MLA 2011: Barbara Jones

Intellectual Freedom: It’s Global, It’s Local
Barbara Jones, Director, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom
Maryland/Delaware Library Association 2011 Conference – Opening Keynote

Interested in how one thing we do for library users can change the world. Kenyan movie “A Small Act.” Barbara does a lot of work overseas – Croatia, Nigeria. Talking about our idealism and passion and bringing it home.

Globalization of libraries – information is global. Internet, e-journals. IFLA Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE). Rely in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (freedom of opinion & expression). FAIFE training materials include Internet Manifesto – takes Article 19 and applies to internet and libraries.

Any of the training materials can be translated for countries that want to use them. Free to download & use, mostly used overseas. When the training is given, the host librarians are asked to come up with posters, etc that will speak to their colleagues. Next up, privacy — materials will be a collaboration between ALA and FAIFE. Other materials: HIV/AIDS, Public Access to Health Information, Transparency, Good Governance and Freedom From Corruption.

In some places the librarian may be the only person in town with a college degree. In Nigeria, librarians were trained to give out and help interpret HIV/AIDS test information – at the request of the community, who felt the public health workers would gossip. They said they knew the librarians could “keep a secret.” [Awesome!]

Challenges: Not every country has an equivalent to First Amendment or Article 19. Norms about religion and gender. Level of national development of libraries. Technological infrastructure/network of cooperation. Development of librarianship as a profession (are they considered professionals or more like secretaries?) May not even have a decent facility but IFLA tries to get them to view intellectual freedom as a core value to start with from day one.

Nigeria: Emerging democracy, good constitution guaranteeing freedom of expression and privacy. Tons of newspapers, blogs, social media. Cell phones. But – journalists kidnapped & killed. Librarians? None yet but have been hassled/worried. Nigerian Library Assn doing well. Corruption is a problem though (librarians refusing money and bribes though!). Gender equality is a problem (north is Muslim, south is Christian, some ethnic clashes in the middle of the country). Librarians get along fine though. No FOIA equivalent (working on it – bill to Parliament 12 times and will keep trying). Great Minister of Information.

FAIFE/Nigeria project: HIV/AIDS information to the villages. So much misinformation around how you get it, how you treat it, etc. Education campaign helped – among other things, vendors with AIDS saw sales go up (previously many thought that buying food from them would transmit HIV/AIDS).

Conclusions: IF is promoted by librarians on the ground when not enacted nationally. Service is seen as a core value, moreso than in the US. Lack of bandwidth is an issue: “we can’t do freedom of expression if we don’t have tools to express ourselves with.” Working on a Code of Ethics. Providing health info is seen as a part of IF. Not much librarian connection to advocacy and legislature – partly cultural, partly they just don’t see a connection. Minimal focus on privacy as a library issue.

Philippines: Democracy older & developed. Constitution guarantees freedom of expression. Library Association is robust, great ethics. Have written bill for the legislature re: internet freedom. Lots of gov’t corruption, though. Uneven development between rural and urban areas. Working to get books into hands of kids & develop a culture of reading (trains, buses, etc). Gender equality pretty good. Diverse population. Have trained 3000 librarians so far (Internet Manifesto project). Developing infrastructure.

Denmark: Highly developed. Cartoon controversy: Originals are in a vault in an unknown location – worked with local Muslim community to figure out what to do. Cartoons can’t yet be exhibited but can be used by scholars.

Dubai: internet blocked (trying to look at photos from a friend and got a message about how gov’t felt material was against moral and religious ideals of gov’t); press is not free (host for a conference paid local paper to cover it); not a democracy – libraries tightly controlled. Separate but equal reading rooms . . . but not equal in terms of content.

What to know about your state and local IF scene: know the politics; get people on your side before who know strategy and will stand behind you when a challenge comes; don’t forget you might get support from other groups – find the common ground; press is sympathetic; use social networking.

Know when you must draw the line in the sand – sometimes you can let things go. Call OIF for strategies, talking points. Merritt Fund – funds librarians who lose jobs over IF issues or over who they are (sexual orientation, etc.); Freedom to Read Foundation – funds court cases. Try everything you can before seeking legal remedies – town meeting, press, etc. Band together with other librarians. (In WA State for a challenge, librarians from across the state came to town meeting.) Don’t forget that this is defending the Constitution! Keep your facts straight and base what you’re saying on them – avoid emotion. Think of allies.


Wrote an interpretation of Library Bill of Rights for prisons a couple of years ago, has been published but still taking comment. Glennor surveyed prison librarians nationwide and found that librarians will eventually cave into the restrictions from the institution.

ALA is trying to build more opportunities for librarians to serve internationally. Not much now but she thinks it’ll get better – International Relations roundtable has ideas and info. Simmons has opportunities.