HxLibraries Community Event – Library Neutrality as Public Service in Liberal Democratic Governance: Theoretical and Practical Understandings from Political Science and Urban Planning
There is a growing and active debate in the library world regarding the perceived incompatibility between library neutrality (embedded in the profession through the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights), and social justice goals. This presentation by Michael Dudley, University of Winnipeg, and John Wright, University of Calgary, asserts that the growing antipathy on the part of some library practitioners and scholars towards neutrality and intellectual freedom is owed at least in part to the profession and scholarship having never articulated an adequate definition of what is meant by neutrality. As a result, the profession lacks a theoretical framework situating the library and library staff as political actors within a multicultural and largely urban society.
We argue that such a framework may be drawn from the literatures of political science and urban planning. By positioning libraries and library workers within the context of liberal-democratic institutions – as is the case for planners in their theoretical literature – LIS theory can find more durable foundations for its core values. Stressing planning’s commitments to the participation of multiple publics, to dialogue, mediation and to consensus-building through liberal institutions, we develop a multidimensional understanding of neutrality premised on values, stakeholders, iterative processes and goals which we then apply to these planning modes. Finally, we propose a model of “Communicative Librarianship” as best exemplifying these four dimensions of neutrality and their attendant democratic commitments.