Many librarians are advocates of a variety of social and professional movements, often with a decidedly left-leaning slant. Librarians for Peace is devoted to ending war. Radical Reference is an organization devoted to researching information for various advocacy groups "who question authority."
Advocacy by librarians can be challenged, not just by disagreeing with a particular position, but also by questioning why librarians as a profession take any organized, opinionated stance on the issues. As an analogy to this line of inquiry, consider the following professional values of librarianship regarding services and collections:
- It is considered good reference desk service to provide factual and neutral assistance and answers to questions. Reference librarians in training, for example, are told that a student asking for information on the evils of homosexuality should be instructed on how to search for such materials (although perhaps with the tip that, if they are preparing a position paper, contrary viewpoints should be examined); and a vagrant asking how to contact the CIA to remove his dental implants should be gently guided to a directory of government offices.
- It is also considered sound collection development policy to not discriminate against prospective acquisitions expousing a certain point of view. Books denying the Holocaust happened, for example, may be useful for sociology researchers. Harry Potter books should not be removed from a library based on complaints by parents disturbed by witchcraft. And a library should build its collection of political commentaries to equally represent different perspectives within the needs of its user base. (An informal survey indicates this is not always the case.)
Given such a "value neutral" emphasis on information, what business does a library have installing a gay rights exhibit? Condoning or even being affiliated with political positions such as this can be seen as contradictory with the type of unbiased approaches shown in the examples above. Some librarians disagree with the aggressive advocacy efforts in some areas by organizations such as the American Library Association (and, in particular, subdivisions such as the Social Responsibilities Round Table).
Political allegiances are also contentious: position statement discussions within ALA on Israel (see Librarians for Fairness) and Independent Cuban Libraries are especially lively. The latter is of note because it is one of the few cases where the left essentially argues against advocacy. Consider also the case of a librarian who was admonished for wearing a "Proud to be an American" button while at work. It remains unclear if such far-reaching political stances are relevant to being a librarian.
As a profession built on preserving and organizing information and presenting it to users, however, there are some areas for advocacy that are inherently tied to libraries. Almost all librarians agree on the need for advocacy on things like library funding (and especially librarian wages), for example. Considering the current trends in the publication costs, a natural extension of this effort is stressing the need for a greater freedom of information through advocacy against increasing copyright limitations and in support of open access publications (including LIS Wikis, of course). Such issues as intellectual freedom, patron privacy, and possibly the image of librarians are also closely related to the role of libraries.
Proponents of library advocacy maintain: just as science, as the unfettered search for scientific truth, is advocated by the Union of Concerned Scientists (a pro-science lobby that is against unscientific practices being passed off as science), campaigning for all of these library-related issues is really just advocacy for libraries and the library profession itself. Supporting these positions is far from self-contradictory with valuing a neutral point of view for library services and collections. Emphasizing issues which support the purpose of libraries is absolutely necessary for self-preservation; without the continued commitment to these fundamental tenants, libraries would cease to exist.
Given this mandate, it remains undecided just where the line should be drawn between the advocacy of library-related issues and independent political debates with which librarians should not be formally associated with. Regarding the pacifist and international topics mentioned above, for example, it has been said that:
- "It is entirely in consonance with the purpose of the library, as an integral part of the public educational system, as an institution devoted to the spread of democracy and the promotion of enlightenment, as an institution with books in many languages, containing information about all the peoples of the world, and as an institution with many international friendships with librarians and other scholars throughout the world, to promote in every suitable way the strongest ties of international friendship." - George F. Bowerman, 1915