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The Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT) provides a forum for the discussion of activities, programs, and problems in intellectual freedom of libraries and librarians.

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State IF chapter was asked about this...

  • 1.  State IF chapter was asked about this...

    Posted May 08, 2022 12:48 PM
    Hello all,
    This came up in the Massachusetts Library Association's Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibilities committee:
    Against "Radical Empathy" as a Core Professional Principle: An Open Letter to the ALA Working Group on Intellectual Freedom and Social Justice (substack.com)

    I'm curious what IFRT members think?

    -Steph

    ------------------------------
    Stephanie Barnaby
    IDEAS Evening/Weekend Librarian | Northeastern University Library
    s.barnaby@northeastern.edu
    She/Her/Hers
    ------------------------------


  • 2.  RE: State IF chapter was asked about this...

    Posted May 08, 2022 08:13 PM
    My two cents? Library "neutrality" is a falsehood, a farce, and an outdated mode of thinking that by default serves primarily and gives inordinate influence to groups in power. This entire essay is nonsense, and I'll bet any amount of money you care to name that not a single writer of this letter is non-white, non-cis, or a member of any marginalized group that faces intense, even existential threats from the kind of hateful right wingers that this letter seeks to placate.

    Jeremy Brett






  • 3.  RE: State IF chapter was asked about this...

    Posted May 08, 2022 09:26 PM
    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.

    Ray

    Eldon Ray James (Prefer "Ray")
    Retired Researcher
    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 member
    TLA Retired Librarians Round Table
    IFLA member  
    He/his/him
    erayjames@utexas.edu & erayjames@gmail.com



     






  • 4.  RE: State IF chapter was asked about this...

    Posted May 08, 2022 09:27 PM
      |   view attached
    Sorry for forgetting to include this.
    R

    On Sun, May 8, 2022 at 9:25 PM Eldon James <erayjames@gmail.com> wrote:
    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.

    Ray

    Eldon Ray James (Prefer "Ray")
    Retired Researcher
    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 member
    TLA Retired Librarians Round Table
    IFLA member  
    He/his/him
    erayjames@utexas.edu & erayjames@gmail.com



     




    Attachment(s)



  • 5.  RE: State IF chapter was asked about this...

    Posted May 09, 2022 11:53 PM

    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:

    1. It is in the public interest for publishers and librarians to make available the widest diversity of views and expressions, including those that are unorthodox, unpopular, or considered dangerous by the majority.


      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.






    ------------------------------
    Alec McFarlane
    President
    New Image Associates - Construction Consultants
    ------------------------------



  • 6.  RE: State IF chapter was asked about this...

    Posted May 08, 2022 10:47 PM





  • 7.  RE: State IF chapter was asked about this...

    Posted May 09, 2022 08:12 AM
    Hi all,

    Following up on Ray's response, I wanted to make sure you were aware of this webinar series from the Working Group on Intellectual Freedom and Social Justice.  There are still two more online dialogues in the series and there will also be an in-person discussion at Annual (Monday, June 27th from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., Washington Convention Center 151B).  If you would like to be part of this larger discussion, we invite you to attend one of these events.

    As Ray said, the working group was charged with exploring alternatives to neutrality rhetoric, but not to change policy.  We will be submitting our report after Annual and will be including feedback from the dialogue events.

    Thanks,

    Martin

    ------------------------------
    Martin Garnar (he/him/his)
    Director, Amherst College Library
    Chair, ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee
    ------------------------------



  • 8.  RE: State IF chapter was asked about this...

    Posted May 09, 2022 09:59 AM

    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

    Tel--515-222-3409

    Fax--515-222-3401

     






  • 9.  RE: State IF chapter was asked about this...

    Posted May 09, 2022 12:46 PM
    As one of those "librarians who seem to be most deeply and even angrily against the very notion of neutrality" and who is apparently a "full-on monomaniac", I'd point out that the two sides are not the same. We anti-neutrality librarians would rather not support - be it through taxpayer dollars, the devotion of space and time and staff resources, or the provision of free forums for speakers - people who call for and support the dehumanization, degradation, and assault of other human beings. Our "public fist-pumping" is a gesture against the idea that human rights are issues on which people can bloodlessly and neutrally disagree.

    I'm sorry if it gives some people out there some momentary bother that, just perhaps, institutions should not give sanction of any sort to Nazis, racists, homophobes, transphobes, misogynists. I'm sorry if that disturbs their comfort. I'm sorry they're clearly so terrified of pushback from right wingers that they seek a bloodless and meaningless "neutrality" that doesn't truly exist except in the minds of the privileged. I'm especially sorry that some consider the rights of hateful people to be exactly on a level as those innocents they seek to victimize, and sorry that some are willing to foster in their institutions atmospheres of fear and exclusion not only for LGBT patrons and patrons of color but for their own LBGT employees and employees of color.

    Jeremy Brett, Librarian and Proud Monomaniac.






  • 10.  RE: State IF chapter was asked about this...

    Posted May 09, 2022 12:48 PM
    And of course, "neutrality' won't save you when right wing politicians come for your collections, your budgets, and your staff that don't fit into the mold set for them. It won't make the right wing love you or libraries any more.

    Jeremy B.





  • 11.  RE: State IF chapter was asked about this...

    Posted May 09, 2022 09:17 PM
    This paper "Against Radical Empathy" is well written and deserves robust discussions.  I was in on the early drafts of the same document and made recommendations and I said essentially the same thing they did --albeit in fewer words. The point here is not so much 'neutrality' vs 'empathy' in the sense of absolutisms but of the process...

    Excerpted:
    We agree with the critical literature insofar as all processes associated with library work are value-laden, from the selection of materials, to the evolving legacy of 19th Century schemes of classification and subject headings, to the location of library buildings themselves. Libraries are not value-free institutions. Yet it is precisely because of this awareness that libraries and library workers must respect the autonomy and goals of library users by not adopting a single political ideology, nor imposing one set of values on our diverse user communities. Neutrality should therefore be understood as an ethically-informed position regarding a commitment to process, not an assertion regarding matters of fact




    ------------------------------
    Alec McFarlane
    President
    New Image Associates - Construction Consultants
    ------------------------------



  • 12.  RE: State IF chapter was asked about this...

    Posted May 09, 2022 09:43 PM
    I'm a bit confused as to what "Neutrality should therefore be understood as an ethically-informed position regarding a commitment to process, not an assertion regarding matters of fact. therefore be understood as an ethically-informed position regarding a commitment to process, not an assertion regarding matters of fact" means, exactly. Is the passage stating that libraries should take no position with regard to matters of fact? That libraries should accept and promote materials that are patent, easily disprovable, even harmful lies?

    Because, personally, I believe that as librarians we have an obligation to the truth, to provide patrons with accurate information rather than just "information". Because otherwise, all we are are living Google searches, not librarians.

    Jeremy B.





  • 13.  RE: State IF chapter was asked about this...

    Posted May 10, 2022 12:34 AM
    Consider that yours are assertions of fact, assertions of truth, and further that these claims are the current orthodoxy. The point is simply that this is an ethically dubious position for a librarian to be making.

    All libraries have a review process of some sort and last I knew we did not just put anything "fit to print" on the shelves save for that newspaper itself. This is not about neutrality per se but about the process of allowing disagreement so that better answers and better agreements can be had.

    --
    Alec C. McFarlane






  • 14.  RE: State IF chapter was asked about this...

    Posted May 10, 2022 11:25 AM

    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.


    Wanda Mae Huffaker, Librarian
    The County Library | Tyler
    whuffaker@slcolibrary.org
    801-842-9178





  • 15.  RE: State IF chapter was asked about this...

    Posted May 10, 2022 11:39 PM
    No one should be treated neutrally.  Treat all patrons with compassion and empathy.  No judgments needed.  Ask questions and respond appropriately, like trying to find just the right book for each patron.  

    Lori Broger-Mackey
    Teacher Librarian
    Columbus MS
    Adjunct Librarian
    Pierce College





  • 16.  RE: State IF chapter was asked about this...

    Posted May 12, 2022 07:30 AM
    Edited by Matthew Sylvain May 12, 2022 08:39 AM
    I believe the letter to be a thoughtful, well-written defense of neutrality that raises legitimate concerns about the proposed adoption of concepts such as radical empathy. While I quibble with certain details, I concur on the substance.

    As an academic librarian, I'll add that practicing a neutral and "ethically-informed position regarding commitment to process" better serves the educational mission of our institution. There is a difference between holding the correct opinion and having knowledge.  The later is achieved only by being exposed to diverse evidence and trying to falsify one's own position. And on a practical note, librarians are not omniscient disseminators of facts or morality. Even if we want to hand out the correct opinions, we are ill-equipped to do so.

    Matt Sylvain
    Systems & Digital Services Librarian
    Division Head, Library Systems
    University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
    285 Old Westport Road
    North Dartmouth, MA 02747
    (508) 999-8682 | msylvain@umassd.edu





  • 17.  RE: State IF chapter was asked about this...

    Posted May 12, 2022 10:42 AM
    " And on a practical note, librarians are not omniscient disseminators of facts or morality. Even if we want to hand out the correct opinions, we are ill-equipped to do so."

    Really? We aren't equipped to disseminate facts? That's one of our core functions, to provide accurate information and not to be mere puppets for disseminating objective falsehoods. For example, the Holocaust is an objective, established, provable fact. Am I therefore obligated to disseminate materials that outright call the Holocaust a falsehood, or a conspiracy by Jews against the larger world? How does providing access to that kind of information and thus being an accomplice to spreading lies (and not only lies, but offensive lies that dishonor the memory of slaughtered innocents) further the national conversation? How does this accomplish our mission of being a public good?

    Likewise, how is standing against people and informational sources that promote the dehumanization, degradation, and not occasionally the outright murder of other human beings objectionable? By promoting a cold "neutrality" (which smarter people than me have pointed out always helps the oppressor and never the victim), we are consciously siding against our patrons and staff from traditionally marginalized and powerless groups. It is an immoral and a fearful stand that doesn't want to make waves and claims to be serving the greater good while in reality merely propping up the unfair status quo. It's a mindset unworthy of librarians, and I'm happy to see that the younger generations of library workers are seeing this as the lie it is.

    I've said this before. Being neutral and denying an obligation to provide patrons with objectively accurate information, claiming that we owe nothing to the truth and to human dignity (the latter of which is not a matter up for debate or argument), makes librarians nothing but human Google searches. Why should institutions pay salaries and health benefits and pensions to people when their patrons can just Google stuff without any kind of commitment to information literacy?

    It saddens me to see so many librarians who should know better, resorting to "neutrality", that comfort zone of white and class privilege, where they know that they'll never feel threatened or harmed by the outcome of their "neutral" policies.

    Jeremy B.





  • 18.  RE: State IF chapter was asked about this...

    Posted May 12, 2022 01:45 PM
    Edited by Matthew Sylvain May 12, 2022 02:06 PM
    Most librarians practicing a neutral and "ethically-informed position regarding commitment to process" would never purchase a Holocaust denial book. It simply wouldn't be considered based on collection development policy and process. An exception, perhaps, may be an academic library supporting research on antisemitism. This hypothetical work may have value as a primary source for researchers.

    In addition to collection development activities, librarians also differ from Google by teaching patrons how to evaluate information. This includes considering the significance of factors such as publisher, the author's credentials and organizational affiliation, the purpose of the work, funding for the work, etc. We can also help patrons recognize logical fallacies such as ad hominin attacks, strawman arguments, and false dichotomies.

    Matt

    Matt Sylvain
    Systems & Digital Services Librarian
    Division Head, Library Systems
    University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
    285 Old Westport Road
    North Dartmouth, MA 02747
    (508) 999-8682 | msylvain@umassd.edu