Intellectual Freedom Beyond Books

I was invited to speak on a panel with three other speakers:  Christopher Kevlahan, Branch Head, Joe Fortes – Vancouver Public Library,  Miriam Moses, Acquisitions Manager, Burnaby Public Library, and Greg Mackie, Assistant Professor, UBC Department of English.

I think that libraries do a great job of promoting Freedom to Read Week with events and book displays, but could be doing a better job in advocating for intellectual freedom in the digital realm.

Public library examples

I spoke about how Fraser Valley Regional Library filters all their internet, how Vancouver Public Library changed their internet use policy to single out “sexually explicit images”, and how most public library internet policies don’t appear to have been updated since the 90s.

Bibliocommons is a product that has beautiful and well designed interface that used by a lot of public libraries to sit over their public facing catalogues. It is a huge improvement over the traditional OPAC interface, I like that there’s a small social component, with user tagging and comments, as well. However, Bibliocommons allows patrons to flag content for: Coarse Language, Violence, Sexual Content, Frightening or Intense Scenes, or Other. This functionality that allows users to flag titles for sexual content or course language is not in line with our core value of intellectual freedom.

Devon Greyson, a local health librarian-researcher and PhD candidate said on BCLA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee’s email list:

Perhaps the issue is a difference in the understanding of what is “viewpoint neutral.” From an IF standpoint, suggesting categories of concern is non-neutral. Deciding that sex, violence, scary and rude are the primary reasons one should/would be setting a notice to warn other users is non-neutral. Why not racism, sexism, homophobia & classism as the categories with sex, violence & swearing considered “other”?

Academic library example

I also talked about the Feminist Porn Archive, a SSHRC funded research project at York University. Before the panel I chatted with Lisa Sloniowski  who was really generous sharing some of the hypothetical issues that she imagines the project might encounter. She wondered if campus IT, the university’s legal department or university administration might be more conservative than the library. What would happen if they digitized porn and hosted it on university servers? Would they need to have a login screen in front of their project website?

This session was recorded and I’d love to hear your thoughts. How can libraries support or defend intellectual freedom online?

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