Questioning Library Neutrality, edited by Alison Lewis, is a collection of ten essays and one annotated bibliography originally published in Progressive Librarian, the journal of the Progressive Librarians Guild. The essays make a persuasive case that neutrality is not a library value but instead a convenience to hide indifference.
Rosenzweig counters librarians who complained about ALA’s lack of neutrality in its stand against the first Persian Gulf War. Librarians have not historically been neutral, he says, nor should they be. McDonald warns that the corporate idea of choice is no more than the insignificant differences between grocery store cereals. In the library, this notion of choice amounts to censorship, obscuring better materials that need to be critically selected. Iverson prefers the feminist definition of objectivity as situational knowledge. This shift means that librarians are politically engaged, with an obligation to advance an equitable society. Sparanese relates how her list posts unexpectedly led to the saving of Michael Moore’s book, Stupid White Men. It demonstrates that even small deliberate acts can make an important political difference. Durrani and Smallwood caution that global libraries, disconnected from local needs, will indeed become neutral, like McDonald’s restaurants. Good’s essay, Hottest Place in Hell, provides a fitting conclusion, asserting that neutrality is ultimately an immoral act.
The essays are persuasive that neutrality is a dangerous attitude for librarians. Still, I am less certain than some of the authors that some “fringe” materials are not worth collecting on the grounds that they are not scientific, e.g., intelligent design. Neutrality is equally difficult for scientists, masking biases of a different sort. I agree with the writers that not all views deserve equal shelf space. It is like minority rights. The dominant view has to provide at least some measure of representation.
I heartily second Anderson’s call for LIS programs to teach information criticism. As he explains, the term “information” only seems neutral, suiting it to the managerial and technical discourse in LIS programs. Questioning Library Neutrality is replete with references and recommended reading, and would serve as an excellent text for an improved LIS curriculum. It is equally important to citizens about the vital role of the library in advancing democracy.