Here’s my first Spring Cleaning post. The last time I edited this one was 29 November 2006, if you can believe it. I’ve decided to just post these more or less as is, with my only edits being spell checking, link checking, completing incomplete sentences, stuff like that. So I feel compelled to say: these reflect my thinking at the time they were written, not necessarily my thinking now.

Thanks to Paul for pointing out Jay Rosen’s presentation/paper/talk titled “Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over.”

I read this and what struck me most strongly was the section where he discusses the collapse of objectivity as the “ethical touchstone for journalism.” Rosen quotes:

“objectivity has outlived its usefulness as an ethical touchstone for journalism.”

Now, objectivity is part of principle #1 in the ALA Code of Ethics. So this got me thinking, has objectivity outlived its usefulness as an ethical touchstone for librarianship?

Michael Buckland1 questions the extent to which libraries can be neutral, but in the end he seems to suggest that neutrality is indeed a worthwhile goal for libraries. I think, though, that I’m more in agreement with his first point: I’m not sure how neutral libraries can be at all. After all principle #2 is “no censorship,” #3 is “the user’s right to privacy,” #4 is “respect for intellectual property rights,” #6 is “users’ interests over private interests”… shall I go on?

All of these principles are heavily value laden. Though there may be some contradiction between them, or at least some contradiction in how they’re interpreted in some cases: it’s not too difficult to see how “not advancing private interests” and “respect for intellectual property rights” could come into conflict these days. This isn’t the point here, but note to self: this might be worth exploring at some point.

Anyway, these principles are value laden. And given that our Code of Ethics is value laden, does it make sense to try to remain objective? If we really believe in this Code, shouldn’t we be out fighting for the ethics contained in it?

Of course many librarians are. Look what happened with Michael Moore‘s book Stupid White Men.

They are subversive. You think they’re just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They’re like plotting the revolution, man.
(from an interview with BuzzFlash)

A quick Google search shows me that there’s actually a fairly active — if not large — writing community of Marxist librarians.

Samuel Green writes:

A librarian should be as unwilling to allow an inquirer to leave the library with his question unanswered as a shop-keeper is to have a customer go out of his store without making a purchase.

(I heard Joe Janes say in a talk once something to the effect of: pity poor Green, cited and talked about more now that he’s dead than he ever was when he was alive.)

Along with an answer, should the librarian also provide the user some propaganda?

1 Buckland, M. K. (2003). Five Grand Challenges for Library Research. Library Trends, 51(4), 675-686.