By Al Kagan
“…And our species, when one day it is completely formed, will not define itself as the sum of the world’s inhabitants, but as the infinite unity of their reciprocal relations.” Jean-Paul Sartre.-1
What does it mean to be a socially responsible librarian? As a young librarian attending the 1985 Chicago IFLA meeting, I was awestruck when E. J. Josey  interrupted the first plenary session to demand that IFLA dissociate itself from apartheid South Africa. I later learned of his work in desegregating libraries in the southern states of the United States. His enormous energy and courage shaped my own understanding of librarianship – a belief that the core values of our profession demand that we take seriously our own role in furthering justice in our communities.
Writing an article on socially responsible librarianship is rather daunting because the topic is so huge. In these days when war and the threat of terrorism confront many of us everyday, we need to assess new priorities at the local, national, and international levels. How can we think locally and act globally, and how can we think globally and act locally? The 2003 IFLA resolution in Berlin on national security legislation comes to mind. We need to try to preserve privacy rights for our library users against legislation such as the USA Patriot Act and similar legislation in many countries. We can’t let these laws intimidate people from checking out the library materials they want to read or see. We must continue to promote free access to government information as a basic component of good government. It is obvious that people must be able to access information in order to intelligently participate in decision-making. We must defend Freedom of speech, which is of course a prerequisite for democracy. Ralph Nader has taught Americans that we must go back to being “citizens” rather than only “consumers.” Public libraries provide community information on local health services, bus routes, job opportunities, and other social services. Libraries can also provide tax forms and condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS. Public libraries can be a place for literacy classes and voter registration. They can indeed become community centers where people, including poor people, immigrants, and diverse populations of all kinds find materials and participate in local culture and civic affairs to actualize their potentials and develop their communities.
Of course, library associations play an important role in contextualizing library practices at the national and international levels. And it is therefore a pleasure to be invited to write this article on IFLA and socially responsible librarianship for IFLA’s World Report.
See the entire paper at Africana Libraries Newsletter, October 2006
1 Sartre’s preface to Franz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, Paris: Maspéro, 1961.
2 The second African-American President of the American Library Association, 1984-1985.
3 See http://www.ifla.org/IV/ifla69/resolutions.htm