Sunday, July 29, 2007

Intellectual Freedom

Intellectual Freedom, and it's counterparts, Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of the Press, have been one of the foundational ethical values of my life.

It began when I was an editor of my high school newspaper. During a teacher's strike, we took photos of the picket line and the teachers crossing it, and interviewed the teachers we could reach. When school resumed, we wrote a story on the strike, and published it, along with the photos. One of the scab teachers made a huge fuss, and tried to get the story suppressed. The editorial I wrote in response ran under the quote "Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, which cannot be limited without being lost." -- Thomas Jefferson.

I have had more education on the subject, and have expanded my values beyond the freedom of the press to the broader idea of intellectual freedom, but my basic ideals have not changed.

In library work, I have had the opportunity to do a lot of collection development, and have striven for balanced collections -- making an effort to overcome my own prejudices to be sure that as many points of view as possible are available to library users.

I had the very great privilege of being taught by Dr. Lester Ashiem at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His iconic article, Not Censorship But Selection, seems to me to still be relevant. It is posted on the American Library Association's web page, and I have provided a link to it for you.

The relationship between information literacy and intellectual freedom goes beyond having both things in a library -- though the concept of balanced, selected collections in an Internet age needs to be carefully explained and guarded.

What are the issues?

Access. This is an issue both in what materials are available, and what equipment, Internet connections, etc. are available, and under what rules. If I were in charge of the public schools, there would be no Internet filtering. I am not suggesting wholesale disregard of federal law, but I am suggesting that we should rethink that law, and the assumptions behind it. It is our responsibility to educate our students to live in the real world, which has no safety net. If they do not learn how to evaluate information and stay away from dangerous sites and situations, what have they learned?

Education. Students have to be explicitly taught both online safety and how to evaluate materials and information found in any format. This is an ongoing project, and it should involve all parents and teachers. And it is a much more complex subject than most people realize. We need more, not fewer, librarians, all of whom should be teaching information literacy in an online environment.

Materials. We need school and public libraries that provide a wide variety of sources of information, including books, magazines, video, and online databases. We cannot afford to either ignore emerging technologies because they might not catch on or because they have dangers associated with them, or to imagine that the need for print and for balanced collections has ended.

I could talk about this forever. . . but I need to move on to my other assigned topics.

For more on Intellectual Freedom and Young people, check out this ALA page:

And this page from the Young Adult Library Services Association Development Center, which I worked on several years ago, and which has been recently updated:

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Fortune Cookie

Information is not knowledge.
Knowledge is not wisdom.
Wisdom is not truth.
Truth is not beauty.
Beauty is not love.
Love is not music.
Music is the best.
Frank Zappa