I was invited to join in this movement by Sarah Houghton this week. 451 has a US focus, but librarians of all types in Australia can engage in 451 activities on January 20th 2017 in their own way – be it individually, as a group or as an organisation. These activities are:
- libraries should co-operate with people working to resist restriction of freedom of expression and access to ideas
- a person’s right to use a library should not be denied due to cultural heritage, views or age
- no one should interfere with a persons right to free speech, freedom of assembly or association
There is a worrying trend of ultra-conservatism mixed with the rise of fake news and racism and it is easy to feel disheartened. However, there are positive steps being taken. IFLA recently announced the creation of a new network for librarians interested in Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE). Article 19 in the Universal Bill of Human Rights is Intellectual Freedom, which all information industry workers should and must work for. In early 2015, ALIA introduced FAIR – Freedom of Access to Information and Resources, but its main focus is on access and not expression or privacy.
Contrary to popular belief, Australia does not have a freedom of speech clause in the Australian Constitution, freedom of political communication is implied only. However, the Constitution does ensure the right of Australians to a trial by jury in criminal cases. This (these?) seems to be the only human rights enshrined by the Constitution. Australia is signatory to International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which gives people the right to assembly and association, but these can be restricted under certain conditions. In some cases, these conditions are being circumvented.
What can you do? There are a number of things I can think of:
- Help people to distinguish fake news from fact
- Assist people in how to protect themselves online – not only from scammers but also from organisations harvesting their details and from intrusive spying
- Have an inclusive public library collection
- Make library spaces safe neutral zones
- Protest against government mass metadata collection and broadening of spy agencies powers
- Support individuals in their Freedom of Information requests
- Condemn censorship
Let’s make Jan 20 2017 a day to celebrate and support intellectual freedom. Let’s make this day an everyday.