UK library body publishes guide in ‘opposition to censorship’

UK library body publishes guide in ‘opposition to censorship’

UK's Library and Information Association Offers Vital Framework for Safeguarding Intellectual Freedom

by Suswati Basu
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In the wake of mounting global concerns over the censorship and banning of books, the UK’s Library and Information Association, CILIP, has taken a bold step by unveiling a comprehensive guidance document. Entitled “Managing Safe and Inclusive Public Library Services: A practical guide“, this publication aims to equip public libraries with a decisive decision-making framework as they grapple with intricate and contentious issues.

CILIP Scotland looked at censorship for Banned Books Week 2022 as library issues new guide to combat book bans

The guide, launched on Wednesday, provides libraries with essential tools, including checklists, presentation materials, and various resources, to facilitate the practical implementation of safe and inclusive public library services.

Guiding principles for navigating complex library challenges

CILIP’s approach is also said to be underpinned by a wealth of knowledge and experience, meticulously gathered in consultation with library professionals and leaders from public, school, and prison libraries. It is also rooted in a set of core principles, deriving inspiration from CILIP’s Ethical Framework. Foremost among these principles is the fundamental admonition for libraries: “Don’t be scared, but do be prepared.”

  1. Take a risk management approach
  2. Promote the safety of library workers
  3. Understand the law and its limits
  4. Engage with professional ethics and values
  5. Engage your stakeholders
  6. Reflect on your biases
  7. Develop appropriate policies
  8. Maintain access to appropriate expertise
  9. Make (and document) evidence-based decisions
  10. Train your staff
  11. Reflect and learn from experience

The importance of intellectual freedom amid global concerns

In addition, the timing of the guide’s release is significant, given the recent surge in “book banning” incidents in the United States, where specific titles or categories of books have been legally proscribed in school and public libraries. While the UK has experienced relatively few “official” book bans, the majority have been centred on issues of sexual obscenity. Remarkably, few bans have endured beyond the administrations that enacted them.

“Libraries exist to ensure that everyone everywhere enjoys the freedom to read, to ask questions and to learn, without fear or favour.”

Nick Poole, CILIP CEO

Unlike the American Library Association’s (ALA) list of banned titles, the UK currently lacks a comparable compilation of banned or challenged books, and there are no immediate plans to establish one. However, historical records of banned titles are accessible online.

Read: Top librarian fired by board as book ban compared with Nazi Germany

CILIP’s guidance has been crafted with support from Arts Council England and supersedes the earlier document, “Guidance on the Management of Controversial Materials in Public Libraries“, published by the Museums, Libraries, and Archives Council (MLA) in 2008.

When the original guidance was issued, it arose against the backdrop of concerns about radicalisation and extremism. The renewed focus on freedom of expression, online harms, and the marginalisation of certain communities necessitated the update. As CILIP emphasises, the central challenge remains consistent: providing safe, trusted, and inclusive library services for communities, including those in schools and prisons.

Read: Clean Up Alabama call to jail librarians for giving LGBT books to kids

CILIP CEO Nick Poole expressed, “Libraries exist to ensure that everyone everywhere enjoys the freedom to read, to ask questions and to learn, without fear or favour. In today’s increasingly polarised world, it is more important than ever to ensure that our sector is clear in its opposition to censorship and the promotion of the intellectual freedom of our users. Libraries should not be a place to hide from difficult ideas, but to ensure that difficult ideas can be critiqued in their proper context.”

While Luke Burton, Libraries, Arts Council England director, hailed this guide as a vital resource for the library sector, ensuring that libraries remain safe, welcoming, and inclusive spaces for all users and staff.

A living document: safeguarding intellectual freedom for the future

This guidance also reiterates a powerful statement of professional commitment:

  1. Intellectual freedom: The freedom to read, learn, question, and access information is at the heart of democracy.
  2. Core role of libraries: Libraries, librarians, and library staff must promote intellectual freedom, empower users, and oppose all forms of censorship.
  3. Responsibility of library workers: Library professionals have a duty to provide materials that enrich learning, stimulate growth in knowledge, foster critical thinking, and represent diverse perspectives.
  4. Opposition to censorship: Librarians and library staff must actively oppose censorship, except where materials are proscribed by law or pose a risk of inciting illegal acts or constitute hate speech.

As a result, they add that the guide is not static; it will evolve with changing practices in the years ahead. The plan is that it will be seen as a living document, a perpetual reference for library staff, underlining the unwavering commitment to intellectual freedom that lies at the heart of the profession. As we navigate an ever-shifting landscape of ideas and values, this guidance is a beacon, ensuring that libraries continue to illuminate the path of knowledge and enlightenment for all.

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