Friday, November 21, 2008

Here is another paper I wrote while in graduate school.

Some History and Problems With Federal Information Policy

There are five liberties guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States (COTUS). Among these are the right to assemble, the freedom of religion, speech, press, and the right to redress grievances against the government. The latter three have great importance regarding the issue of government information policy. With these three liberties it is implied that citizens of the United States are entitled to, on various levels, information that the government produces. There is a long history regarding the issue of government information and the public’s right to access it. Because of inconsistent information policies at the federal level, the rights of the people to monitor the government are severely obstructed. This paper will examine some of the theoretical foundations of the rights of citizens relating to monitoring the government. It will also examine some milestones in the development of federal information policy in the United States. Finally, it will make some recommendations that could help clear up the confusion regarding federal information policy and make the dissemination of information to the public more efficient.

Theoretical Foundations of the Public’s Right to Know

Many of the concepts surrounding the COTUS and the debate over it are found with the ideas of Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke and Montesquieu. Locke’s theory of the social contract held that there existed a sort of covenant between the people and those who ruled over them.[1] If leaders do not live up to the expectations of the people or become tyrannous, then the people have the natural right to nullify the “contract” and start anew. This is exactly what colonial patriots did when King George III ignored their wishes for fair representation. To avoid repeating such tyranny the framers of the constitution looked to other Enlightenment thinkers such as Montesquieu and his idea of “checks and balances.” While checks and balances are embodied in the concept of separation of powers it is often overlooked that the ultimate check upon federal power comes from the people, hence the importance of being able to have access to information.

Perhaps the best source of commentary relating to the COTUS is found in the Federalist Papers. Written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, the papers provide insight into the powers invested in the various branches of government as well as how the constitution should be interpreted; the papers also provide insight regarding information and its dissemination. For example, Federalist #21 outlines things that make nations successful. Here Hamilton notes, “the wealth of nations depends upon an infinite variety of causes.” Among these are the “genius of the citizens [and] the degree of information they possess…”(Wills 101). The term information suggests two things. The first is that the “genius of the citizens” rests upon the education they have, which is, no doubt, beneficial to the republic. But it also suggests the importance of the people having access to government information to ensure that it is operating the way it should.

It should also be noted that information and its acquisition is important not only to general citizens but also to elected officials as well. Often elected officials are denied access to information just as normal citizens are. From time to time elected officials become at odds with members of other branches of the government over information and its withholding. Martin Halstuk (2002) points out such a situation. He notes when congress was considering the appropriation of funds regarding John Jay’s negotiated treaty with Great Britain in 1796, George Washington denied their requests for information pertaining to the instructions given to Jay to negotiate the treaty (¶ 30). Granted, treaty-making powers are delegated to the executive branch, however, this information was a reasonable request and could have been helpful in determining the appropriation. Indeed, Madison appreciated the value of such information. He notes in Federalist #53 “No man can be a competent legislator who does not add to an upright intention and sound judgment, a certain degree of knowledge of the subjects on which he is to legislate. A part of this knowledge may be acquired by means of information which lie with the compass of men in private as well as public stations” (272).

Choosing the Right Candidate

As previously mentioned, the right of the federal government to rule the people are granted through the theoretical framework of the social contract. The machinery of that contract can be found through suffrage. Voting is the “first line” of defense of the social contract. It allows the people to rid themselves of unworthy leadership; people must rely on information in order to make an educated decision. Hamilton illustrates this in Federalist # 84 where he notes the people must therefore depend on the information of intelligent men, in whom they confide—and how must these men obtain their information? Evidently from the complection of public measures, from public prints, from correspondences with their representatives…It is equally evident that the same sources of information would be open to the people, in relation to the conduct of their representatives in the general government…(Wills 439)
Information from the federal government (e.g. Congressional voting records, etc.), whether filtered through the press or not, is vital to the public in voting decisions.

An Example of Antebellum Attitudes Towards Public Information

Between 1845 and 1860 federal information policy evolved. As the federal government became more bureaucratic, agencies within had to consider how to disseminate the information they held. Harold Relyea (1989) points out that it was in 1846 when Congress provided for the “routine printing of all Congressional reports, special documents, and bills” (31). Eventually, all government printing was completed by the Government Printing Office, which Congress established in 1860 (31). A corollary to these establishments, Congress created a place to house information with the goal of facilitating “public availability and knowledge of government actions” (32). These developments set precedence and are conducive with the liberties of the First Amendment and the doctrine of checks and balances.

These noble gestures spread to other areas of the federal bureaucracy as well. James W. Oberly (1987) notes, although, the Federal Pension Bureau (FPB) took a different attitude during the 1850s. It was during this period that the U.S. government undertook one of the largest federal benefits programs the country had seen (Oberly 287).[2] The FPB had to administer benefits to veterans of the Mexican-American War. To assist in this task the FPB attempted to print and release information to aid in achieving their goals. What the FPB program demonstrates is that “the federal government saw information from a view point of costs incurred rather than benefits conferred” (293). Finally, Oberly relates his argument to the contemporary debate over information policy and the costs of disseminating it to the public versus privatizing the process. Many believe privatization will save the public tax dollars. It may indeed be the case that the federal government will save money but that may actually increase the cost to the public in money and information lost. Private businesses are in business in order to turn a profit; it is therefore not clear how this will effect public access to government information.

Contemporary Issues in a Post 9/11 World

In light of the 9/11 tragedy the American public has been admonished that the government needs to start thinking with a “post 9/11 mentality.” What this means is that national security and how the government administers it has changed. We have been told, or it has at least been implied, that the new enemies of the United States are “terrorists,” but it is not always clear whom “they” are. It is not surprising that when national security is threatened (whether this threat is real or perceived), for the federal government to take measures to minimize the threat. There are many ways in which the federal government “protects” national security. Of these, there currently is a measure of reclassification of documents at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) that threatens the liberty of the American public. Just as alarming is that while this measure was initiated before 9/11, it is gaining momentum and support among the various government agencies; all in the name of national security.

Steven Aftergood (February 21, 2006) is following this situation in his list serv newsletter Secrecy News. Here he reports on the reaction of the NARA to a New York Times article that exposed the fact that “thousands of declassified documents had been reclassified by executive branch agencies and removed from public access in questionable circumstances. The NARA, he notes, is going to be investigating the issue. The story broke on February 20, 2006 when the New York Times (2006) reported that at least 55,000 documents had been reclassified since 1999. The Times noted that recently Matthew M. Aid, a historian, realized that many documents he had accessed and copied years ago had been reclassified. If this was not peculiar enough he also noticed that some of the documents were benign regarding sensitivity and date back as far as the Korean War and the beginning of the Cold War.

There are a few reasons why this should raise concerns. First, it threatens academic freedom and the body of historical knowledge. It threatens academic freedom because any document acquired before reclassification might not be able to be incorporated into historical research due to laws regulating classified documents. This impedes the historian from describing history and constructing arguments about it. Also, withholding crucial supporting evidence (documents) will definitely hinder the body of historical knowledge as a whole.

Secondly, and just as serious, is that it trespasses on the public’s right to know about the affairs of government. Sissela Bok (1989) argues that she is not sure “that the democratic processes can persist in the face of current amounts of secrecy…” (202). Indeed, reclassification erects a barrier to the democratic processes that are the foundation of this republic. The public’s right to know is another “check and balance” on the federal government. Granted, most of the documents found at the NARA are over twenty years old but the information often helps to shape how Americans perceive the government and how it should operate. The only way to circumvent the barrier is to utilize the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The FOIA is supposed to ensure public access to records of the government. It “carries the presumption of disclosure,” that is “the burden is on the government—not the public—to substantiate why information may not be released” (National Security Archive, 2006). It should be noted that the government might deny a FOIA request under nine exemptions, one of which includes national security. While the FOIA is yet another “check and balance” the process of requesting information under this act seems to be quite daunting.

Another problem with reclassification is that it adds to the concern that the current administration is bypassing civil liberties. Aftergood (February 16, 2006) highlights this in the article “Confronting the White House’s ‘Monarchial Doctrine,’” a term coined by George Will. The concern of this article is over domestic spying with obtaining F.I.S.A warrants. The Congressional Research Service (CRS, 2006) notes the Supreme Court has found that under ordinary conditions the probable cause test for issuing a warrant relative to national security “may be less demanding or at least different than it is in the context of a traditional criminal investigation” (CRS Memo). Furthermore, the CRS found that F.I.S.A. allows for “less demanding” probable cause but not in terrorism cases (CRS Memo). This may explain why the current administration circumvented the F.I.S.A. court in its wiretapping program. Nevertheless this coupled with the reclassification of documents at the NARA illustrate the current administration’s heightened use of secrecy and subterfuge.

Perhaps the most serious concern about reclassification is the question over where historians, indeed the public in general, stand in relation to possessing reclassified documents and the Espionage Act. Aid notes that some of the documents he obtained prior to reclassification may place him in violation. His concerns are not without merit; there is case law to support his concern. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1998) reminds us of Eugene V. Debs, a presidential candidate and war protester, who was sentenced to ten years in prison for violating the Espionage Act of 1917 (106). While the circumstances in both cases are different, it demonstrates that the government is willing to prosecute “violations” of the Espionage Act.

The fact that documents were reclassified at the NARA highlights the obvious absence of a uniformed policy regarding classification and illustrates a culture of “missing information” (Aftergood, 2005).[3] There have been attempts to create a uniformed policy. For example, in 1997, while serving on the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and his fellow committee members recommended that there should be legislation that binds all governments agencies to certain procedures regarding classifying and declassifying government documents. Moreover, the commission made the following recommendations:

  • Information shall be classified only if there is a demonstrable need to protect the information in the interest of national security.
  • The president shall establish procedures for the classification and declassification of information.
  • In decisions about whether information should be classified, the benefit from public disclosure shall be weighed against the need for secrecy. Where there is significant doubt, the information shall not be classified.
  • Information shall remain classified for no longer that ten years, unless the agency specifically recertifies the need for continued secrecy. All information shall be declassified after thirty years, unless it is shown that demonstrable harm will result.
  • There shall be no authority to withhold information from Congress.
  • A national declassification center shall be established to coordinate, implement, and oversee declassification. (quoted in Moynihan, 11-12).

Superficially, it would seem that these are well thought out recommendations and could shed light on the darkness of classification secrecy. One of the most glaring problems with these recommendations, however, is the second one. Giving each president authority to establish classification/declassification policy does not create a uniformed policy. This allows policy to constrict or relax every four to eight years depending on the president.

That there is a lack of a uniformed policy makes it less surprising to note that in the post 9/11 world there has been a culture of “missing information.” Aftergood (2005) notes information is disappearing, not just from the NARA, but other federal agencies as well. Previously declassified information that has come up “missing,” he writes, include information from the Department of Defense, Los Alamos Technical Report Library, U.S. Airforce, U.S. Army, Energy Department, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Finally, he admonishes us much in the same manner as Bok has that “Information is the oxygen of democracy. Day by day, the Bush Administration is cutting off the supply” (¶ 25). As his list demonstrates, information policy that is set at the top (executive) quickly effects the information policy of other federal agencies, thus potentially weakening the democratic process. This is not to marginalize the importance of national security. However, it underscores the importance of developing a uniform classification/declassification policy that seeks to balance national security in a legitimate way with civil liberties.

Recommendations for a More Uniformed Information Policy

The ideas put forth by Moynihan are a good start for a more uniformed information policy but the problem with his suggestions is found with allowing presidents to set their own policy. The policy regarding all information should be developed by the legislative and executive branches and, if challenged, approved by the judicial branch to ensure constitutionality. Elected officials should also solicit public input to aid in drafting such a policy. The policy should be made into law and the House of Representatives should allow changes only with a two-thirds majority vote.[4]

Such a policy should consider the needs of national security, within reason. Obviously, contemporary information of a military nature should have more stringent guidelines regarding declassification. The main consideration of such a policy, however, should be the needs of the public and should remain true to the social contract. It is also imperative for our elected leaders to remember the theoretical foundations of the rights of citizens to monitor the government. The reason why our republic has been successful and stable for so long is because of the system of checks and balances set up by the framers of the U.S. Constitution. The survival of this system is dependent upon the access of information within the government and, of course, to the public.


Aftergood, S. (2005, March 17). The age of missing information. Slate. Retrieved January 21, 2006 from:

—. (2006, February 16). Confronting the White House’s “Monarchical Doctrine.” Message posted to

—. (2006, February 21). Reclassification program at National Archives exposed. Message posted to

—.(2006, March 3). Archives declares moratorium on reclassification.
Message posted to

Bok, S. (1989). Secrets: On the ethics of concealment and revelation. New York: Vintage Books.
Congressional Research Service. (2006, January 30). Memorandum to Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Retrieved February 20, 2006 from:

Moynihan, D.P. (1998). Secrecy. New Haven: Yale University Press.
National Security Archive. (2004). The Freedom of Information Act. Retrieved February 15, 2006 from:

Oberly, J.W. (1987). Information policy in an era of illiteracy: The U.S. Pension Bureau before the Civil War. Government Publications Review, 14, 287-294. Retrieved March 21, 2006 from SJSU interlibrary services.

Relyea, H.C. (1989). Historical development of federal information policy. In C.R. McClure, et al (Eds.), United States government information policies: Views and perspectives.
Wills, G.(Ed.). (1982). The Federalists Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. New York: Bantam Books.

[1] For more about Locke see Relyea’s Perspectives on information policy development.
[2] See Oberly’s Information policy in an era of illiteracy: The U.S. Pension Bureau before the Civil War for a more in depth examination of the program. For purposes of this paper it is important to examine the attitude of the federal government information policy.
[3] The NARA eventually declared a moratorium on reclassifying documents as reported by Steven Aftergood in Secrecy News on March 3, 2006.
[4] I argue that the House of Representatives is a more direct voice of the people.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

“Easy Usage” The complexness of Internet filters in libraries


The Internet has made life easier. Or has it? Certainly it provides a plethora of information that even those with minimal search skills can utilize rather effectively. At the same time, however, the proliferation of Internet usage has raised legal and ethical questions concerning the safety of our youth. This seems to put librarians at odds with the communities they serve. On the one hand there are champions of the First Amendment who seek to insure that access to information is all-inclusive (or as close as humanly possible). On the other, there are those who seek to insure the safety of children. Both are undoubtedly important but come at odds with each other when children and Internet usage in libraries collide. The current “catch-all” solution is to filter computers in libraries with access to the Internet. This discussion will highlight five basic characteristics of filtering software and explain their advantages and/or disadvantages. It will also explain why some libraries choose to use filtering software and others do not. It also argues that whether a library chooses to filter or not, legal problems sill exist.

Advantages and disadvantages of filtering: Five characteristics

Blocking “questionable” material—Some people believe that “questionable” material should be blocked. Disadvantage: The problem with this is that what constitutes “questionable” material will vary greatly from person depending upon their “moral compass.” Because of the ambiguity associated with the term “questionable” there does not appear to be an efficient way to accomplish this without accidentally restricting information to constitutionally protected material.

Blocking pornographic websites—Some people believe that access to pornographic websites should be blocked especially when there is the potential that children may access it. Advantage: keeping such material from children, especially young children, is a good thing. Disadvantage: filtering websites for pornography may unintentionally restrict access to constitutionally protected material. This is why it is important that the responsibility of restricting such information rests with the parents. Equally important is that libraries have clear policies in place reflecting Internet filtering. For example, the Kern County Public Library’s (2006) Internet policy states “The Library has provided filtering services that parents, guardians and minors may activate which help eliminate access to material that may be inappropriate for minors, and chat rooms” (Kern County Library Internet Use Policy).

Blocking Internet chat sites—In today’s Internet environment many minors have been the targets and victims of Internet predators. This has been illuminated by the recent Dateline series “To catch a predator.” In a survey conducted by Dateline, five hundred teenagers were asked if they had chatted with strangers online and if they have ever wanted to meet the strangers they were chatting with. An “overwhelming” majority admitted to chatting with strangers and fifty-eight percent admitted to wanting to meet these strangers in person. The threat is tangible. Advantage: filtering software can block some chatting websites but not all and offers limited protection. Disadvantage: Once again there is the possibility that constitutionally protected material will be blocked. Also, adults and parents alike must remember that today’s children are very skilled in the use of computers and the Internet and may be able to circumvent such software. This reinforces the point that even the best Internet filtering software is not a substitute for parental supervision.

“Go lists,” directing navigation to certain “approved” websites—Some people advocate the usage of “go lists” which list specific websites that a user may visit (Internet filters 101). Advantage: an effective use of this software may be to create “homework” stations where the “go lists” provide access to websites that help children with their homework. Disadvantage: Just as with any filtering software there is the potential for the user to circumnavigate the system.
Blocking “obscene material”—Some people believe that access should be restricted regarding “obscene material.” Disadvantage: While the Court has attempted to define “obscene material” (e.g. Roth v. United States et al) there still remains much ambiguity. Because of the uncertainness of “obscene material,” the potential of blocking constitutionally protected material remains.

Why some libraries choose to filter and others do not

It seems the main factor that determines whether libraries filter Internet content or not is the existence of legislation that either requires such use statutorily or determines funds that are allocated to the library. The reality many libraries are facing is that their very existence is determined by the availability of public funds for support. Because of the threats posed to our youth while using the Internet, there has been a call by many for public policy restricting the use of the Internet through the use of filters. There is legislation, both on the state and federal level that address such concerns. For example, the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) stipulates that any school or library who wish to apply for public funds for Internet access, must attest that their organization has in place a means of protection against “certain visual depictions available on the Internet” (Chmara 2006, 377). The various state laws currently in effect either require filters as a point of public policy or tie funding to the existence of filters in libraries. For example, California ties its legislation to public funds; California Education Code § 18030.5 states:
(a) Every public library that receives state funds pursuant to this chapter and that provides public access to the Internet shall, by a majority vote of the governing board, adopt a policy regarding access by minors to the Internet by January 1, 2000. (CALIFORNIA EDUCATION CODE SECTION 18030-18032).

In Arizona it is a matter of public policy; Arizona statute § 34-502 states:
A public school that provides a public access computer shall equip the computer with software that seeks to prevent minors from gaining access to material that is harmful to minors or purchase Internet connectivity from an Internet service provider that provides filter services to limit access to material that is harmful to minors. Standards and rules for the enforcement of this subsection shall be prescribed by the governing board of every school district. (Computer access; harmful to minors 34-502)[1]

As evidenced by the above examples, the public “mood” regarding filters varies from state to state.

There are also some libraries that choose to not have any filtering software whatsoever. Most often these libraries stand firm in their belief in the speech clause of the First Amendment. Adhering to the principles set for in the Bill of Rights does not, however, make libraries immune to litigation in the realm of Internet filtering. Such litigation took place in Livermore (1998), California regarding a complaint filed by a parent in Kathleen R. v. City of Livermore. In this case the plaintiff contended that the Livermore Public Library (LPL) neglected to ensure minors did not have access to pornographic material distributed via the Internet. Sticking to the recommendations found in the Intellectual Freedom Manual’s (2006) “Essential preparation,” the LPL had a well-developed Internet use policy. Their policy states:
The Library’s Internet access is intended as an information resource. The Internet allows users to connect to networks of resources outside the library. The Internet is a global entity with a highly diverse user population. The Internet has no federal, state or local control of its users or content [emphasis added]. The Internet and its available resources may contain materials of a controversial nature. The Livermore Public Library does not monitor and has no control over the information accessed through the Internet and cannot be held responsible for its content. Users are cautioned [emphasis added] that accuracy, completeness and currency of information found on the Internet varies widely. Library patrons use the Internet at their own risk [emphasis added]. (Quoted from Livermore: Response/Demurrer, 1998)

The case made it all the way to the California State Appellate Court and the decision of the court reflected the current stance regarding the Federal CIPA statute.

Sometimes whether a library uses filters or not may influence the outcome of local bond measures to fund libraries. Such is the case with the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District, the Phoenix Public Library, and other libraries that felt that being CIPA compliant had an adverse effect on local library bond measures. Oder (2006) notes that these libraries, when soliciting feedback regarding filtering policies, two-thirds of the respondents favored more stringent measures (17). This forces libraries to be ever more efficient in balancing the wishes of the community with protecting patrons’ First Amendment rights.

Not only are libraries facing litigation regarding whether they have filtering software, they are also running the risk of being sued by entities for having their website blocked. American Libraries (2006) reports that a group of libraries in Missouri was sued in 2005 because their filtering software excluded a conservative political group’s website. After this was brought to the attention of these libraries the site was unblocked. This highlights the problem that filters are not all inclusive, that is, there is information that may be unintentionally included. Such uncertainty opens libraries that use filters to similar litigation.Summary

Filters have a number of advantages and disadvantages. The most advantageous aspect of a filter is the potential for use in homework assistance stations utilizing “go lists.” Directing students to “peer evaluated” websites will provide potentially authoritative and accurate information. The most glaring problem with filters, however, is that they are not flawless. Someone with proficient computer skills can circumvent them.

Because of these problems many libraries believe that the best way to protect the First Amendment is to not use filters at all. This opens libraries to litigation but those libraries with well-developed usage policies may survive such attacks. Libraries that are required to utilize filters because of state law will find some solace knowing that CIPA provides a clause allowing librarians to disable filtering software upon request. Conclusion

Should filters be required in libraries? No. While protecting children from the negative aspects of the Internet is important we need to ask who is responsible for this protection? Certainly, this needs to begin in the home as parents have the primary responsibility in informing their children about the potential dangers of the Internet. Responsible parenting does not end in the home as it also extends outside the home. This is why it is important to develop clear Internet usage policies such as the libraries in Livermore and Kern County and elsewhere throughout the country.

CALIFORNIA EDUCATION CODE SECTION 18030-18032. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2006 from 19000&file=18030-18032

Children and the Internet: Laws Relating to Filtering, Blocking and Usage Policies in Schools and Libraries. (2006). Retrieved October 20, 2006 from

Chmara, T. (2006) Public libraries and the public forum doctrine. In Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association, Intellectual Freedom Manual (369-383). Chicago: American Library Association.

Computer access; harmful to minors. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2006 from

Dateline NBC. (2006). Most teens say they've met strangers online. Retrieved October 28, 2006 from

Group sues libraries for blocking its website. (2006). American Libraries 37(5). Retrieved October 27, 2006 from WilsonWeb.

Internet Filters 101. (2000). Retrieved October 20, 2006 from

Kern County Internet Usage Policy. (2006) Retrieved October 27, 2006 from

Livermore: Response/Demurrer.(1998). Retrieved October 24, 2006 from

Oder, N. (2006). Full filtering at WA library. Library Journal 131(5), 17.

[1] For a summary of the various state laws see Children and the Internet: Laws Relating to Filtering, Blocking and Usage Policies in Schools and Libraries at

Career Hapiness

As I started my new job as a public librarian something occurred to me: I am working in a positive environment. Some may say that the reason for this is because I'm new. I refuse to believe this, you know, the power of positive thinking, right? So what I am wondering is what types of things do seasoned librarians do to maintain their edge and, just as important, their happiness?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Personal Philosophy

This post was originally published on my Plone E-portfolio at San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science.

I admit that while contemplating my professional philosophy that I was unsure what this exactly meant. Working on each of these competencies helped me to search and give meaning to my professional philosophy and my conception of librarianship. During my search, I realized that my professional philosophy affects my conception of librarianship, my professional goals, and how I understand Competency O.

While contemplating my professional philosophy and Competency O, I realized that my understanding is shaped not only by my experience in the MLIS program but also by my experience as a teacher. This is where I learned the value of diversity. Diversity as related to the library environment can have a variety of meanings. From a librarian standpoint, diversity means utilizing a variety of methods and tools to deliver knowledge and understanding to users/students. A diverse user/student population is very important. It has been my experience that the more diverse the population is, the more multi-dimensional the community becomes.
While examining the courses and coursework I completed during my SLIS program, I realized a quote by Alexander Hamilton was a recurring theme in my work. In Federalists #21 he notes, “the wealth of nations depends upon an infinite variety of causes.” Among these are the “genius of the citizens [and] the degree of information they possess…”(quoted in Wills, 1982, 101). This brings me to my professional philosophy and is summed up in two words: intellectual freedom. For our nation to remain “wealthy” it is imperative that our citizens have unfettered access to information.

The concept of intellectual freedom is also at the core of my conception of librarianship. The American Library Association defines intellectual freedom as
the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored. Intellectual freedom encompasses the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas. (ALA, Intellectual Freedom)
Therefore, it is the responsibility of librarians to ensure that access to information is not inhibited regardless of race, culture, gender, or socio-economic status. As demonstrated in competencies F and I, this can be accomplished by drafting and or revising collection development policies and other library policies in order to ensure accessibility. Realizing that cultures vary from community to community, it is also important to reach out to the community in order to obtain and maintain knowledge of what their needs are, whether they are social, cultural, or economic.

Contributing to the “cultural, economic, educational and social well-being of our communities,” is an intricate aspect of providing library services. As Fish (1992) notes, “any public library worthy of the name is responsive to the community it serves” (34). This is true whether the institution is a public library, an academic library, or an archive. There are many ways librarians and libraries contribute to the “cultural, economic, educational and social well-being of our communities.” In the realm of culture, we contribute by ensuring our collections are a reflection of the people we serve. This is accomplished through providing materials in languages other than English. In a public library this should occur in the branch closest to the community and culture in question. Providing cultural materials at the academic library is just as important and fits in well with the idea of a liberal education. In the archive, such cultural holdings help to preserve “historical memory” and understanding.

From an economic standpoint we must ensure free access to information. Remembering that the “wealth of the nation” is dependent upon the degree of information our citizens possess, we must guard against the potential of allowing the dichotomy between the “haves and have-nots” from widening. As Gregorian (2007) warns, “such a society [can allow] a privileged minority [to] control access to critical resources such as education, healthcare, knowledge and information, and economic opportunity, as well as to political participation. In particular, they can control access to technology [emphasis added]” (47). Librarians must combat this through creating, implementing, and enforcing policies that ensure access to information and technology, regardless of economic status. With such diligence the social well being of our communities will remain intact.

In sum and as Gregorian (2007) so eloquently points out:
A library is a learning and a reading place, but it is also a gathering place, a meeting place, a place where cultural events happen, where children sit in reading circles with other children of every race, ethnicity, and class, where both children and adults are taught to read, where immigrants learn English and bridge the distance between the "old country" and their newly adopted land. (47-48)

Contributing to the “cultural, economic, educational, and social well-being of our communities” will remain an important aspect of my professional life regardless of the setting I find myself in. I will take this philosophy with me as I pursue my career whether it is in an academic library, a public library, or an archive. It will undoubtedly influence where I seek employment, as I want my career to be in a place where intellectual freedom is not just a concept or a phrase framed on a wall. The institution where I spend my career will take intellectual freedom and cultural diversity seriously and be as committed to it as I am.


American Library Association. (2007). Intellectual freedom and censorship Q & A. Retrieved March 20, 2008 from
Fish, J. (1992). Responding to cultural diversity: A library in transition. Wilson Library Bulletin, 66, 34-37. Retrieved March 23, 2008 from the WilsonWeb database.
Gregorian, V. (2007). A sense of elsewhere. American Libraries, 38, no10, 46-48. Retrieved March 23, 2008 from the WilsonWeb database.
Wills, G.(Ed.). (1982). The Federalists Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. New York: Bantam Books.