Speaking Freely

Before reading Buschman’s article in the online version of Academe, I hadn’t given much thought to the ways freedom of speech, academic freedom, and intellectual freedom interact - or to the ways they manifest themselves in our public libraries and our school library media centers. I certainly never knew that ALA,
officially states that it might help defend librarians if their employment rights are denied in the process of defending intellectual freedom (for example, in opposing local censorship) but not when they exercise intellectual freedom within the workplace . . . This view is further articulated in the ALA’s explanatory “Questions and Answers on Speech in the Workplace”: librarians have ethical obligations to question policies “detrimental to the public interest or to the profession,” but the ALA cautions that it “does not at this time provide mediation, financial aid, or legal aid in response to” workplace disputes, which are subject to local employment policy, nor does the ALA investigate and publicize abuse as does the [American Association of University Professors.]

It strikes me as particularly absurd that librarians, who work so hard to ensure free access to all information and ideas, have so little protection for the expression of their own ideas, if I am understanding this correctly.

Clearly, there needs to be a certain amount of local authority in matters of free speech and staff management. After all, each community is different (and operates under its own codes of conduct) and their libraries vary accordingly. However, it seem to me that a certain baseline standard for freedom of speech in the workplace should be set and enforced by ALA.

The article does not address school librarians specifically, though many of the same issues apply. As teachers, we must be careful not to allow our biases to interfere with our work, or to indoctrinate, rather that educate. But we must also feel secure enough to stand up to bias and injustice where we find it, and to speak for the truth. In New York City, we are quite lucky to be supported by a strong union (one reason I am a staunch union advocate), I fear our colleagues in other school districts do not fare so well. Without a supportive administration (and especially with a hostile one) freedom of speech in the library media center becomes an issue of job security and efficacy. I hope that ALA considers giving its policy more bite, and backing up its members with legal force.

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