Upholding the right to intellectual freedom
The Vancouver Public Library composed a Q and A to explain its decision to invite one Greg Felton to read from his new book at the library’s Freedom to Read week.
Intellectual freedom is a core tenet of public libraries even though some subjects may be considered unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable. Upholding the right to intellectual freedom may put you in the position of appearing to support controversial views. The role of the public library, however, is to provide a forum for an open and public exchange of contradictory views and to make materials available that represent all points of view.
Well, making materials available is one thing, and providing a forum for an exchange of views is another. Is it really the library’s role to provide a forum for an exchange of views? And does the library take that to mean any and all views no matter what? Apparently not, because the memo goes on to say that Felton’s book ‘has not been identified as hate speech,’ apparently implying that if it had been, then things would have been different. Then does the library think its role is to provide a forum for exchange of any and all views provided they are not identified as hate speech? It looks that way – at least it looks as if the library is assuming that being identified as hate speech is the only known or clear or obvious disqualifier. Then does the library think its role is to provide a forum for exchange of any and all views no matter how uninformed, wrong, baseless, distorted, incompetent they are? Does it think its role is to provide a forum for people who have whacked-out ‘views’ on geography, astronomy, engineering, nutrition, epidemiology? Does the library, in short, have any kind of filter to prevent it from wasting its own resources and the public’s time and attention on views that are at best worthless and at worst disinformative?
Who knows. Maybe not. Maybe it thinks ‘upholding the right to intellectual freedom’ entails providing a forum for everyone who has a book to read out of from which. Except it appears that it does actually choose some people; it appears that it gets a lot of offers from writers and their publishers, and accepts only some of them.
But even more urgent is the question whether the library thinks upholding the right to intellectual freedom requires it to give a platform to people because they are wrong and worse than wrong. Does the Vancouver Public Library, in short, really see no difference between upholding the right to intellectual freedom and affirmatively providing a platform for people to purvey, for instance, inaccurate history? If it doesn’t, it ought to.