The Capabilities Approach & Social Justice in LAIS, Part 1 by Mckinley Churchwell

When tackling social justice, it is important to have a framework to use for assessment and theorization. As an individual, you have cobbled together a framework for judging the need for justice from societal influences and your own experiences. As a librarian, your framework probably falls in line with ALA’s Code of Ethics; you probably care deeply about intellectual freedom and information literacy.

But, are those frameworks, your personal and professional, mashed together good enough? Do they make you feel comfortable when considering the many issues of social justice? Do those frameworks inspire you to action? Do you feel that you truly comprehend the heart, soul, and mission of the library 100%?

Today, I would like to tell you about Martha Nussbaum’s Capabilities Approach. In my next post (the sequel), I’ll be talking about how the core capabilities of Nussbaum’s Capabilities Approach can be (and in many cases already, unknowingly, are) addressed in the LAIS field. It is important for librarians to be aware of this approach so that they can better visualize the possibilities of the library and our role in serving the community. This approach fits especially well with the idea of the “whole person librarian,” a librarian who will collaborate with or act similarly to a social worker; the “whole person librarian” will apply social work practices and radically include and engage with their community white utilizing nonjudgmental listening (Zettervall, 2015, p.13). So yes, I do believe this theory could be important in shaping the future of librarianship.

Without further ado…

A Brief Introduction to the Capabilities Approach
The Capabilities Approach sprung from the mind of Amartya Sen in the 1980’s as an economic theory, however, that is not the Capabilities Approach that you will be learning about today (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d.). You will be learning about a theory of social justice that considers elements such as human dignity and entrenched inequality due to discrimination or marginalization (Nussbaum, 2011). The theory you will be learning about is none other than Martha Nussbaum’s (2011) Capabilities Approach which examines quality-of-life and theorizes social justice. This approach is not just concerned with the number of capability achievements that a person can acquire (i.e. professional success, buying a house, and so on), but with the quality of those capability achievements (Nussbaum, 2011).

But wait, you might be wondering, what exactly is a capability?
A capability is pretty much a right, but better. Nussbaum describes capabilities in this fashion, “They are the answers to the question, ‘What is this person able to do and to be?’” (2011, Kindle Location 242). Capabilities are “opportunities to choose and to act” (Nussbaum, 2011, Kindle Location 242). Capabilities reside inside an individual are also created by “personal abilities, and the political, social, and economic environment” (Nussbaum, 2011, Kindle Location 244). You can probably already see how nicely the idea of capabilities fits into librarianship; after all the very existence of libraries and librarians “is based on creating opportunity (read: equity) for all of our patrons” (Sonnenberg, 2017, p. 18).

Nussbaum identified ten Central Capabilities:

  1. Life. Being able to live to the end of a human life of normal length; not dying prematurely, or before one’s life is so reduced as to be not worth living.
  2. Bodily Health. Being able to have good health, including reproductive health; to be adequately nourished; to have adequate shelter.
  3. Bodily integrity. Being able to move freely from place to place; to be secure against violent assault, including sexual assault and domestic violence; having opportunities for sexual satisfaction and for choice in matters of reproduction.
  4. Senses, imagination, and thought. Being able to use the senses, to imagine, think, and reason-and to do these things in a “truly human” way, a way informed and cultivated by an adequate education, including, but by no means limited to, literacy and basic mathematical and scientific training. Being able to use imagination and thought in connection with experiencing and producing works and events of one’s own choice, religious, literary, musical, and so forth. Being able to use one’s mind in ways protected by guarantees of freedom of expression with respect to both political and artistic speech, and freedom of religious exercise. Being able to have pleasurable experiences and to avoid nonbeneficial pain.
  5. Emotions. Being able to have attachments to things and people outside side ourselves; to love those who love and care for us, to grieve at their absence; in general, to love, to grieve, to experience longing, gratitude, and justified anger. Not having one’s emotional development blighted by fear and anxiety.
  6. Practical reason. Being able to form a conception of the good and to engage in critical reflection about the planning of one’s life. (This entails protection for the liberty of conscience and religious observance.)
  7. Affiliation. (A) Being able to live with and toward others, to recognize and show concern for other human beings, to engage in various forms of social interaction; to be able to imagine the situation of another. (Protecting this capability means protecting institutions that constitute and nourish such forms of affiliation, and also protecting the freedom of assembly and political speech.) (B) Having the social bases of self-respect and nonhumiliation; being able to be treated as a dignified being whose worth is equal to that of others. This entails provisions of nondiscrimination on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, caste, religion, national origin.
  8. Other species. Being able to live with concern for and in relation to animals, plants, and the world of nature.
  9. Play. Being able to laugh, to play, to enjoy recreational activities.
  10. Control over one’s environment. (A) Political. Being able to participate effectively in political choices that govern one’s life; having the right of political participation, protections of free speech and association. (B) Material. Being able to hold property (both land and movable goods), and having property rights on an equal basis with others; having the right to seek employment on an equal basis with others; having the freedom from unwarranted search and seizure. In work, being able to work as a human being, exercising practical reason and entering into meaningful relationships of mutual recognition with other workers. (2011, Kindle Locations 376-393)

We will be returning to these capabilities in installment 2 of “The Capabilities Approach & Social Justice in LAIS” and making them tangible. However, I bet many of you can already think of examples of ways libraries already enable these capabilities or could do more to allow everyone to be their most capable self.

Works Cited

  • Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (n.d.). Sen’s Capability Approach. Retrieved September 30, 2017, from
  • Nussbaum, M. C. (2011). Creating Capabilities (Kindle Locations 219-395). Kindle Edition.
    Sonnenberg, J. (2017). School Libraries as Activist Spaces: Moving Social Justice to the Center of Our Practice. CSLA Journal, 41(1), 18-11.
  • Zettervall, S. S. (2015). Whole Person Librarianship. Public Libraries, 54(2), 12-13.


“Say it loud, say it clear. Library patrons are welcomed here.” by Dannae Miller

Libraries are a place where people come together. They are gathering spaces, hang out spots, safe places, and fun areas. Many things take place in a library on any given day. The one thing that all libraries have in common is that they all provide access to information. Right now our country is going through a very new, and sometimes trying time. One of the most common motifs we see in today’s news are protests. Protests and libraries have a very long and complicated history, and chances are, a few of your patrons have been involved in a protest or two. I think a service that all libraries can offer is information on how to protest safely.  A very simple and easy way to do this would to be to put together a display board of simple tips and tricks with a few simple steps on how people can stay safe while protesting. Here are a few bits of information that can be incorporated into a visual display with the following information:

Know Your Rights

It is important for your patrons to know that they have certain rights when they are at a protest. Along with their First Amendment right to protest, they are allowed to demonstrate in public forums such as streets, sidewalks and parks as long as they are not blocking traffic. Permit are not required to protest in response to a recent event. Protesters are also allowed to distribute leaflets and other literature on public sidewalks without a permit. Photographing and videotaping police officers is also within their rights.

Make A Plan

Protestors should not go to a demonstration unprepared. A few helpful tips for making a plan include carrying your ID and any medication you may need. Identification is important in case your patrons get detained, and it makes it easier to prove that they are who they say they are. They should also bring any medication they may need just in case of a medical emergency because it’s better to be over prepared than to be under prepared. Another really important item to bring to a protest is one so common that many people often overlook it: a physical map. Libraries can further help this by providing free maps to their patrons, or durable ones that are able to circulate. Maps not only help with being oriented, but they also help patrons make a better plan on where they should go when protesting and on where to meet up in case they get separated from their protest groups.

Take Care of Yourself and Those Around You

Libraries are all about service. Reminding our patrons to go above and beyond their duty is just another perk of the job, and showing them ways they can take care of themselves and others while out protesting is helpful to all parties involved. Packing a first aid kit and a water bottle when going to a protest (or any other event) is smart. The library can encourage this by hosting a “Make Your Own First Aid Kit” program for adults and children alike. Protests can sometimes turn into sticky situations so it’s very helpful to remind your patrons to prepare for anything, including injuries and staying hydrated.

Putting all of these tips and tricks on a nice display board is a quick way to be helpful to your patrons who may be involved in more hands on activism. There are so many protests happening around the country currently that it is almost a disservice to not teach people how to act and stay safe at them. Our librarian users come from all walks of life, and our job is to provide service to those who will use them. If only one of our patron’s benefits from this information, then I would call that a success. Other options that could supplement this visual display board could be a list of books users can check out if they want more scholarly knowledge on the subject. I would recommend A people’s history of riots, protest and the law: the sound of the crowd by Matt Clement and 33 revolutions per minute: a history of protest songs, from Billie Holiday to Greenday by Dorian Lynskey. And of course, all other ideas are welcome, please feel free to mention them in the comments. And remember to stay safe out there!


S. (2017, September 15). DIY Dollar Store First Aid Kit. Retrieved September 29, 2017, from

Know Your Rights. (n.d.). Retrieved September 29, 2017, from Your Rights: Demonstration and Protests [Pamphlet]. (2016). ACLU.

Protect your protest. (n.d.). Retrieved September 29, 2017, from

Warner, C. (2017, September 11). How To Stay Safe At A Protest By Planning Ahead. Retrieved September 29, 2017, from


Colorblindness, Microaggressions, and Racism: The Internal Effects Ignorance has on the Social Justice Movement in Libraries by Janette Ruiz

When examining the role of social justice in library science, a librarian must understand the social responsibility that is bestowed upon his or her role. Often, librarians and library workers with social privilege mistakenly act as though social justice only applies to community patrons. Unfortunately, social justice issues are not exclusively limited to the society that library science aims to educate. Librarians are often considered advocates for less privileged individuals, yet librarians forget to remain vigilant for one other cause closer to home: the obstacles endured by librarians of color within the field. These obstacles can come in the form of microaggressions from coworkers and/or patrons, added difficulty in achieving tenure, or simply a sense of loneliness resulting in lack of mentorship. As the new generation of library professionals enters into the field, it is our responsibility to recognize the signs of social injustice towards our peers and patrons, and to act against those injustices. Only with the support of all librarians can we move to secure a progressive path forward.

The first step in fighting for social injustice is for a librarian to first acknowledge their own privilege. The majority of the library science field are white women, and the abundance of privilege (unrealized or unsympathetic) can cause a general discomfort and awkwardness around the social justice topic. As Collins and Jun (2017) address in White out: Understanding white privilege and dominance in the modern age, white privilege is equal to a virus. “Whitefluenza” is as dangerous as explicit acts of racism in that the carrier is often unaware of the virus they are spread. Collins notes the “weaker strands of the virus are a key defender in maintaining White dominance. Inability to see the virus supports its survival and prevents inoculation in the form of recognition and consciousness” (p. 34).

Failure to recognize one’s privilege (whether accidental or deliberate) not only aids “explicit racism,” but also help to keep institutional racism in the library science field. Damasco and Hodges noted in “Tenure and promotion experiences of academic librarians of color,” a 2012 survey study, that 66.7% of minority academic librarians did not feel fairly evaluated by superiors and less than half indicated their opinions were openly valued in regards to decisions about their libraries (p. 296). Other minority librarians in this survey expressed discouragement from colleagues when presenting research projects focusing on social justice, leading Damasco and Hodges to conclude that librarians of color “might not have safe venues to share their opinions” (p. 300). The reluctance from other librarians to address racial issue may be found in the notion of “colorblindness” or “neutrality.” Cooke and Minarik’s “Linking LIS graduate study and social identity as a social justice issue: Preparing students for critically conscious practice” (2016) notes that some may choose to completely ignore race, or be colorblind, with the hope that racism will disappear if race is ignored (p. 185). Jensen’s “The Myth of the Neutral Professional” (2008) echoes the words of Horton and Tutu in stating the neutrality does not relieve one’s accountability for the hateful actions of others (p. 91). Regrettably, invoking claims to colorblindness or neutrality in situations when assistance is needed simply piles on the number of microaggressions against a person of color rather than providing relief to the racial issue.

A separate survey conducted in “Racial microaggressions in academic libraries: Results of a survey of minority and non-minority librarians,” Alabi (2015) surveyed 185 librarians, both minority and non-minority, about microaggressions and racism in the libraries. The survey not only recorded the number of racial grievances librarians of color experience, but also the response and observations of their non-minority counterparts. In addition to confirming that non-minority employees hold a larger amount of leadership positions, Alabi found that non-minority librarians observed or reported a significantly lower amount of microaggressions towards minority colleagues (p. 50). Additionally, Alabi observed:

Minority academic librarians are also more likely to perceived racial microaggressions directed toward colleagues. However, non-minority librarians are unlikely to report observing racial microaggressions. This suggests that the disconnect between perceptions of minority and non-minority librarians . . . persists. (p. 52)

An important question raised by Damasco, Hodges, and Alabi’s findings is whether a field that is predominately white and unsympathetic towards workers in the field can cater service to the diverse needs of a community?

As Morales, Knowles, and Bourg (2014) indicate in “Diversity, social justice, and the future of libraries,” librarians will refer back to the ALA Core Values for guidance. As librarians, our social responsibility is to uphold diversity, therefore “[s]ocial responsibility is likewise one of the core values of librarianship” (Morales et al., p. 439). Though the ALA is clear on their stance on diversity and a librarian’s position of social responsibility can be assumed from the ALA core values, a disconnect remains between a non-minority librarian’s support for the rights of minority patrons, but not for fellow librarians. According to Gustina and Guinnee’s “Why social justice in the library?” (2017), librarians around the country are becoming more vocal about social justice issues and the “radical inclusivity movement” noting, “privilege or lack thereof can directly impact [an individual’s] ability to access the services a library provides if the library doesn’t take purposeful action to design services” (pp. 52-53). Yet as Morales stresses, inclusivity in libraries must first begin with the employees:

“[L]ibrary leaders must also acknowledge the ways in which library practices frequently contribute to inequity, marginalization, and injustices; and commit to transforming our practices and standards in ways that leverage the power, expertise, and responsibility of academic librarians and libraries as forces for social justice” (Morales et al., 2014, p. 448).

Our task as the new generation of library professionals is to consider the topics that can often seem uncomfortable and act as a champion for social justice. In doing so, librarians of color and privileged librarians must work together to raise awareness and conversation about current our racial issues.


Alabi, J. (2015). Racial microaggressions in academic libraries: Results of a survey of minority and non-minority librarians. The Journal of academic librarianship, 41(1), 47-53. doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2014.10.008

Collins, C. S., & Jun, A. (2017). White out: Understanding white privilege and dominance in the modern age. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing Inc. New York.

Cooke, N. A., & Minarik, J. D. (2016). Linking LIS graduate study and social identity as a social justice issue: Preparing students for critically conscious practice. In B. Mehra & K. Rioux (Eds.), Progressive community action: critical theory and social justice in library and information science (pp. 181-214). Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press.

Damasco, I. T., & Hodges, D. (2012). Tenure and promotion experiences of academic librarians of color. College & research libraries, 73(3), 279-301. doi:10.5860/crl-244

Gustina, M., & Guinnee, E. (2017). Why social justice in the library? Library Journal, 142(10), 52-55. Retrieved September 29, 2017.

Jensen, R. (2008). The Myth of the neutral professional. In A. Lewis (Ed.), Questioning library neutrality (pp. 89-96). Duluth, MN: Library juice press.

Morales, M., Knowles, E. C., & Bourg, C. (2014). Diversity, social justice, and the future of libraries. Libraries and the academy, 14(3), 439-451. Retrieved September 29, 2017.

The Inherent Value of Diversity in Librarianship by Rachel E. Brackenridge

“Diversity, in race, ethnicity, sexuality, age, social background, and more, will bring power to the libraries where balanced views and all kinds of possibilities are inevitable for successful research and teaching. Diversity is not a problem, but an asset for the institution.”

  • Azusa Tanaka, Why Diversity Matters: A Roundtable Discussion on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Librarianship. July 29, 2015.

The necessity for diversity within the field of librarianship is commonly attributed to the increasingly diverse user population it aims to serve. According to Downing, et al. (2007), “It would be wise for librarianship as a profession to focus on creating a next generation of leaders that reflect the population demographics it serves (p. 36).”

Indeed, users may feel more easily understood by library staff who speak the same languages, or are perceived to share the same cultural attributes. This connection between employee diversity and the attraction and retention of customers is well-established in the for-profit world (Kline, 2010), and is commonly referred to as the business case for diversity (Bendick, Egan, & Lanier, 2010).

As described by Bendick et al. (2010), the business case for diversity posits that, “Diverse employees bring differing life experiences, cultural backgrounds, and ways of thinking that will assist their employer in relating to, understanding, and meeting the needs of an increasingly broad range of customers” (p. 471). This, in turn, is thought to increase profitability, and in fact, there is evidence that diversity is positively associated with profitability (Herring, 2009).

Unfortunately, the business case for diversity treats the attraction of a diverse workforce as simply a means to an end. Managers who view employee diversity through this lens often assume what Bendick et al. (2010) describe as, “an automatic match between the average characteristics of customers in a market segment and the characteristics of an individual job candidate or employee based on a single demographic characteristic, such as race, that the individual shares with the segment” (p. 471). It is easy to imagine that minority employees may be tokenized under such a rationale. They may even be passed over for promotions if their value to the organization is so inextricably linked to their minority status and the perceived advantage that status offers within a given customer or user segment (Bendick et al., 2010).

The business case for diversity might be leaned upon so ubiquitously in historically homogenous industries and companies because it is more psychologically palatable for those in majority groups. According to Thomas, Plaut, and Tran (2014), “[it] may very well be a psychologically ‘safe’ rationale for Whites because the business case for diversity emphasizes benefits to profit and not issues of justice, fairness, or privilege” (p. 82). As suggested by this assertion, there are alternative motivations for increasing diversity which are more ethical and treat minorities more fairly (Van Dijk, Van Engen, & Paauwe, 2012), and it behooves librarians to pause in their quests to meet diversity-related benchmarks and consider the lessons that the private- sector is currently learning in this area.

If the business case for diversity is misguided, it is nevertheless a progression from diversity ideologies that fail to recognize cultural or ethnic variation altogether. Colorblind ideology stipulates that one is morally obliged to overlook differences between ethnicities, including skin color, because to acknowledge difference makes one prejudiced (Thomas et al., 2014). Unfortunately, this ideology effectively minimizes white privilege, and by refusing to recognize real differences between cultures, it stigmatizes those differences and establishes white or majority culture as the norm (Thomas et al., 2014).

On the other end of the ideology spectrum is multiculturalism (Thomas et al., 2014). A multicultural ideology embraces diversity and sees its value as inherent, rather than simply business- savvy or profitable. “Organizations applying the multicultural diversity ideology seek to capitalize on [diversity] and provide an environment where their employees have a stronger possibility of maximizing their potential and impacting the organization’s performance” (Thomas et al., 2014, p. 84).

In considering this, it should be clear that, in order to embrace a multicultural ideology in LIS, we must separate the motivation to increase diversity in the field from the commonly held assumption that doing so will attract users or improve staff interactions with users at the point of service. The assumption that minorities can speak on behalf of all of those who share some of their ethnic attributes does not account for intersectionality (Werbner et al., 2013), and maybe more importantly, excuses members of the majority from developing intercultural competence (Ritchie & Walker, 2007).

Increasing diversity will no doubt benefit the field of LIS and our ability to serve our communities in countless ways (Downing, et al., 2007), but gaining insight into users’ interests and needs should not be our main motivation for doing so, as this threatens to pigeonhole minority librarians and fails to acknowledge their abilities to contribute more generally in the workplace (Thomas et al., 2014).


Bendick, M., Lou Egan, M., & Lanier, L. (2010). The business case for diversity and the perverse practice of matching employees to customers. Personnel Review, 39(4), 468-486.

Downing, Alire, Cawthorne, Hall, Offord, Pitchford, . . . Jordan, Prof. Karen, Dr Camila, Jon, Tracie, Jerome, Veronda, Prof. Alexandra, Alysse A. E. D. J. (2007). Library leadership development: Institutional commitment, increasing underrepresented populations and impacting the information profession. 20-39.

Herring, C. (2009). Does diversity pay?: Race, gender, and the business case for diversity. American Sociological Review, 74(2), 208-224.

Kline, A. (2010). The business case for diversity. U.S. Banker, 120(5), 10-11.

Ritchie, A., & Walker, C. (2007). Continuing professional development: Pathways to leadership in the library and information world. (IFLA Publications).

Thomas, K., Plaut, V., & Tran, N. (2014). Diversity ideologies in organizations. (Series in applied psychology).

Van Dijk, H., Van Engen, M., & Paauwe, J. (2012). Reframing the Business Case for Diversity: A Values and Virtues Perspective. Journal of Business Ethics,111(1), 73-84.

Why Diversity Matters: A Roundtable Discussion on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Librarianship. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2017, from

This article contains excerpts from: Brackenridge, R. E. (2017). Diversity in Library and Information Science: A Critical Review of the Literature. University of Denver. Unpublished.

How White Neutrality Affects the Library and Information Science Profession and What We Can Do to Change It by Karna Southall



A concept that problematizes white people as a racial category. It challenges the tendency of white people to view themselves as non-racial or race-neutral, identifies the privilege attached to whiteness, and sees it as a specific standpoint from which white people regard themselves and others.

-From the Oxford Dictionary of Social Work and Social Care

In the library profession, the commitment to intellectual freedom is undoubtable. We’re taught in our master’s program that one cannot be a librarian without the firm belief that you and everyone you know can seek out information, whatever that information might be. We discuss the right to read about homosexual relationships in children’s books, the appropriate way to assist patrons when they want to learn to draw nudes, and how to navigate around the CIA when they come knocking on your door asking for patron records. All of this is taught with the soaring rhetoric of eagles, education, and the commitment to non-bias access.

All of this is taught in the basis of whiteness.

The concept of free speech comes from the Enlightenment period, where upper-class educated white men philosophized that education and freedom would promote the wellbeing of all men. Our founding doctrines as stated in the American constitution are influenced from these musings. It is only in our modern day interpretation of these ideals to include people who are not white and not male. It cannot be denied that these principals are based on the idea of white neutrality (and because of this, white hierarchy) and not from the idealistic view of democratic freedom.  When viewing Robert Rauschenberg’s White Painting [3 Panel], 1951, we see this idea in the visual arts. Rauschenberg was originally responding to Clement Greenberg’s philosophy that the one difference in painting compared to other art mediums is the flatness of canvas. Rauschenberg then painted a canvas completely white to be neutral and flat, almost mocking the Greenberg’s critique. His painting became a sounding board for what was around the painting, reflecting the gallery’s lighting and attendee’s shadows. If we view this painting through the lens of whiteness, the idea that this painting can be neutral is problematic and physically impossible.

To develop a more just and solidarity seeking society, we must confront the notion that free speech and intellectual freedom are not without bias. Let’s examine this with an example. A current issue of the moment is free speech on college campuses. It is argued that all viewpoints, however we feel about them, should be represented on college campuses because college is the place to be challenged. These challenging situations are thought to expand the student’s mind and “the real harm is caused when students are not challenged” (Cohen, 2017). In our profession, when should we allow free speech policy to psychologically harm students? Is it within the right of information professionals to speak in defense of censorship? I argue that pursuing the principal of intellectual freedom without questioning the assumption of white neutrality is harmful to all students on campus. In our fight for intellectual freedom, we must remember the Black Caucus’s distinction between the First Amendment’s principals and practices: “The First Amendment pledges to protect freedom of expression but not to supply an audience.” Considering the harmful quality of these ‘Freedom of Speech’ advocates, it is within our professions best interest to act against neutrality and promote education that pursues the dismantling of these ideals. Hikido and Murray (2016) wrote “a crucial tenet of critical multiculturalism is making whiteness visible and accountable.”  As information professionals, it is a necessity to understand this distinction. From the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, it is stated that access to information should be unbiased. The focus of a library, and the librarians who run it, is to simply provide information without discriminating against the provider. Below are the six principals of the Bill of Rights:

  1. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
  2. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
  3. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.
  4. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.
  5. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.
  6. Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.

As the Bill of Rights for the United States is lofty in rhetoric and stance, so is the American Library’s Association Bill of Library Rights. We strive for the pursuit of information for all, for the enlightenment of all people, and for access to the masses. In practice, we fail at these ideals because of our engrained assumption of intellectual freedom. Jessica Charbeneau from the University of Michigan Department of Sociology writes “such privilege/oppression may not be the fault of specific white individuals, but that does not mean they are not responsible for it.” (2013). The failure within this Bill of Rights is the acknowledgement that no information provided can be neutral or that that provider is simply a guardian of truth. We can learn from other educational scholarship about the teaching practice of transforming whiteness from unspoken normality to challenged discourse.  To be an information professional should be to understand one’s implicit bias, the bias of the institution, and the bias of the society. In the recognition of these failures, we can find our strength as a profession to own our history and seek a progressive initiative to change these white neutralities. We must acknowledge that the idea of neutrality is impossible and change the policy to reflect this.


Charbeneau, J. (2013). White faculty transforming whiteness in the classroom through pedagogical practice. Race Ethnicity and Education, , 1-20. doi:10.1080/13613324.2013.831823

Cohen, A. (2017). Psychological Harm and Free Speech on Campus. Society, 54(4), 320-325. doi:10.1007/s12115-017-0145-6

Harris, J., & White, V. (2013). whiteness (1 ed. ed.) Oxford University Press.

Hikido, A., & Murray, S. B. (2016). Whitened Rainbows: How White College Students Protect Whiteness through Diversity Discourses. Race, Ethnicity and Education, 19(2), 389-411. doi:10.1080/13613324.2015.1025736

“Library Bill of Rights”, American Library Association, June 30, 2006. (Accessed September 29, 2017)