articulate the ethics, values and foundational principles of library and information professionals and their role in the promotion of intellectual freedom
"Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ..."
- U.S. Const. amend. I
"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
- Evelyn Beatrice Hall, The Friends of Voltaire
The rights granted to Americans by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution are the freedoms to think, speak, listen, view, and read. We are free to create and consume at will. This is a concept that is fundamental to American citizenship, and is also historically rooted in the notion of any democratic society granting civil liberties. American public libraries have a long history of governmental support, which has allowed citizens to exercise their First Amendment rights by having free access to resources to aide their educational and informational pursuits. This history has profoundly influenced the ethical foundations of librarianship and professional information services.
There are often consequences to free speech: people are subject to encounter points of view they don't agree with, or images and texts they find offensive. Socially divisive issues may present themselves anywhere. Yet the beauty and the burden of this right is that it applies to everybody, and our professional values support the application of this right to all. Intellectual freedom is described as the freedom to seek and obtain information, regardless of its viewpoints or origin. Our duty is to provide open and fair access to information and resources, so that we may promote and protect intellectual freedom.
Professional organizations guide the application of ethical values to professional roles. The American Library Association (ALA) has done this for librarians by guiding the ethical development of the information service landscape. Information professionals who are not working in libraries should still be familiar with the ethical principles described by the ALA regardless of their personal affiliation with the organization. These principles tend to agree with values that most citizens in a democratic culture would favor, as they demonstrate equality and the freedom to pursue intellectual growth.
The ALA's Code of Ethics and Library Bill of Rights describe how librarians and information professionals can support intellectual freedom in their professional practices and institutions. The primary measure is to resist censorship. This respects an individual's freedom to read and is a basic step in protecting intellectual freedom. Examples of when this aspect of intellectual freedom is most vulnerable in this profession is while selecting items to include in a library's collection, or when particular items are contested by library users. Creating and abiding by a clear materials selection policy that calls for the inclusion of varying types of materials and points of view can protect collection developers in such situations. This activity is in fact so fundamental that the ALA has established the Freedom to Read Foundation, which strives to protect librarians whose positions are threatened by their "resistance to abridgments of the First Amendment."
Information professionals must also resist instances in which our services may be muddled by personal views of given situations. It is crucial that our own opinions do not affect the service that we provide to people who are seeking information, to the extent that their endeavors fall within the goals of the library or institution. Another caveat that librarians must also respect is that producers of false or inaccurate information have as much a right to produce it as those who strive for accuracy. And individuals seeking the output of such producers have a right to access it. Thus, the profession's ethical code binds us to represent all points of view by enabling access to information of all kinds: accurate and inaccurate, offensive and inoffensive, etc.
Some other ways in which we can support intellectual freedom through our services is to allow equal use of any public spaces and bulletin boards in our control. We can educate patrons about using computers and resources that will aid them in their informational inquiries. It is especially important to educate patrons and practice administrative policies that protect user privacy. It is arguable that privacy is a manifestation of intellectual property, as it allows people to search for information safely and fearlessly. If privacy is a component necessary to the free flow of ideas, then information professionals must participate in preserving it.
To demonstrate my competency understanding the ethical roles of information professionals in providing unbiased service, I am submitting a proof of completion certificate for the web-based course Protecting Human Research Participants, which is provided by the National Institutes of Health's Office of Extramural Research. This course is designed to prepare researchers interacting with human subjects to "understand their obligations to protect the rights and welfare of subjects in research." The three principles taught in this course are avoiding coercion of research subjects; practicing beneficence, in which the researcher must do no harm and must maximize the benefits of the research; and justice, in which all subjects are to be treated fairly and equally. While this course is specifically intended for researchers, its principles are applicable to the practices of library and information science when interacting with users of informational resources.
In order to demonstrate my ability to articulate the foundational principles of information professionalism and the promotion of intellectual freedom, I am submitting excerpts from forum discussions that I composed during my Information and Society course. The discussions in this course were generally prompted by the instructor, yet often extended beyond the initial inquiry. They provided excellent opportunities to explore the fundamental principles of library and information science as we encountered them in our coursework at the start of the Masters program. In the first excerpt that I have provided, I present my early understanding of how librarians can promote intellectual freedom. This view has matured during my time in this program, yet by appearing so early in my coursework, my commitment to supporting intellectual freedom has become fundamental to my relationship with this field.
The second excerpt demonstrates something that I have come to feel particularly strongly about. That is that information professionals must be familiar with modern digital informational tools, including those on the open Internet, in order to provide the best possible service to patrons. Technology has changed the ways in which people access information, and the role of the information professional in such a landscape varies according to the tools in question and the skills of the information seeker. It is essential to be able to guide and assist patrons in their informational pursuits regardless of medium. This naturally extends to developing an understanding of ever-evolving privacy concerns and helping others understand them. The discussion excerpt touches on what would become my belief that effective librarians and information professionals are able to adapt to changes in the information landscape.
Intellectual freedom thrives on the principle that an informed citizenry creates a strong and healthy society. The ability to educate oneself, at least in theory, enables us to understand each other and therefore improve our social conditions. With the evidence I have provided, I have demonstrated that I am competent in providing service equally to all members of a community by promoting respect and intellectual freedom. I look forward to putting these principles into practice throughout the course of my career.
America Library Association. (2010). "About the Freedom to Read Foundation." Retrieved November 8, 2010 from http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/affiliates/relatedgroups/freedomtoreadfoundation/aboutftrf/aboutftrf.cfm.
NIH Office of Intramural Research. (2010). Protecting Human Research Participants Course. Retrieved November 8, 2010 from http://phrp.nihtraining.com/users/login.php.