knowledge represents a crisis of legitimacy for intellectual freedom and for democracy in general. The North American library community is a particularly relevant profession to consider when studying the question of intellectual freedom within the workplace, since it is a profession that regards the defense of intellectual freedom as among its core values.

It is important to recognize that the debate surrounding intellectual freedom and freedom of expression in western liberal society is generally framed from within a liberal democratic rights based perspective. In this context, freedom of expression represents a legally and constitutionally protected right for the individual to express an opinion. Although it is not within the scope of this paper to provide an overall critique of the liberal democratic perspective, it can be demonstrated that the protection of intellectual freedom as a 'civil liberty" will benefit when it exists along side a dedication to the "social rights of citizenship" (i.e., a guaranteed and reasonable minimum wage, guaranteed housing, and so on). Conceptualizing intellectual freedom in this manner should help the discussion in two ways. First of all, it will help in developing an understanding of why it is important for library employees, who in many ways must act as advocates for intellectual freedom, to have a guaranteed protection to their own freedom of expression in the workplace. …

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