"A library doesn't need windows. A library is a window." – Stewart Brand

Dec 2, 2009

The freedom to read, the freedom to talk, the freedom to think

Yes, I'm still alive. It is finals time, and quite frankly my brain isn't really functioning 100% even with caffeine. I've not posted here for a while because I haven't had the energy to put in the thought required for a quality post.

To be honest, I still don't think I actually have the energy, in general. But I was so impressed and energized by what I've just come across that I found some extra reserves somewhere.

I just read the ALA's Freedom to Read Statement for the first time.


I don't think that many librarians (I wish I could say "any librarians", but there are always a few who don't get it) would argue in favor of censorship. I have always felt that restricting the information that other people can access is deeply wrong, even if the information in question is morally repugnant. But it's been difficult for me to articulate why this is wrong, other than that it just is. The Freedom to Read Statement says, quite eloquently, what I've never quite been able to articulate well enough.

In one of my classes, we did some reading a few weeks ago about the deliberative democracy movement. This movement contends that citizens need to be able to debate issues with each other, considering them as objectively as possible from all sides, in order to come to an understanding of all of the different positions on an issue and, depending on who you talk to, to either make the best possible collective decision about the issue or to have more informed and rational personal opinions (which may still not be in agreement). I think that the thrust of the philosophy behind the Freedom to Read Statement and the deliberative democracy movement are largely the same. If I could sum it up in a sentence, and add a little of my own spin to it, it might go something like this:

Communities (/democracies) derive strength from the consideration of many diverse viewpoints, not from enforcing the availability of a few "acceptable" opinions.

That, to me, is a very powerful idea. It is a shame that so many people do not seem to understand the roots of community strength in this way.

Certainly there is some value to groups of people who do all hold the same opinion. I read an article for another class recently that discussed "bonding" and "bridging" social capital. The former is social capital that arises from ingroup interrelationships, and it serves to bring group members closer together. Shared opinions can foster bonding social capital. Bridging social capital are connections between ingroup members and other groups that create social capital. Both of these kinds of social captial are important. It is important to have an ingroup with which you are bonded, but people, and the ingroups to which they belong, are strengthened by their relationships to other outside groups as well. I think that for these relationships to form, it is important to be able to have open, honest communication about differences of opinion. If a group censors everything it doesn't agree with, it will be hard for that group to connect with others, and the group members will suffer as a result.

(I feel as though this isn't quite a complete post. If there are missing bits, please refer to the above mention of finals having killed my ability to think, and forgive me. (And ask about it in the comments! This whole set of ideas is really interesting to me and I would love to discuss/think about it more.))

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