Workplace Speech in Librarianship & Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

[The complete article  will appear in The Progressive Librarian, summer 2008.]


I read  "Democracy and Deference" by Mark  Slouka in Harpers June 2008 after I made the presentation, . Slouka’s essay is a powerful call to us all to stand up to tyrants large and small:

—-Once the idea of inequality is allowed to take root, a veritable forest of ritualized gestures and phrases springs up to reinforce it. The notion that some bow and others are bowed to comes to seem natural; the cool touch of the floor against our forehead begins to feel right: from classroom to corporate cubicle to the halls of Congress, deferential way leads on to deferential way, and at the end of the road, as Tocqueville foresaw, stands a baaa-ing polity "reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.."–Democracy and Deference" by Mark  Slouka.


Workplace Speech in Libraries *


"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

       —Article 19- Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Fear of speaking out at work is a manifestation of larger political and social forces than simply a dysfunctional administration at one’s place of work.  If we assess our working life as part of a system we will begin to see where repression comes from and we can begin to develop a philosophical, ethical and political framework to overcome fear. Certain kinds of governments unleash and empower the petty dictator within some bureaucrats. Without a larger world view than our cubicle in our office in our building we can easily be made to feel threatened, marginalized or isolated  when we speak up for what we deem is right action. And there is nothing good about being threatened, marginalized or isolated. But some of us take stands that make us so.  Why some  will advocate for values like Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (cited above) and others will not,  is likely due to a lack of focus in LIS education on ethical issues and by the profession at large.  This is why "Inside Talk: Freedom of Speech in the Library Workplace,"  sponsored by the Advisory Committee on Intellectual Freedom of the  Canadian Library Association is of such importance. 

     Librarianship had a recent case (1999)  of a major workplace speech controversy when Sanford Berman was to be given a reprimand and demotion at the Hennepin County Library following his speaking out against the library’s cataloging policy (Berry).  Berman’s efforts to stand for workplace speech have been discussed by Carney in his article on democratic communication in the library workplace: 

     "On January 18, 1999, Sanford Berman sent three of his superiors a memo expressing his opinion on proposed changes regarding the cataloguing of library materials. Berman’s superiors responded to his seemingly harmless memo with a written reprimand, accusing him of unprofessional behavior, stating "You have the right as a citizen to express your opinion. You may not initiate discussion of that opinion on work time nor route that opinion to staff at work" and that "…further counterproductive behavior" would result in "…further discipline."

 Berman resigned.

      In spring 2005 Berman put forth the proposition in the Journal of Information Ethics that ALA adopt a policy on workplace speech. With some modification from Berman’s proposal, a resolution "Resolution on Workplace Speech" was passed in June 2005 and a policy incorporated in the ALA Policy Manual.

54.21 Workplace Speech

     Libraries should encourage discussion among library

workers, including library administrators, of

non-confidential professional and policy matters

about the operation of the library and matters of public

concern within the framework of applicable laws.

(See Current Reference File": Resolution on Workplace

Speech, 2004-2005 ALA CD#38.1)

I recommend to you Pereira Declares by Antonio Tabucchi in which the protagonist, a journalist in Lisbon (1938), slowly realizes that by acceding to government censors in the choice of books he reviews that his culture is being compromised:


“Well then, said the editor-in-chief, I really didn’t expect this latest thing. What latest thing?, asked Pereira, That panegyric on France, said the editor-in-chief, has caused a lot of offence in high places. What panegyric on France? asked Pereira totally bewildered. Come now Pereira ! exclaimed the editor-in-chief, you published a story by Alphonse Daudet about the Franco-Prussian War which ended with the phrase, ” ‘Vive la France!”. [p. 109].


 I offer my recent experiences to demonstrate how daily work in the 21st century is a constant effort to be true to values of human rights and social justice and the many ways that workplace speech can be repressed.  I write from the point of view of a citizen of the United States and an employee of the state of Florida. I tell you at the outset that I speak only for myself and not my university.  My name is Kathleen de la Peña McCook and I am a professor of library and information science at the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa. I am also an active member of the union, the United Faculty of Florida (UFF). [

The case of Sami al-Arian

[The complete article   will appear in The Progressive Librarian, summer 2008.]

Gay Pride in Hillsborough County, Florida (Tampa)

 [The complete article  will appear in The Progressive Librarian, summer 2008.]

Standing up for Unions in the LIS Curriculum

[The complete article  will appear in The Progressive Librarian, summer 2008.


Disappointment and Hope

     In the United States it has been very difficult to speak out on war, peace, science or education since the selection of George W. Bush in 2000.  Speaking out on things big and small has been a challenge if one has an opinion that differs from or disproves current U.S. government policy. So, gradually if the political environment remains toxic the whistleblower is moved from the status of truth-seeker to  pariah as was reporter, Dan Rather (Blumenthal). In my own case I was banned from the Higher Education Service Learning Discussion by the U.S. government because I pointed out a case of disinformation even though I was an early adopter of the  service learning model in LIS.  (Criticizing Bush Administration Policies is not Allowed; McCook, 2008).

    It has been difficult not be disappointed as those in charge—in the workplace, in professional associations, in local government, in state government and in federal government – gradually drift to accede to  the dictates of those in power. The ALA has given Laura Bush accolades and publicity in spite of her censoring anti-war poets and her support of the USAPATRIOT Act (Progressive Librarians Guild, Leaving the American Library Association Conference Early).

Think of what Julia Alvarez said in an interview after Johnston County  banned  How the García Girls Lost Their Accents  in December 2007.

"I always wondered, in the Dominican Republic, "How could it have happened to a whole country? It was a whole country, and then it was just one man." You think of Nazi Germany and wonder, "How could you have let that happen?" It’s isolated incidents. You think, "It’s just because that book was problematic," or "It’s just because that person was troublesome," and then one day you wake up, and the shelves are empty of many books. Or, a whole group of people are gone, because they didn’t belong. Suddenly, you live in a world that you allowed to happen." ( as quoted in Saldaña).

So, we let it happen that ALA gives awards to the wife of a man who has condoned torture and  the erosion of civil liberties. We let it happen that the LIS professional association will not  allow discussion of unions on the professors’ discussion list.  We let it happen that a county commission orders a library system to end the celebration of Gay Pride while teen suicide is a pressing social problem. And worse, because people won’t like us if we bring these up  things, we seldom do.

If you are here in this audience then you are concerned about the erosion of freedom. This gives us all hope that together we will seek to  understand and  there will be many of us who will take from what we know of literature and  poetry and share it and then elect  the governmental bodies that will free democracy.

I recommend to you one final book, Distant Star by Roberto Bolaño.  In part it entails a look at the horror men do to each other and the guilt that those who survive it feel.  If we are afraid to criticize the smallest thing, then we learn through a book like Distant Star how violence and patriotism might converge if we do not stand up.

            " –and Carlos Wider wrote: Death is cleansing , but so unsteadily, given the adverse weather conditions, that very few spectators, who by now had started to get up from their seats and open their umbrellas, could understand what had been written.  All that was left in the sky were dark shreds, cuneiform characters, hieroglyphics, a child’s scribble. "

                                                                                                                         (p. 81).



Kathleen de la Peña McCook teaches at the University of South Florida. She does not speak for USF.


Alexander, Linda B., "The Importance of Workplace Speech." American Libraries 36 (Oct. 2005) p. 41. 

Alexander, Linda B. "Gay Display Controversy: A Threat to Intellectual Freedom." Florida Libraries Fall 2005:22 and "Gay Display Controversy: A Management Issue," Joe Stines. Florida Libraries Fall 2005: 24.

American Association of University Professors. Freedom in the Classroom (September 11, 2007).

American Library Association. "Access to Library Resources and Services Regardless of Sex, Gender, Identity or Sexual Orientation," Resolution adopted by ALA Council June 30, 1993; amended July 12, 2000, June 30, 2004

American Library Association. Policy Manual. Policy 54.21: Workplace Speech.

American Library Association. "Speech in the Workplace: An explanatory statement of the ALA Code of Ethics." Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom 50 (Sept. 2001): 234-235.

American Library Association. "Workplace Speech," Resolution passed June 26, 2005 and incorporated into American Library Association. Policy Manual as Policy 54.21.


Association for Library and Information Science Education.  "Position Statement on Information Ethics in LIS Education." [Formulated by the Information Ethics Special Interest Group. Ratified at the ALISE Business Meeting held on January 10, 2008.


Berman, S. "Unmuzzle Us." Journal of Information Ethics 14 (spring 2005).


Berry, John N.   "Citing ‘Deception,' Berman Resigns from Hennepin County. " Library Journal 124 (May 15 1999):14.


Birdsall, Bart, "Pride and Protest—Bart Birdsall" Library Journal (March 15, 2006).

Blumenthal, Sydney, "Dan Rather Stands by his Story," Salon (September 27, 2007). http://www.salon.com/opinion/blumenthal/2007/09/27/dan_rather_suit/

Bolaño,  Roberto. Distant Star (trans. Christopher Andrews)
New York: New Directions, 2006.

Bush, Jeb. "Statement by Governor Jeb Bush Regarding
University of South Florida Professor Al-Arian." (December 20, 2001). http://www.fldoe.org/news/2001/2001_12_20-1.asp

Buschman, John and Mark Rosenzweig. "Intellectual Freedom within the Library Workplace: An Exploratory Study in the U.S." Journal of Information Ethics. 8 (1999): 36-45.

Carney, S.M. "Democratic Communication and the Library as Workplace." Journal of Information Ethics 12 (fall 2003): 43-59.


"Criticizing Bush Administration Policies is not Allowed on Higher Education Service Learning List," Librarian 12.13.200. 130. http://librarian.lishost.org/?p=278


deHaven-Smith, Lance. The Battle for Florida: An Annotated Compendium of Materials from the 2000 Presidential Election. University of Florida Press, 2005.


DIllinger, Susan D. and McCook, Kathleen de la Peña. "A Librarian’s Choice: The High Road of Social Responsibility and Ethics or Personal Expediency When Faced by a Devious Government." SRRT Newsletter [Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association]. June 2003. No. 142/143: 3-5.


Dyckman, Martin. "The governor plays rough." St. Petersburg Times (October 6, 2002).



"Free Sami al-Arian," http://www.freesamialarian.com/home.htm

 Galanopoulos, Anita. "An Indomitable Spirit: The Eight Hundred of CUPE 391," Progressive Librarian 30 (winter 2007/2008): 38-69.


Gilyard, Burl. "Sandy Berman’s Last Stand." City Pages. July 14 (1999): 12-21 as cited in Carney.


"Jeb Bush Vetoes Florida Library Appropriations," American Libraries (May 26, 2006). http://www.ala.org/ala/alonline/currentnews/newsarchive/2006abc/may2006ab/bushveto.cfm


"Leaving the American Library Association Conference Early," Librarian 6.17.2007.107. http://librarian.lishost.org/?p=445


McCook, Kathleen de la Peña, "Human Rights as a Framework for Reflection in Service Learning: ‘Para que Otro Mundo es possible.’  In The Service Connection (American Library Association; in press, forthcoming, 2008).


McCook, Kathleen de la Peña,  "Social Justice as a Context for a Career in Librarianship," in Perspectives, Insights and Priorities: 17 Leaders Speak Freely of Librarianship (Scarecrow Press, 2005).


McCook, Kathleen de la Peña, "The USAPATRIOT Act, Dr. Sami Al Arian & the United Faculty of Florida," Progressive Librarian 26 (Winter 2005/2006): 72-75.


Oder, N. (2005) Florida County Bans Gay Pride. Library Journal. 130(13), 16-17.

Pecquet, Julian, "Battlefield Florida." Research in Review Magazine, Florida State University, Fall/Winter 2005.

"Progressive Librarians Guild Opposes ALA "Award" to Laura Bush,"

Saldaña Matt, "Author Julia Alvarez on Censorship,"


Samek, Toni, Librarianship and Human Rights: A Twenty-First Century Guide. Chandos: Oxford, 2007.pp. 127-128.


Stevens, Edmund. "Portugal under Dr. Salazar," Harper’s Magazine (August, 1952), p.67.


Tabucchi, Antonio. Pereira Declares (trans. Patrick Creagh).New York: New Directions, 1994.

Union Librarian.

United Faculty of Florida. "The United Faculty of Florida defended the Due Process rights, and Academic Freedom & Tenure rights of USF Professor Sami Al-Arian. "http://w3.usf.edu/~uff/AlArian/



Tout individu a droit à la liberté d’opinion et d’expression, ce qui implique le droit de ne pas être inquiété pour ses opinions et celui de chercher, de recevoir et de répandre, sans considérations de frontières, les informations et les idées par quelque moyen d’expression que ce soit– Article 19- Déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme.



Todo individuo tiene derecho a la libertad de opinión y de expresión; este derecho incluye el no ser molestado a causa de sus opiniones, el de investigar y recibir informaciones y opiniones, y el de difundirlas, sin limitación de fronteras, por cualquier medio de expresión. -Artículo 19 – Declaración Universal de Derechos Humanos


*  "Inside Talk: Freedom of Speech in the Library Workplace."  Convened by Toni Samek for The Advisory Committee on Intellectual Freedom, Canadian Library Association, Vancouver, BC, April 25, 2008.

 [The complete artilce  will appear in The Progressive Librarian, summer 2008.]


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