A few months ago the Canadian Library Association (CLA), the ALA’s sister organization in the Great White North, amended their Statement on Intellectual Freedom and Libraries. A link to the new Statement can be found here, and a link to the draft Statement, old Statement, and explanations in support of the new Statement can be found here. The CLA is revising their website as I write this, and links to the Statement are not available there.
As a sidenote, the CLA has been struggling and is in the process of investigating and negotiation a revised organizational structure. They hope to become an association of provincial associations–a meta association. Information can be found here.
Still, a revised Statement of Intellectual Freedom and Libraries was needed as the previously approved Statement was from 1985. I’m sure the association kept an eye on the old policy, and the old Statement is still a strong policy speaking up for Intellectual Freedom. But, it is a good practice to review all policies, whether association or individual library, at regular intervals–every 3 to 5 years, for example. In this case, the CLA Intellectual Freedom Advisory Committee submitted a draft for a new Statement, and the Executive Council revised and amended the policy.
In this case I’d say the changes were very positive. For the most part, the revised Statement changes specific word choices to be more inclusive, slightly broader in scope, and reduce redundancies and false promises. Examples include, replacing “materials” with “expressions” (not implying the FRBR usage), specifying a need to resist censorship and restrictive access (even passive systems, such as labelling) and broadening the holder of responsibility beyond employees and employers to volunteers and governing entities, and changing “guarantee” to “safeguard” where it seems skeptical that a promise can be made.
The CLA also made some changes as to where Canadians and the CLA get their IF power from. Previously the Statement relied upon the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the nation’s Bill of Rights. The Advisory Committee recommend removing the Bill of Rights, saying:
Omit the Bill of Rights as it suffers from several dimensions of ineffectiveness: it did not have the force of law, is not a constitutional document, applied only to the federal level and not the provinces, and is superseded by the Charter; the Supreme Court of Canada narrowly interpreted the Bill of Rights and was reluctant to declare laws inoperative on the basis of it.
Though not a lawyer, this seems reasonable. The major flaw with having the Charter as the foundations are sections 1 and 33, the limitations and notwithstanding clauses, which are controversial sections allowing the government to infringe on Charter-granted rights. Still, the Charter, as the Committee pointed out, supersedes the Bill. It seems as though Committee and Council want to show, here, that IF in Canada is firmly entrenched in strong and vital legislation, not some of the more symbolic government policies. Though, that cannot wholly be the case for the Council, as the final draft makes mention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UDHR is a vital and important work, especially article 19, but it does not have legal, or even moral, weight legally. If the Committee was indeed trying to root Canadian’s IF rights into law, the Council muddied it up with the reference to the UDHR. Personally, I’m not at all against supporting and promoting the UDHR, but it may distract from the draft’s intent.
On the whole, it looks as though the Council used the draft and recommendations as a stepping stone for their own goals. The Committee expressly wanted the Statement to be “succinct and comprehensive,” and the Council added in another quarter of a page. The Committee wanted to limit reference to “within the boundaries of the law” to the opening paragraph, instead of repeating it throughout. The Council refers to keeping within the bounds of the law four times–twice in one paragraph. The Committee gives an instance of letting policy get in the way of IF duties:
Libraries should resist all efforts to limit the exercise of these responsibilities while recognizing the right of criticism by individuals and groups in accordance with established policies, procedures and due process.
But, the Council has reworded it to put the policies, procedures, and due processes before the call to resist limitations. Same words; different emphasis.
This is to say that, in some ways, the Council took the Committee’s draft Statement and made it more palatable for government and library policy makers and management. This is to be expected, of course. The Council by no means crippled the Statement, but subtly put on the breaks. Again, the new Statement is very good, it’s broader, with emphasis on areas that were not in the old Statement, and better worded, both for current times and the future.
A full analysis of the changes and their implications will have to wait for a journal article, but I will discuss one paragraph that caught my eye.
The Committee suggested changing “materials” to “information resources, in all forms,” to show that resource types are ever changing and evolving. Additionally, “materials” connotes physical objects, which we all know forms a mere part of library collections. Instead, the CLA Executive Council opted to use the phrase “expressive content,” which mirrors the earlier use of “expressions” in that paragraph. However, in the first usage the Council also added more phrases to this thought. Previously, the paragraph asked to protect, “expressions of knowledge and intellectual activity,” and now the Statement asks to protect, “constitutionally protected expressions of knowledge, imagination, ideas, and opinion.” The addition of “imagination, ideas, and opinions,” could be for a couple reasons. First, they could be attempting to clarify what is meant by the previous “intellectual activity.” Or, possibly, the Executive Council was attempting to distance themselves from the phrase as it may connote academic interests. Either explanation sounds unnecessary to me. More important, however, is the legal pandering of the additional, “constitutionally protected” aspect to expressions. I could be taking this wrong, but it feels to me as though the CLA is refusing to protect “unconstitutional” expressions, not that they are suggesting all expressions are constitutionally protected. In fact, not all expression is protected in Canada, such as hate speech. Although it is admittedly hard to defend “illegal expressions,” I argue that information and expressions are more vital than the laws governing them. For example, white supremacists vomit out all sorts of awful, hateful things, but they should definitely have access to library spaces, presuming they follow policy and act decent. This addition to the Statement limits the number of expressions that information professionals are expected to protect, though it will appease our political leaders and policy makers.
Ken Sawdon is a Footage Curation and Metadata Specialist at Dissolve Ltd., a startup stock footage and photo company. He is a recent MLIS graduate from the University of Alberta, where his activities included co-chair of the Forum for Information Professionals student conference and community activist and blogger for the Future Librarians for Intellectual Freedom. He has been a volunteer librarian for the Aero Space Museum of Calgary as well as a Collections Assistant at Fort Calgary. Connect with him at @kainous on Twitter.