February 21, 2009

Robert Jensen on library neutrality

…[T]he question isn’t whether one is neutral, but whether one is independent from control and allowed to pursue free and open inquiry. In a healthy society, professionals would be given that independence–not just in theory but in practice–and out of the many choices that varied professionals would make, we could expect a rich cultural conversation and an engaged political dialogue.

The ideology of political neutrality, unfortunately, keeps professionals such as journalists, teachers, and librarians–as well as citizens–from understanding the relationship between power and the professions. Any claim to such neutrality is illusory; there is no neutral ground on which to stand anywhere in the world. Rather than bemoan that fact, I believe we should embrace it and acknowledge that it is the source of intellectual, political, and moral struggle and progress. If we take seriously this claim, then all people, no matter what their position, would have to articulate and defend the values and assumptions on which their claims are made. The other option is intellectual stagnation and political decline.

Robert Jensen, “The Myth of the Neutral Professional,” Progressive Librarian No. 24 (Winter 2004).

Available in Alison Lewis (ed.), Questioning Library Neutrality: Essays from Progressive Librarian, Duluth: MN, Library Juice Press, 2008.

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