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The (unofficial) blog of the BCLA Information Policy Committee
For Immediate Release, 20/3/2013
The British Columbia Library Association (BCLA) is alarmed by some of the oppressive language in the Values and Ethics Code recently issued to govern the behaviour of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) employees. The implications of the Code and its attempts to regulate behavior, critical thinking and freedom of expression both in and out of the work environment threaten the principles of a democratic society.
As information professionals, librarians and archivists are governed by well-established professional codes of ethics and principles, developed over centuries of service to the public. For example, from the Canadian Library Association:
“It is the responsibility of libraries to guarantee and facilitate access to all expressions of knowledge and intellectual activity, including those which some elements of society may consider to be unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable.”
BCLA’s perception is that some parts of the Values and Ethics Code is punitive and results from the concerns expressed by professional librarians and archivists across Canada about budget cuts to LAC and drastic changes in policies by current LAC management.
The LAC Values and Ethics Code is disturbing for several other reasons. It inhibits employees from participating in library- or archives-related professional conferences, teaching engagements, or other unspecified “personal activities”. The Code describes these activities as “high risk” to LAC. This implies that any discussion on any topic not approved by LAC senior management threatens the institution and is in a conflict of interest. BCLA acknowledges that public servants have a “duty of loyalty” but argues that this must be balanced with a person’s right to freedom of expression. As well, professional employees such as librarians and archivists must be permitted to engage with their peers in forums where they may be discussing differing or controversial perspectives.
Preventing LAC employees from engaging in professional discourse does a profound disservice to scholarship in fields relating to technology, history, libraries, and archives. It discourages many of the nation’s foremost heritage experts from discussing their work with the wider world and restricts their access to innovations being developed and shared by their colleagues outside LAC. Historically LAC employees have played an active and important role in Canada and internationally, sharing expertise and supporting smaller libraries and archives
The implications of the Code extend far beyond employees’ professional lives. Sections pertaining to “personal activities” display a suspicious attitude bordering on contempt for employees’ civil liberties. In one passage, employees are warned that their private lives and conversation “could become a work-related matter” if they criticize the organization or its management. The language of the Code implies that the most basic liberties – participating in politics, joining professional organizations, or even discussing one’s work with family – are subject to scrutiny and censorship. Again, BCLA recognizes the need for public bodies to balance employees’ duties and functions as government representatives with their right to freedom of expression, but in this case the balance is drastically skewed.
BCLA is deeply concerned by sections of LAC’s Values and Ethics Code because it devalues and dismisses employees’ professional integrity and their underlying freedom of thought and expression. The accomplishments – and professional opinions – of LAC employees should be a source of pride rather than suspicion and should be a focus for discussion rather than censorship.
BCLA urges LAC to withdraw the Values and Ethics Code and re-formulate it more in keeping with the Government’s “Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector”, which holds that “treating all people with respect, dignity and fairness is fundamental.”
Press Release For Immediate Release 13.02.2013
The British Columbia Library Association (BCLA) is extremely concerned about the unwarranted and frivolous lawsuits that Edwin Mellen Press has filed against Associate University Librarian Dale Askey and against McMaster University.
Edwin Mellen Press alleges that that comments made by Mr. Askey on his personal blog regarding the quality of their publications were defamatory, and are seeking a total of $4.5 million dollars in damages to compensate for injury to their reputation.
As a professional librarian engaged in collection development Mr. Askey is both qualified and obliged to make decisions about published materials. Central to this issue is Mr. Askey’s academic freedom which should ensure that he, as well as fellow academic librarians, has the ability to freely speak, write, review and evaluate as professionals without fear of reprisal, litigation, or control by vendors, employers or other external bodies.
As a citizen in a democratic society Mr. Askey is free to have and share his opinions with his community, society and country. Sharing and debating perspectives without fear of recrimination is the hallmark of a healthy democratic society peopled by engaged citizens.
Librarians and information workers uphold the rights of all community members to express a critical view about the value of a book or other information materials. This includes a librarian’s own right to do the same. Every citizen should be able to express an opinion without fear of litigation should they offend an author or publisher. By filing lawsuits against Mr. Askey and McMaster University Edwin Mellen Press is attempting to create a climate of fear among librarians, information workers, and all libraries that may critique their product.
BCLA condemns the misuse of the court process to intimidate libraries, librarians and information workers from discharging their professional obligations and from demonstrating one of the library’s core responsibilities to uphold the right of freedom of thought and expression.
BCLA urges Edwin Mellen Press to withdraw its lawsuits and instead engage in a debate, a conversation or a discussion with the library community in order to build a healthy society that reflects a myriad of opinions held by diverse community members.