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

Appendix: Research Log

Because this project was completed for an introductory course, part of its requirements included a record of all steps taken in my search for literature review material, as well as a brief explanation of the rationale behind these steps. The aim of this exercise was to cultivate awareness and increase the efficiency of my research strategies-- essential skills in the practice of librarianship.

First Search

- Not having any definite idea of how my literature review would be structured or how my argument would be framed, I tried to find a current text that would recapitulate, or at least point to, pertinent arguments that have been made on the subject in recent history.

- Since intellectual freedom exists, in my mind, as a conceptual subheading under the rubric of social responsibility, I did a keyword search for social responsibility in the Library Literature database, specifying that the most current literature be listed first.

- One of the first texts that appeared was Toni Samek's Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibility in American Librarianship, 1967-1974. While the dates in the title indicated a historical analysis rather than a current assessment, I felt that this book, published fairly recently by an author I know to be deeply interested in the subject of intellectual freedom, would provide a conceptual framework and possible bibliographic leads that would assist me in future searches.

- I searched the database for any other pertinent publications by Samek and discovered that she had also compiled a short list of selected reading. ("Information Freedom Flux: A Selected Guide to Resources." Feliciter 45.1 (1999), 34-36). This would serve as a guide in some of my later searches.

- When I went to retrieve Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibility from the stacks, I also picked up another book that was sitting nearby and looked relevant to my topic: Libraries and Democracy: The Cornerstones of Liberty. A quick scan of the table of contents revealed numerous essays written on the subject of intellectual freedom (and its antithesis, censorship), as well as social responsibility.

First Reading

- Out of curiosity, I read Sanford Berman’s foreword to Samek's book. The foreword turned out to be an illuminating (and in some places incendiary) indictment of present-day libraries' failure to uphold the principles of intellectual freedom. Among the concepts that it planted in my head was the troubled idea of intellectual neutrality in librarianship and the smothering of the alternative press, both of which I made a note to investigate later on. Berman's foreword also provided an important lead in my search by mentioning David Berninghausen’s seminal article "Intellectual Freedom vs. Social Responsibility."

- Looking for more philosophical and historical background in the subject of intellectual freedom and social responsibility, I skipped directly to chapter 2 of Samek's book: "The Ethos of Intellectual Freedom." Once again, the historical tension between neutrality and advocacy surfaced; by now I had recognized it as a recurrent theme and planned to structure future searches according to it.

- In addition, I read Samek's "Selected Guide to Resources" in Feliciter. She, too, recommended Berninghausen's article as crucial in the debating the intersection of intellectual freedom and social responsibility. She also mentioned a collection of rebuttals known as "The Berninghausen Debate"-- possibly useful in my literature review. Another work that seemed germane to my topic included Robert Downs's and Ralph McCoy’s The First Freedom Today (billed by Samek as an essential collection of essays on the subject of intellectual freedom and free speech).

- Finally, to find potentially relevant essays in Libraries and Democracy, I searched the index for information and censorship, which led me to the articles "Libraries: Where the First Amendment Lives" by Paul McMasters as well as Kretchmer's "The First Amendment, Libraries, and Democracy" and "Library Internet Access Controversy and Democracy," all of which dealt with the subjects of intellectual freedom and censorship, and all of which I therefore bookmarked as possible works to feature in the literature review.

Second Search

- I retrieved The First Freedom Today, "Intellectual Freedom vs. Social Responsibility" and "The Berninghausen Debate."

- Since I liked the tenor of Sanford Berman's foreword, I searched the library catalogue for more of his work. I discovered and checked out a collection of his essays and talks, some of which pertained the topic of intellectual freedom.

Second Reading

- I read both Berninghausen's article and the various essays in "The Berninghausen Debate," both of which helped germinate the conceptual structure my literature review would take. I wanted to investigate the notion of neutrality in librarianship more thoroughly, exploring not only points of view that supported it but also those that undermined it, either by arguing that social responsibility (ie. partisanship, advocacy of particular social causes) is more important than intellectual neutrality or that there is no fundamental antithesis between intellectual freedom and social responsibility. (Rather, they are inextricable, which makes the notion of neutrality inconceivable.)

- Most of The First Freedom Today proved inapplicable to my paper, as the essays therein were devoted mainly to the topic of free speech without mention of the role of libraries. However, there was a small section on intellectual freedom in librarianship that I bookmarked for possible use in my paper.

- Of the essays in Berman's collection, only a couple seemed to relevant to the intersection of intellectual freedom and social responsibility. I kept those in mind for the literature review.

Third Search

- In need of more current writings on the subject, I decided to explore the Library and Information Science database. Using a basic keyword search, I entered social responsibility and specified that the dates of the results range from 1985 to 2005.

- Resulting hits (of which there were only a few dozen) included "When Values Conflict" by Symons and Stoffle (which I selected due to pertinent subject headings of intellectual freedom and social responsibility), "Censorship and Social Responsibility" (Chris Atton, Alternative Library Press, 1994-1995), and Social Responsibility in Librarianship: Essays On Equality.

Third Reading

- I scanned the table of contents Social Responsibility in Librarianship for any pertinent articles (ie. articles concerning intellectual freedom, social responsibility, or intellectual neutrality).

- Two articles, "Equality and Ambiguity" (MacCann) and "Libraries and Liberation" (Bolton) seemed useful; though dealing with entirely different arenas of librarianship, they both attacked the principle of neutrality in the name of social responsibility. I bookmarked both for my literature review.

- "Censorship and Social Responsibility" proved to be too short and too general in scope, addressing censorship in a broad sense rather than in the context of librarianship.

- "When Values Conflict," discussing a lack of hierarchy in the values of intellectual freedom and social responsibility in librarianship, seemed acceptably on topic, and I bookmarked it for possible use in the literature review.

Fourth Search

- By this time, the conceptual structure of my literature review, as conceived during the second reading, was beginning to crystallize. However, I felt I should search yet once more, just to be certain that I had not missed any potentially useful pieces of literature, particularly any written within the past few years.

- A brief keyword search for neutrality in the Library Literature database, sorted newest to oldest, turned up only a few hits, most of which were not available in the catalogue or online. Indeed, of the texts that seemed relevant to my topic, only "Reference in the Public Interest" (Gremmels), and "Librarianship and Political Values: Neutrality or Commitment?" (Blanke) actually pertained to intellectual freedom and were available for examination.

- I returned to the LISA database and attempted a series of advanced searches that combined subject terms with which I had been previously successful:

- intellectual freedom AND neutrality retrieved Schuman's "Social Responsibility: An Agenda for the Future," which seemed to build upon her initial rebuttal in "The Berninghausen Debate." I bookmarked it as useful in explicating the 1970s concept of social responsibility. Also retrieved in this search was Jeff Lilburn's "Re-Examining the Concept of Neutrality for Academic Librarians," another article critiquing neutrality in defense of intellectual freedom.

- intellectual freedom AND social responsibility retrieved only articles that I had seen before.

- Likewise, social responsibility AND neutrality retrieved only redundant material.

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.