The Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT) provides a forum for the discussion of activities, programs, and problems in intellectual freedom of libraries and librarians.
The IFRT Members Community group is the central hub for discussion, library and events. It is visible to all ALA members but only IFRT members can participate in the conversation.
Learn more about IFRT on the ALA website2019-2022 Strategic PlanIFRT Leader HandbookFacebookTwitter#IntellectualFreedom
As a member of Intellectual Freedom and Social Justice Working Group and one of the primary researchers on radical empathy as a possible replacement for neutrality and one of the writing team for the report (attached) I disagree with much in the open letter but find the criticism of value in the complete process of finding a substitute for neutrality. With so many ALA members speaking out against our current use of neutrality I think it is appropriate to explore alternatives, including but not limited to radical empathy, trauma-informed librarianship, and cultural humility, as a beginning to the process. This report is only that, a report to the Executive Board. The Board may reject it out of hand or ask others to consider it or move it along to the Council to consider its implementation. Remember neutrality does not appear in any official ALA document so replacing it as a core principle will be complex and time consuming and obviously not without opposition.RayEldon Ray James (Prefer "Ray")Retired ResearcherIFRT Coalition Building chair 2021-2022TAG Task Force member 2021-2022IFRT Obelor Award committee member 2021-2022FTRF Developing Issues Committee member 2021-2022Intellectual Freedom Committee IFRT liaison 2021-2023Intellectual Freedom Committee LSJI liaison 2021-2023Intellectual Freedom & Social Justice Task Force 2021-2022 (LSJI liaison)Challenges to CRT and Diversity Training Toolkit Subgroup memberALA Standards for Library Services for Incarcerated and Detained Individuals Working Group memberIFLA Guidelines for library services to prisoners working group (2021-2022)Library Services to the Justice Involved (LSJI) member (2021-2022)TLA memberTLA Retired Librarians Round TableIFLA member Hefirstname.lastname@example.org & email@example.com
The process of "finding a substitute for 'neutrality'" is another form of absolutism where the word and its singular connotation is being rejected for want of a "better" word.How is this concept of "Radical Empathy" not an ideal?We are not talking about mere empathy here folks, this is the Radical type; as in Radical hype. Would we be better off with "Radical Neutrality"? No. It is just another buzzword someone would have to invent in order to qualify and justify something --and that is part of how these things get the 'ideal' label. This also reveals how these "new buzzwords" are anything but neutral.We have, for instance, the presumptions given at the end of the attachment provided. The last two points are sufficient for our purposes: (1) where the proposal endeavors to "champion social justice, taking action to combat discrimination and systemic racism." (2) And later where it is emphasized that in order "To succeed in these goals we propose radical empathy rather than neutrality as our guiding value." The latter is dependent upon the former when we understand that the only way to achieve 'racial equality' is to create a race based system... and when there is no such thing as race or color in the sense we presume, the endeavor is simply untenable. Worse than "not being neutral", these ideologies are completely biased --predisposed upon fallacious markers. This is where we are not talking about neutrality per se but the act of allowing conjecture and refutation; about allowing a process to happen so that the participants better understand the matter at hand. Put another way, my consultancy is essentially this: we have to deal with people who disagree with us. Disagreements are not the problem, nor are those on the fringes, the problem is the ability to even engage in the process of conjecture and refutation, supposition and falsification, proposal and counterproposal. Breaking into "Neutrality" and "Radical Empathy" camps is nothing more than another form of tribalism; belief for the sake of belief itself; conformity to a given ideology. The Freedom to Read declaration of 1953 was a member-based resolution that makes clear it is not about who is right or who is wrong but about the very ability to exchange such thoughts in the first place; to allow for social intercourse. We should not be concerned so much with absolutisms as much as we should be concerned with the preponderance of belief or the preponderance of understanding that comes from access to disparate ideas and sources of information. Take from the first proposition of the Freedom to Read declaration:
Creative thought is by definition new, and what is new is different. The bearer of every new thought is a rebel until that idea is refined and tested. Totalitarian systems attempt to maintain themselves in power by the ruthless suppression of any concept that challenges the established orthodoxy. The power of a democratic system to adapt to change is vastly strengthened by the freedom of its citizens to choose widely from among conflicting opinions offered freely to them. To stifle every nonconformist idea at birth would mark the end of the democratic process. Furthermore, only through the constant activity of weighing and selecting can the democratic mind attain the strength demanded by times like these. We need to know not only what we believe but why we believe it.
As a member of Intellectual Freedom and Social Justice Working Group and one of the primary researchers on radical empathy as a possible replacement for neutrality and one of the writing team for the report (attached) I disagree with much in the open letter but find the criticism of value in the complete process of finding a substitute for neutrality.
With so many ALA members speaking out against our current use of neutrality I think it is appropriate to explore alternatives, including but not limited to radical empathy, trauma-informed librarianship, and cultural humility, as a beginning to the process. This report is only that, a report to the Executive Board. The Board may reject it out of hand or ask others to consider it or move it along to the Council to consider its implementation. Remember neutrality does not appear in any official ALA document so replacing it as a core principle will be complex and time consuming and obviously not without opposition.
Eldon Ray James (Prefer "Ray")
IFRT Coalition Building chair 2021-2022
TAG Task Force member 2021-2022
IFRT Obelor Award committee member 2021-2022
FTRF Developing Issues Committee member 2021-2022
Intellectual Freedom Committee IFRT liaison 2021-2023
Intellectual Freedom Committee LSJI liaison 2021-2023
Intellectual Freedom & Social Justice Task Force 2021-2022 (LSJI liaison)
Challenges to CRT and Diversity Training Toolkit Subgroup member
ALA Standards for Library Services for Incarcerated and Detained Individuals Working Group member
IFLA Guidelines for library services to prisoners working group (2021-2022)
Library Services to the Justice Involved (LSJI) member (2021-2022)
TLA Retired Librarians Round Table
firstname.lastname@example.org & email@example.com
The choices basically boil down to neutrality or varying degrees of fanaticism in just about every direction on just about every topic. From my observations over the last 22 years, those librarians who seem to be most deeply and even angrily against the very notion of neutrality are just as often vocal and convinced political ideologues, if not full-on monomaniacs. These are often the people who insist that libraries should make statements, issue edicts, become partisan. But asking public institutions to pick and customize their respective causes and degrees of commitment (and continually re-assess them, I suppose) is politically suicidal for the profession and turns libraries EVEN MORE into the electoral footballs that WE have arguably already allowed them to become. This is truer in public libraries than in those sorts more insulated from the feedback and pushback of taxpayers, but the entire field suffers for the public fist-pumping of the convinced.
More specifically, the idea that a notion like "radical empathy" could become a "core value" in a profession not related to religious or therapeutic work is not intellectually serious. The writers of this statement, however, seem refreshingly serious. This is a well-written statement against the amplified anti-neutrality drone note of the last few years, partially played on the ALA's horns. The call to actively embed neutrality as a core value is especially courageous right now. Good for them.
Darryl H. Eschete, MLIS
Director, West Des Moines Public Library
4000 Mills Civic Parkway
West Des Moines, Iowa 50265
Accurate information vs. truth is always interesting to me when we discuss that here. I use the 200's (religion) and diet books as an example. I prefer to provide sources, or direct them to the area, but remain neutral for the best diet, or recommendations on a good religion. My state has a majority of right-wingers, and they hold the financial control of libraries. I don't find most of them hateful and angry, but we too have our groups who are. We don't query their motives when attending or using our library, but we do have use rules. I feel neutrality is the word that applies, in that library users are all afforded their privacy. We may never know personal details of who uses our libraries. Empathy requires me to make assumptions and guesses of those towards whom I must show compassionate treatment, based on a marginalized status, neutrality requires me to attempt to treat people, my collection and my policies equal and fair.
225 N Michigan Ave, Suite 1300 | Chicago, IL | 60601 | USA
Request a New Community