Librarians may not be able to change Google or Facebook, but we can educate our patrons and support the development of the critical-thinking skills they need to navigate an often-biased online world. We can empower our patrons when we help them critically evaluate information and teach them about bias in search engines, social media, and publishing. Libraries that have created research guides for Black Lives Matter and other social justice topics are helping to curate information and points-of-view that might not be traditionally published.
We are not doing our job if we remain neutral when it comes to library technologies. Accepting many of the technologies available to support our missions means accepting technologies that are biased, not accessible, not protective of the privacy of our users, and not easily usable by some of our patrons. A commitment to social justice is a commitment to equal access, which is at the heart of our professional values. We are not being neutral when we advocate for our patrons, but we are being good librarians.
Do you think libraries can help in this epidemic of fake news and lack of trust in the media?
think the good thing about the discussion is that there’s a discussion
about what’s fake and what’s real. There’s an awareness that there is
such a thing. Librarians have been pounding on this issue in a different
way for a while — that just having computer literacy is great, but as
information professionals, we’re always looking at what’s the most
authoritative source for the information and teaching information
literacy. It’s great to have all this stuff, but you need to teach how
to use the library in schools. They need to be teaching information
literacy as soon as the kid can push a button.
It seems as if you might need to teach information literacy to members of Congress.
President Roosevelt studied this map on December 6, 1941. The pencil notations indicate the location of a Japanese fleet that was being tracked by British and American officials. It appeared to be headed towards Thailand or British Malaya.
What FDR and these officials did not know was that another Japanese fleet—operating under radio silence—was steaming, undetected, towards Hawaii at the same time.
The first publicly-funded library in North America opened in 1698 in Charleston, South Carolina. It was not a “free” public library as we know it today, however. Local residents could borrow books if they gave a “receipt” and would pay heavily if the book they borrowed were damaged or lost.
“This nation will remain a neutral nation, but I cannot ask that every American remain neutral in thought as well…Even a neutral cannot be asked to close his mind or his conscience."
- Franklin Roosevelt, radio address, September 3, 1939
When war erupted, Americans were divided about how to respond. They sympathized with the victims of aggression. But, remembering the horrors of World War I, most wanted to stay out of the conflict. Isolationists argued America should look to its own defenses rather than aid other nations. And neutrality laws passed by Congress during the 1930s prohibited American arms sales to warring nations. The country’s military was also woefully unprepared. All these factors placed limits on FDR’s ability to act.
In the dark months that followed, Roosevelt demonstrated his belief that America’s security depended on the defeat of the Axis Powers. His actions sparked a great national debate. Should the United States remain wholly neutral? Or should it find ways short of war to assist nations resisting Hitler?
The Reluctant Neutral
When World War II erupted in 1939, most Americans felt their nation could safely remain isolated from foreign troubles. But FDR recognized the grave danger the Axis Powers posed to American security. For two years, he pursued a cautious but deliberate policy of aiding Great Britain and, later, the Soviet Union in their war with Germany and Italy.
At every step, the President had to contend with deep-seated American fears about involvement in the war. He also had to manage a growing crisis in the Pacific, where Japan was expanding its empire into China and threatening Southeast Asia.
is easy for you and for me to shrug our shoulders and to say that conflicts
taking place thousands of miles from the continental United States … do not
seriously affect the Americas—and that all the United States has to do is to
ignore them… . Passionately though we may desire detachment, we are forced
to realize that … every battle that is fought, does affect the American
Franklin Roosevelt, Fireside
Chat, September 3, 1939
The American Library Association strongly opposes any actions that limit free access to information, undermine privacy or discriminate on any basis. This includes the temporary suspension of visas and entrance to the US based on anyone’s nationality or religion as well as the increased scrutiny of any individual’s communication such as mobile phone and/or social media activity.
“Our nation’s 120,000 public, academic, school and special libraries serve all community members, including people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities and the most vulnerable in our communities, offering services and educational resources that transform communities, open minds, and promote inclusion and diversity.
“ALA believes that the struggle against racism, prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination is central to our mission. We will continue to speak out and support efforts to abolish intolerance and cultural invisibility, stand up for all the members of the communities we serve, and promote understanding and inclusion through our work.
“We will continue to speak out and support our members as they work tirelessly for access to library and information resources on behalf of all of their community members, while advocating for privacy, intellectual freedom, critical global research, information literacy, ongoing access to scientific research, and fair and equitable treatment for everyone.
View of an advertising card for the A.W. Curtis Laboratories. Printed on front: “Request complete information about the rubbing oil from your dealer. For quick relief from aches, pains, muscular soreness and tired feet use Curtis rubbing oil. Recognize our products by the trade mark Dr. George W. Carver, reg. U.S. Pat. Off. Accept no substitutes. The A.W. Curtis Laboratories, 6330 30th Street, Detroit 10, Mich.” Printed on back: “Did you know that Dr. Carver produced 300 products from the peanut? A.W. Curtis Jr. assistant to the late Dr. George W. Carver photographed in their laboratory while developing Curtis rubbing oil. The prophesy of a great scientist has come to pass. The late Dr. George W. Carver said of A.W. Curtis Jr., ‘Through you I see an extension of my work.’ As was predicted his work and traditions are being carried forward by the A.W. Curtis Laboratories. To see our complete line of products phone Tyler 5-9866 and a representative will call at your home, without cost, so that you might inspect them. Watch for the courteous Curtis dealer with the Carver products. It pays to wait. Your dealer [blank].”
Courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library