First Loyalty by Toni Samek

IFLA acknowledged the precarious roles played by library and information workers in its 1983 adoption at the General Conference in Munich of the Resolution on Behalf of Librarians Who are Victims of Violation of Human Rights. It reads: “In the name of human rights, librarians must, as a profession, express their solidarity with those of their colleagues who are persecuted for their opinions, wherever they may be. The Council mandates the President of IFLA, when informed of specific cases, after due considerations to intervene when appropriate with competent authorities on behalf of these colleagues.”[1]


In 1989 in Paris, IFLA recalled the 1983 Munich resolution and put forth the Resolution on Freedom of Expression, Censorship and Libraries. Many years later, when IFLA introduced its 2012 Code of Ethics for Librarians and Other Information Workers, the Association offered specialized clauses on workplace speech and whistleblowing. Of course, they are needed!


Nonetheless, it is important to understand the Code of Ethics for Librarians and Other Information Workers includes the disclaimer that IFLA has no enforcement authority over library administrations. Nor do the vast majority of library associations around the world.


For example, despite pioneering rhetoric from the world’s oldest and largest library association, the American Library Association, its 2005 Resolution on Workplace Speech does not trump the need for and existence of the LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund. The Fund provides financial assistance for librarians who have been discriminated against or refused employment rights because of their defense of intellectual freedom (including freedom of speech).


Actualization of any code of ethics in our field rests on multiple conditions, including: employment terms in any given library administration; labour law and related legislation in any given legal jurisdiction; influence and consensus making within the library and information community and society more broadly; and ultimately, individual conflicting obligations to ourselves, to our profession, to our employer, to our community, and to the law.


Despite clear core values, it is not easy to reconcile these various considerations. Of course, some librarians and other information professionals have been known to suffer personally and professionally in the process.


In its announcement of the new blog SpeakUp!, IFLA’s Advisory Committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression encourages us to reflect upon the meaning of human rights in our daily life and labour. [2]


My first response is that our profession should support those colleagues who take risk. These are above all our front-line library and information workers who may never be compensated for their good fights, or worse, may suffer loss because of them, yet continue to choose compassion and conviction over complacency in their work. Let’s make them our first loyalty now and in the future, just as IFLA guided us to do in Munich in the past.


We should start by identifying existing defense funds and by creating new ones. We should establish and share through IFLA a list of these funds. We should make it a priority to prospect donations for these funds, not only from our own ranks but also from society more broadly. Human rights work demands protections.

[1] Resolution on Behalf of Librarians Who are Victims of Violation of Human Rights. IFLA (IFLA Council in Munich). 1983. Accessed 29 December 2017.


[2] IFLA. SpeakUP! “Let’s celebrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights!” 6 December 2017. [See Accessed 29 December 2017.]

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