Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Librarianship and Human Rights: a twenty first century guide

Book Review from the SRRT Newsletter June 2007.

Samek, Toni. Librarianship and Human Rights: a twenty first century guide. Oxford: Chandos, 2007.

Toni Samek has already traced the history and subtle transformations of library activism in Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibility in American Librarianship 1967-1974 (2001). In her new book, Librarianship and Human Rights: a twenty first century guide, focusing on librarianship and human rights, she identifies the continuing trend to link the core values of librarianship to many of the sentiments stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), IFLA's 1983 and 1989 human rights resolutions, and subsequent national and international documents, protocols and my favorite, the "Progressive Librarians' International Coalition's Ten Points.” [http://www.foreningenbis.org/English/lib_plic.html]
New terms for progressive librarians to acknowledge and incorporate in our professional conversation are "information ethics" (think The Camel Bookmobile, by Masha Hamilton) and think also of "information ecology", where we remember to learn what indigenous people might have to say about their information storage and retrieval. Another is "critical
librarianship" an international library movement encompassing library advocacy and library activism. Finally, "global information justice", as we begin to look beyond our national pockets of struggle and join international efforts to take
advantage of the concept that "the world is flat" and avoid pitfalls of cultural annihilation and working towards advancing cultural diversity.

Samek makes it very clear what she wants to do with this book. She lists agendas, subtexts, intentions, aims, calls to action,and features of the book, and then delivers what is promised. Primarily, she wants us all to recognize that as librarians we are required to understand, and be sensitive to, our necessarily activist role in the midst of greater social movements that involve intellectual freedom, human rights, cultural survival, access to information and more, every single day of our working lives.

(Emphasis mine.) She issues a "direct challenge to the notion of library neutrality, especially in the present context of war, revolution, social change and global market fundamentalism (p.7)”.
This "twenty-first century guide" is our handbook, our pathfinder, our heart, and our moral compass going forward. She promises to
"set a path towards examining moral responsibilities of library and information workers in the 21st century". In
fact, she "acknowledges issues of a higher magnitude than human rights, such as sustainable development and peace, not war".

North American librarians, especially those of us living and working below the 49 th parallel, would do well to take notice of the international library workers' movements. In fact, one of her subtexts is "the purposeful inclusion of and, hence, the de-marginalisation of, the agendas of numerous local, national and international library groups that readily identify themselves as progressive, critical, activist, radical, alternative, independent, socially responsible and/or anarchistic in
Following Part One: The Rhetoric, is Part Two: The Reality, which contains a short essay "Practical Strategies for Social Action"; a brief list of "Prevalent manifestations of social action applied to library and information work"; and the largest, third section entitled "Specific forms of social action used in library and information work for social change" It is organized alphabetically from "Access to information" to "Women, Status of". Each of the "social actions" is given a definition (from Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science, Oxford English Dictionary Online, or Wikipedia) and an explanation. This arrangement permits the author to avoid having to create a contorted narrative that strains to connect a potpourri, patchwork, disaggregated collection of uppity, dare I say “revolting” actions, serving as (book agenda item coming up) a "point of resistance".

She says it’s not, but it is, tinged with the scholarly, and it is an intense, compact explanation of everything progressive in librarianship. She includes a small chronology which begins with the first PLG created in 1939 up to the 2005 Progressive
African Library & Information Activists' Group (PALIAct). It is "informed" by library and information work worldwide, it concentrates on English and translated sources. One of the eight features of the book to be pointed out is "This book has
urgent purpose". Another is "This book is committed to an optimistic vision". This book is important, I think. And this book belongs in any critical library collection.

Katharine Phenix


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