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Libraries and the Contested Terrain of 'Neutrality'

In some ways, neutrality in the library is a very bad idea

“Are libraries neutral?” This is the question that was posed at the ALA Midwinter President’s Program in Denver a few years ago. A diverse panel of librarians was asked to take turns responding to that question, with results that were sometimes very interesting and sometimes fairly predictable.

There was a very big problem, though, and it lay in the organizing question itself. One can’t really answer it meaningfully without first asking a clarifying question: “Neutral” about what? The lack of clarity on this point led to what looked on the surface like a wide variety of opinions on the issue of whether or not libraries can or should be “neutral,” whereas, in fact, it was—to a very real extent—an example of different people responding to different questions, all of them inferred from the organizing question “Are libraries neutral?”

For example, James LaRue responded as if the question were “Do libraries discriminate on the basis of belief, speech, or background when it comes to services, access to facilities, and collections?” He answered "no," saying that “neutrality is about the refusal to deny people access to a shared resource just because we don’t like the way they think.” I would summarize LaRue’s view as “Libraries are neutral in that we treat all patrons equally regardless of their beliefs; this is a core principle of intellectual freedom.” (Of course, neutrality may be “about” access to library resources and services, but it is also about other things, as we shall see.)

Please select this link to read the complete article from The Scholarly Kitchen.

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