Social Responsibility

The following was a group discussion post in response to a prompt on social responsibility:

Relating involvement with social issues directly to librarianship (i.e., meeting the information needs of the patron community, rather than promoting literacy) is not at all limiting. Additionally, librarians need not become actively engaged in the human dignity and social conditions in which human culture overall develops, but rather become actively engaged in the human dignity, social conditions, and culture of the local patron community. Therefore, librarians must devote themselves to advocating the views of the patron community on local effects of major social issues, such as gay rights, poverty, etc.

It is truly naive to think anyone can remain neutral and be divorced from the social context within which they operate. Even attempting to remain neutral is a politically biased act. When the needs of the community are in conflict, the organization and the staff can mitigate bias by doing its best to meet the needs of as many as possible, and act in a manner which causes the least amount of harm. Personal misgivings can be assuaged by focusing on quality information and engagement from all sides of an issue, especially those with which one personally disagrees. Simply staking out a position, no matter how ethically forthright, leads to organizational obsolescence, unless that position is in line with community needs.

The ALA’s Library Bill of Rights even directs itself to “all of the people of the community the library serves,” not society as a whole, human culture as a whole, or the general population of any specific country or state. If we are following its policies as they pertain to our communities, libraries cannot help become engaged in its social and political issues.

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