radical librarianship

I’m pleased to see that a Radical Library Camp is happening next weekend. There’s never been a more pressing time to debate our professions’ place in the world and the ethical values that it represents. As the UK’s professional organisation for librarians, CILIP, is undergoing a similar debate but in a questionable way that is alienating a lot of the community that it claims to serve, now is an appropriate time for alternative voices to make themselves heard.

Personally, I don’t distinguish radical librarianship from the regular kind: I see librarianship as an inherently radical profession. One of the core values that drives it is sharing information and making as much information available to the communities we serve as possible; and in this age of connectivity, our community can encompass the world.

We live in a time where the technological means to create the librarian’s ultimate dream – the Total Library, the sum of all human knowledge – is within our grasp. All it takes is the will to do it. Of course, this achievement would be a failure if it wasn’t completely open and accessible by all.

And yet most of the people I meet and work with in librarianship don’t seem to think in these terms. They may think that sharing knowledge is ‘a good thing’ but it’s not an ethical imperative that drives everything they do.

Rethinking what we do through the lens of radical librarianship can lead to a constant questioning of how we should act to work towards creating a better, more open world. Here’s a copy of the pitch I made for Radical Library Camp as an example (there are more pitches on their website):

Professional ethics: copyright is broken, so why am I enforcing it?

“Copyright law is broken. By criminalising citizens and creators in order to protect the profits of corporations, it harms the people that it should be empowering. Therefore I see it as an ethical imperative to break and/or subvert it; civil disobedience is a necessary part of a functioning democracy.

It is part of my job in a library to uphold and enforce copyright law.

Professional ethics are in conflict here: on the one hand, I have a duty to my employer and society to act in accordance with the law; on the other hand, when that law is wrong, it is unethical to force people to comply with it.

How can this be resolved? I’m not sure that the professional ethics (http://www.cilip.org.uk/cilip/about/ethics) espoused by our current professional organisation, CILIP, are enough to negotiate dilemmas like this. What does this mean? Do we need a new, more agile ethical approach that can deal with contemporary information ethics? And if so, can we find this within existing professional frameworks or do we need a new professional body?”

I can’t attend #radlibcamp in person, so will be following closely on twitter and hoping for another one soon.