Social Responsibility

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Three Articles on Social Responsibility in Librarianship: 

Three Articles on Social Responsibility in Librarianship Sheryl Legaspi Diane Kunichika LIS 610 Presentation Instructor: Donna Bair-Mundy Spring 2007


Introduction Three articles “Antithesis in Librarianship: Social Responsibility vs. The Library Bill of Rights” by David Berninghausen (1972) “Social Responsibility vs. The Library Bill of Rights: The Berninghausen Debate” – rebuttal to the Berninghausen article from various librarians (1973) Reprint of Antithesis and Debate (1993) Rehumanizing Information: by J. C. Swanson (1996) Started one of the “most memorable conflicts in ALA history” D


Situation Original article printed in Library Journal in 1972. Rebuttal printed two months later in January 1973 Article from Donna re-printed in 1993 Included excerpts from both articles D

What is Social Responsibility movement?: 

What is Social Responsibility movement? Broadly includes progressive, activist, radical, and anarchist librarians To make libraries “socially relevant and improve user access” Access to topics marginalized in the mainstream library press D

Why Reprint?: 

Why Reprint? Renewal of debate at 1993 ALA conference in New Orleans ALA should or should not take public positions on social issues Role of SRRT – Social Responsibility Round Table D

The 70’s: 

The 70’s First Earth Day Vietnam War President: Richard Nixon Israeli athletes killed by Palestinian terrorists at Munich Olympic Watergate D Librarians for Peace


90’s Operation Desert Storm President: Bill Clinton First Bombing of World Trade Center Greenhouse Effect L.A. South Central Riots D


Antithesis in Librarianship: Social Responsibility vs. The Library Bill of Rights by David Berninghausen (1972)

Berninghausen’s Points: 

Berninghausen’s Points ALA’s purpose is not to resolve issues of “vital importance” such as racial injustice, pollution, war, homosexuality, or separation of church and state ALA should focus its time, energy, and resources on librarianship whose particular focus should be on intellectual freedom “It is unethical for a librarian to …suppress or exclude expressions of ideas that are objectionable S

His Perception of the problem: 

His Perception of the problem Librarians would take political stands on topics “outside their professional competence.” Attentions would be diverted from librarianship. As partisan advocates, librarians would build biased collections. Librarians would be “divided on non-library issues” and ALA would be weakened to resist external forces to ban books. Limited budgets would result in biased collections. S

The Debate: 

The Debate “Artificial controversy” – Jones “straw man” – Wedgeworth “archaic issue” Just for library students to write a 1000-word essay. – Armitage “marvelous spoof of the reactionary librarian” –Curley “But one expresses an opinion even without opening one’s mouth!” – Byam S

The Debate (cont.): 

The Debate (cont.) Libraries as part of society “society affects libraries… and libraries affect society (or why have them?)- Schuman “no intellectual freedom unless it is available to all men” – Robbins To be an “effective instrument of social change…focus public attention upon social, political, and economic problems” – Bendix S

The Debate (cont.): 

The Debate (cont.) Role of librarians “see ourselves as communicators, rather than opinion leaders” – Oboler “picture of the librarian.. [as that] of a mere technician or human computer” – Josey “library cannot be all things to all people” – Summers “guilty of partisanship” – Sellen “librarians…creating an environment where confrontation…can take place” – De John D

The Debate (cont. again): 

The Debate (cont. again) “balanced collection” “practicing censorship in the name of book selection” – Hillard “cloak of virtue and the advocacy of good causes are no warrants for exclusion of materials from a library.” – Gaines “not censorship but collection building with an eye towards balanced views” – Doiron D

Our Stands: 

Our Stands

Free Speech for Librarians? Review of Socially Responsible Librarianship: 

Free Speech for Librarians? Review of Socially Responsible Librarianship Problems finding the link from the Berninghausen debate to 3rd article Rehumanizing Information History of the Social Responsibility movement from 1967-1999 by Tara Alcock Berninghausen “predestined the social responsibility movement to be anti-intellectual freedom” D

Social Responsibility in the 70’s and 80’s: 

Social Responsibility in the 70’s and 80’s After 1973, movement moved out of the limelight In 80’s “movement shifted to smaller scale initiatives” to address underserved populations. D

Social Responsibility in the 90’s: 

Social Responsibility in the 90’s Resurgence in the 90’s with the American Libraries cover photo of the Gay and Lesbian task force. Detractors focused on irrelevance to librarianship per se “ethic of neutrality” serves “to silence librarians from speaking out on controversial issues” D

90’s Commodification: 

90’s Commodification “The action of turning something into, or treating something as, a (mere) commodity; commercialization of an activity, etc., that is not by nature commercial.” (Oxford English Dictionary) Introduction of “entrepreneurial librarianship,” “affiliation with big business, and “users as customers.” (Alcock) “We don’t generate information; we don’t understand it; we just make it available.” (Swan) S

Rehumanizing Information: An Alternative Future: 

Rehumanizing Information: An Alternative Future “…the commitment to make available the whole fabric of information rather than bits of data…” (Swan) “Must offer not only a difference but resistance” Offer instead “discovery...depth…richness of perspective” S


“Our real goal must be to trace information to its sources, to illuminate the contexts through which it moves and changes…we must find ways of rehumanizing information, making it again a source of illumimation…” Conclusion S


Scenario S Intellectual vs social Responsibility What do you think?


References Terrorists at Munich Olympics from Sydney Morning Herald: Nixon picture – World of Education Earth Day – Official site of International Earth Day Vietnam War – Army Happy Face – Online History Encyclopedia of Washington State History 70’s fashion 90’s Clinton Operation Desert Storm First Bombing of World Trade Center – Middle East Intelligence Bulletin

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