Neutral or Neutered?
:: Intellectual Freedom as Social Responsibility ::


I. Historical Context

II. The Debate Evolves

III. Is Neutrality Desirable?

IV. Is Intellectual Freedom Our Only Responsibility?

V. Personal Reflection

Works Cited

Appendix: Research Log

II. The Debate Evolves

The tenability of neutrality has remained a subject of debate long after the publication of Berninghausen's article. The political climate of the 1970s may have changed, but censorious challenges appear constantly; therefore, many librarians continue to rally around the oriflamme of neutrality as a means of protecting their collections.

In Cal Thomas's and Nat Hentoff's "Are Librarians Fair?," the quest to overcome political affiliation in the name of intellectual freedom is as much a structural theme as it is the thrust of the argument. In the first half of the article, Thomas, an admitted political conservative (118), complains of "censorship from the left": the removal of books from collections for being racist, sexist, or being otherwise socially unprogressive (117). Hentoff, a liberal, takes his half of the article to concur with Thomas in one respect: that librarians must support "the banning of all banning" (121). Public libraries are public property, argues Hentoff; it is not the prerogative of librarians to let their own political persuasions influence the selection of books (120).

The same zero-tolerance attitude toward censorship surfaces in debates over library Internet access. Aside from terrorizing the puritanical and bewildering the elderly, the morass of material on the World Wide Web offers a unique opportunity for proponents of neutrality to reaffirm their position. Responding to calls to install filtering software on library computers, Susan Kretchmer's "Library Internet Access Controversy and Democracy" questions the motives behind such censorship. Her reasons for rejecting filtering software echo Berninghausen's defense of neutrality in librarianship; she denounces Internet censorship as a "paternalistic attitude" that "disrespects [an individual's] dignity by eliminating individual decision making" (102). As she puts it, complete intellectual freedom is required to produce "a citizenry well-informed on political and social issues" (103).

A similar sentiment finds stronger words in Paul McMasters's "Libraries: Where the First Amendment Lives." To limit intellectual freedom is, in McMasters's opinion, to permit "cultural debilitation" (143); biased collections and restricted access thwart users' abilities to apply reason to "discern and distill . . . goodness and worth" from the myriad viewpoints pertaining to an issue (143). To resist such heinous outcomes, McMasters argues, a librarian must abandon ideological affiliation to facilitate intellectual freedom-- to "be prepared to defend bad words for good principles" (143).

Go to Part III: Is Neutrality Desirable?

Content, coding, and photograph by Sarah Mead-Willis ( Originally a paper written for LIS 501 (Foundations of Library and Information Studies), this website was created to to fulfill the requirements of LIS 600 (Capping Exercise), part of the Master of Library and Information Studies program at the University of Alberta. This site was last modified Febrary 14th, 2006.