The Library Neutrality Question

I saw a meme shared by a conservative friend that said, “You must always be willing to truly consider evidence that contradicts your beliefs and admit the possibility that you may be wrong. Intelligence isn’t knowing everything. It’s the ability to challenge everything you know.”

Good, solid, liberal advice from my youth: Question everything. The problem with this sentiment in the age of COVID-19 unfolds like this: It seems (to me) to assume that all information is equal, that the opinions of the average high-school dropout are equal to those of the expert with a relevant doctorate. They’re not.

Much has changed since I was a kid. When I was a child, cultural relativism and suspicion cast upon expert opinion was the purview of the countercultural Left—the neo-hippies, the punks, etc. Now, the Right has embraced postmodernism as a great equalizer for science and religion. Science is suspect. Double-blind, randomized placebo trials go head-to-head against wild conspiracy theories … and lose.

How to argue for critical thought when I in my youth defined “critical thought” as analysis of majority opinion and adoption of its opposite? In some ways, I’ve finally outgrown my rebellious adolescence just in time to see the enemy regress into childish tantrums.

In some ways, nothing has changed. In some ways, everything is turned on its head.

The plan for the next few posts is to delve into this issue: Do public library collections need to include all perspectives? Including those without rational or legitimate scientific basis? Including those that conflict with the goal of providing a safe, welcoming space for marginalized people? Questions of neutrality and diversity will weigh heavily on this issue. Perhaps the most important question will be,

Does the world need yet another opinion from a white male of middle-class extraction?

The answer to this is profoundly and resoundingly “No.” But I am posting anyway, for these reasons:

  1. I am an MLIS student awaiting the availability of my last class before graduation, and I want to keep my mind sharp.
  2. I want to open my own thoughts up to scrutiny and criticism, so that whatever is colored by my white male privilege can be challenged and corrected.
  3. Frankly, I have some time on my hands, and no one is forcing you to read this.

So far, and possibly finally, I will include the following articles, blog posts, and papers in my exploration. I welcome other resources, especially those from the conservative side and/or in favor of neutrality, as I wish to understand that part of the debate more fully. It’s not easy to find the conservative voices among librarians. If you want to get a hold of me, just comment below or send me a message on the Contact page.

Burke, S. K. (2010, Summer). Social tolerance and racist materials in public libraries. Reference & User Services Quarterly 49(4), 369-379.

Farkas, M. (2019, November 4). When libraries and librarians pretend to be neutral, they often cause harm [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/2019/11/04/when-libraries-and-librarians-pretend-to-be-neutral-they-often-cause-harm/

Farkas, M. (2020, May 1). When speech isn’t free: Ensuring free speech requires more than neutrality. Retrieved from https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2020/05/01/neutrality-when-speech-isnt-free/

Lauren (2020, June 8). We need to talk about diversity and neutrality in libraries [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://hacklibraryschool.com/2020/06/08/we-need-to-talk-about-diversity-and-neutrality-in-libraries/

Mary Elizabeth (2020, February 25). Libraries should take sides: Breaking down the neutrality myth [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://hacklibraryschool.com/2020/02/25/libraries-should-take-sides/

Neal, J. (2018, June 1). Are libraries neutral? Highlights from the Midwinter President’s Program. Retrieved from https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2018/06/01/are-libraries-neutral/

Rinne, N. A. (2018, May 25). Against the Library Bill of Rights — unpublished essay from 2013. Retrieved from https://reliablesourcessite.wordpress.com/2018/05/25/against-the-library-bill-of-rights-unpublished-essay-from-2013/

Rinne, N. A. (2018, June 4). Should offensive books be removed from your library’s collection? [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://reliablesourcessite.wordpress.com/2018/06/04/should-offensive-books-be-removed-from-your-librarys-collection/

Sendaula, S. (2017, July 7). Libraries are not neutral spaces: Social justice advocacy in librarianship. Retrieved from https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=libraries-are-not-neutral-spaces-ala-annual-2017

Sonnie, A. (2018, April 5). Advancing racial equity in public libraries: Case studies from the field. (Issue Brief No. 8). Government Alliance on Race and Equity. Retrieved from https://www.racialequityalliance.org/advancing-racial-equity-in-public-libraries-case-studies-from-the-field/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s