Intellectual Freedom And Academic Freedom

I’m at the Pennsylvania Library Association Conference the next few days. I just left Carrie Gardner’s (faculty at Catholic U.’s LIS) presentation on “Communicating Your Intellectual Freedom Message.” Although it was geared somewhat more to the public library sector I think Carrie gave some great advice for understanding what information is illegal (e.g., child pornography, libel, slander, dangerous speech and obscenity) versus what might be deemed offensive, disturbing or unethical. Her key point was that we all need to be effective communicators when it comes to sending out a strong message that there are critically important reasons why our libraries must have the freedom to collect and offer access to a wide variety of materials in all formats, even some that might offend – as long as they are not illegal. I asked Carrie about academic freedom versus intellectual freedom, and whether the latter does afford some protections to those who lack academic freedom. This is one of those “gray area” issues. At many of our institutions, and it can certainly depend where it falls within the conservative-liberal spectrum, non-tenured staff may have a wide berth in their rights to speak and write what they like because there is a fundamental belief in the importance of intellectual freedom and the contribution it makes to a spirtited academic environment. However, Carrie was clear that intellectual freedom, despite its conceptual benefits, would not provide the protections of academic freedom. This is a fairly complex issue that I’ll continue to explore, but I’m glad that Carrie is out there teaching our future students about and working with ALA on these issues. If you want to share your perspectives on or interpretation of how intellectual freedom relates to academic librarianship and would like to help us explore and understand it further, we invite your comments or will consider publishing a post from you.

3 thoughts on “Intellectual Freedom And Academic Freedom”

  1. Marc, thanks for the link, and for working on this. I do believe that while the structural and legal scaffolding is in place to protect tenure-holding faculty, libraries need to extend academic (intellectual) freedom to library workers generally. This Q&A lays out the benefits of doing that. Faculty culture has grown up around that structural scaffolding to the extent that it respecting one another’s expertise comes naturally. We haven’t always been so respectful of one another in libraries – and many library administrators take their cues from business gurus used to operating in a profit-driven production mode. There’s a good chapter on this in John Bushman’s book Dismantling the Public Sphere. The whole book is well worth a read.

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