Preserving Our Values

Libraries as social change agents

May 31, 2016

Karen Muller

In 1999, the American Library Association (ALA) Council adopted the statement “Libraries: An American Value.” The principles in that document, in the Library Bill of Rights, and in our mission all speak to the importance of libraries as agents of change and protectors of our heritage. These books speak to those principles.

0616-librarians1The Intellectual Freedom Manual is a guide to providing library service in support of First Amendment rights. For the manual’s 9th edition, the background information on its policies has been pulled into a separate volume, A History of ALA Policy on Intellectual Freedom: A Supplement to the Intellectual Freedom Manual, compiled by editor Trina Magi and assistant editor Martin Garnar for ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. The essays on these core intellectual freedom documents and their interpretations provide insights on why they were developed, as well as narratives on events that precipitated discussions that led to agreed-upon practices for dealing with issues. Two of the three core documents, the Library Bill of Rights and the Code of Ethics, both adopted by ALA Council in 1939, informed the third, the Freedom to Read Statement, which was adopted in 1953. These were documents of their time, and the histories of their evolution are important reading. ALA Editions, 2015. 172 P. $85. PBK. 978-0-8389-1325-3. (Also available as an ebook.)

0616-librarians2In Ethics and Values in Librarianship: A History, Wallace Koehler digs into more areas where shared values have evolved, sometimes over centuries and often across cultures. Koehler takes a thematic approach, covering stewardship, classification, librarian qualifications, freedom of expression, and libraries and democracy. For an essay on intellectual property, he notes how there was no copyright law when manuscripts were unique objects copied by hand—Great Britain’s Statute of Anne, which was passed in 1710, changed that. The essay on qualifications begins with the status quo and explores models from other countries before analyzing the elements of past practices and beliefs that have informed our current understanding. He also links libraries and democracy to freedom of expression in a pair of essays. Rowman and Littlefield, 2015. 292 P. $80. 978-1-4422-5426-8. (Also available as an ebook.)

0616-librarians3Using decades of research on public libraries, Paul T. Jaeger, Ursula Gorham, John Carlo Bertot, and Lindsay C. Sarin examine how libraries both influence and are influenced by public policies in Public Libraries, Public Policies, and Political Processes: Serving and Transforming Communities in Times of Economic and Political Constraint. The authors make the distinction between politics and policies as they look at the evolution of public libraries as a public good; explore the evolution of policies for public libraries; examine how libraries have changed their communities and have been changed by the communities; and seek to demonstrate the value of libraries in the face of economic and political challenges. They conclude that “public libraries mean far too much to their patrons and their communities for libraries and their supporters to not throw everything they can at advocacy and engagement.” Rowman and Littlefield, 2014. 198 P. $61. PBK. 978-1-4422-3346-1. (Also available as an ebook.)

0616-librarians4Additional essays on the role of libraries as social change agents are found in Perspectives on Libraries As Institutions of Human Rights and Social Justice, the 41st volume in the Advances in Librarianship series, edited by Ursula Gorham, Natalie Greene Taylor, and Paul T. Jaeger. The 19 essays cover such topics as conceptualizing libraries as institutions of human rights and social justice, providing service to marginalized populations, and how these issues are presented in LIS professions and curricula. Examples of services and social change from North American models are included, as well as case studies from India, New Zealand, Nigeria, and South Africa. As noted in the book’s wrap-up essay, the library is sometimes the only institution in a community able to assume a role in resolving human rights issues or extending needed services. But our professional mindset, and even the education being offered, may not equip new practitioners to assume these important community roles. Emerald Group Publishing, 2016. 456 P. $155. 978-1-7863-5058-9. (Also available as an ebook.)

0616-librarians5Elaine Harger’s Which Side Are You On?: Seven Social Responsibility Debates in American Librarianship, 1990–2015 documents debates that led to changes in ALA policy statements and the ways we perceive ALA’s community role. Harger, an active ALA member and participant in the discussions, reports on seven watershed debates—just the catchwords will trigger memories: The Speaker, antiapartheid actions, censorship in Israel and disputed territories, partnerships with the Boy Scouts and McDonald’s, Snowden, and climate crisis. The issues underlying these debates are contentious and not easy to grasp quickly. Harger’s essays on her route to learning about the issues and understanding their impact, along with excerpts from the debates, provide useful insights to ALA’s social conscience. McFarland, 2016. 236 P. $25. 978-0-7864-9455-2. (Also available as an ebook.)


Marie Corbitt, outreach program librarian at Westerville (Ohio) Public Library, leads a “Remember When” storytime at a nursing facility. Photo: Westerville (Ohio) Public Library

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