Library Neutrality

Justifying Neutrality - Reference Services

The provision of reference and information services is perhaps the most controversial arena in librarianship from an ethical perspective. A policy of neutrality has often been used as a way of circumventing the challenges inherent in making moral judgments. Theorists such as Hauptman and Gremmels have criticized this approach for failing to acknowledge a responsibility to the community, while Swan has argued that, in the interests of intellectual freedom, librarians cannot deny any patron the information that he or she requests.

Freedom of information thrives in its purest form, when the largest possible amount of information is available without cost, whether that cost is measured in dollars, dignity, freedoms, or rights. Librarians should not knowingly provide information that will be used in the commission of a crime, but nor can they make assumptions about any patrons or the intended use of any information. A librarianís responsibility to the community is to provide unfettered and unfiltered access to information and, unless overtly criminal intentions are made absolutely explicit during a reference transaction, a policy of neutrality is the only one that will ensure information is provided to the whole community without cost.

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