Wednesday, April 05, 2006

In Time of War

This article from American Libraries juxtaposes public library actions after 9/11 with their actions during in the 1940s in order to illustrate how libraries responded to WWII in their collection development policies, patron services, and even in their compliance with the federal Office of War Information. Becker writes that intellectual freedom was a "fairly new professional committment" and most libraries/librarians fulfilled requests by the Office of Facts and Figures and the FBI that violated their patrons' privacy. When libraries/librarians objected to censorship or invasions of their patron privacy, they did so mostly on "practical grounds."

So what happened in the next few decades that made the Library Bill of Rights and the ALA's stance on intellectual freedom and censorship central to the profession? What socio-political forces changed the way in which public libraries dealt with censorship? And why were libraries complicit in violating patron privacy and removing "offensive" or "dangerous" materials from their shelves during WWII?

3 comments:

Kelly said...

I think one major reason for a change in librarian attitudes towards intellectual freedom was the Vietnam War.

A lot of librarians in the '60s and '70s openly opposed the war, and were much less willing then librarians during WWII to cooperate with government interference in their collections. In the book I'm reading for my report, the author mentions that during the Vietnam War law enforcement officials wanted to be able to get at library records (a la the Patriot Act) to see who might be reading about how to build bombs. The Feds weren't worried so much about foreign terrosits though, they were more concerned with Americans who were against the war.

I think this sort of thing made a lot of librarians feel that the ALA needed to take a stronger anti-censorship stance and that librarians needed to stand up more for intellectual freedom.

Katie Hanson said...

I agree that Vietnam played an important role in the fight for intellectual freedom, but I think the wave of librarians' opinions was already turning in that direction well before the '60s. As some our readings have shown, accusations of communist sympathies against librarians was happening well before McCarthy took it to its extreme. That librarians were among the people targeted really served as a wake up call to them that not even a profession that loyally served the government's interests during WWII were free from taking Loyalty Oaths only a few years later. I think that librarians and the ALA would have been advocates of intellectual freedom before it became a major cause later in the '60s and '70s, but perhaps by having libraries and librarians among the first to fall under suspicion in the early stages of the Cold War, it served to kick the ALA into action a lot faster.

Jennifer Gile said...

I agree with Katie that the Cold War probably played a major role in librarians' changing attitudes towards intellectual freedom. After McCarthy had been discredited, and some of the hysteria he instigated had subsided, I think Americans in general took a more critical look at anti-Communism. Of course Communism remained a very real fear in the minds of many Americans, but I think the fear of enacting policies similar to Communist policies was an even greater concern. In the encyclopedia article on intellectual freedom, Swan states that "...the official Soviet view of the role of the library was not to enhance the individual's ability to learn and inquire but to serve the vision of the state." (284) Soviet policies on censorship, coupled with the phenomena of loyalty oaths and the like in United States libraries would have been fresh in the minds of librarians and may have helped shape their increasingly liberal attitudes about intellectual freedom.