ALA President's Program

Panel Discussion
Date: Sunday, February 11, 2018 3:30 PM - 5:30 PM
Debate Panel Speakers Image

Are Libraries Neutral?

Have They Ever Been?    .   Should They Be? 


The question of neutrality in librarianship is an old one.  ALA’s 1939 Code of Ethics for Librarians calls for unbiased “recommendations”.  This is seen in the ALA Library Bill of Rights principles that present the library as content neutral, open and accessible to all. We will explore the following questions with the aim of challenging our thinking and practices:

  • Were libraries ever neutral?

  • Has the time come to question neutrality?

  • Are libraries through their practices, collections, services and technologies able to be neutral?

  • Can libraries be neutral as part of societies and systems that are not neutral?

  • Rather than neutral, should we advocate for a distinct set of values?

  • How can we do so and maintain trust in our communities?

A group of ALA members from academic library, public library, and library education backgrounds engage the issues.  A formal debate, with two speakers in the affirmative and two in the negative, followed by commentary from a reactor panel and a conversation with attendees, moderated by ALA President, Jim Neal.

- Debate [Affirmative] -

Em Claire Knowles Image





Em Claire Knowles serves as the Assistant Dean for Student and Alumni Affairs at the Simmons School of Library and Information Science.  She is serving for a second term as a trustee of the Freedom to Read Foundation, and as the foundation's Vice President. 


James LaRue Image






James LaRue is the Director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, and the Freedom to Read Foundation. Author of "The New Inquisition: Understanding and Managing Intellectual Freedom Challenges," LaRue was a public library director for many years, as well as a weekly newspaper columnist and cable TV host.  He has written, spoken, and consulted on leadership and organizational development, community engagement, and the future of libraries.

- Debate [Negative] -

Chris Bourg Image






Chris Bourg is the Director of Libraries at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she also has oversight of the MIT Press. She has written and spoken extensively on the future of research libraries, diversity and inclusion in higher education, and the role libraries play in advancing social justice and democracy.


R. David Lankes Image






R. David Lankes is the Director of the University of South Carolina’s School of Library and Information Science, and recipient of the American Library Association’s 2016 Ken Haycock Award for Promoting Librarianship. His book. The Atlas of New Librarianship, won the 2012 ABC-CLIO/Greenwood Award for the Best Book in Library Literature. Lankes is a passionate advocate for librarians and their essential role in today’s society.

- Commentary Panel -


Emily Drabinski Image




Emily Drabinski is the Coordinator of Library Instruction at Long Island University, Brooklyn, where she also serves as secretary of the Long Island University Faculty Federation. She also edits Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies, a book series from Library Juice Press/Litwin Books.

Kathleen de la Pena McCook Image






Kathleen de la Peña McCook is a distinguished university professor at the School of Information, University of South Florida in Tampa. She teaches Public Librarianship, Wikipedia and Knowledge Management, and Librarians and Human Rights.  She is a member and senator of the United Faculty of Florida, AFT Local 7463, and a member of the Progressive Librarians Guild.


Emily Knox Image






Emily Knox is an assistant professor in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  She is the author of Book Banning in 21st Century America, published by Rowman & Littlefield. Her research interests include information access, intellectual freedom and censorship, information ethics, information policy, and the intersection of print culture and reading practices.


Kelvin Watson Image





Kelvin Watson is the Director of the Broward County Libraries Division with 38 locations, circulating over 10.5 million items annually, and over 1 million library card holders.  He is the Immediate Past President of the Black Caucus of ALA. Kelvin was named the 2016 winner of ALA’s Ernest A. DiMattia Award for Innovation and Service to Community and Profession, and the 2017 DEMCO/BCALA Award for Excellence in Librarianship.


- Moderator -


Jim Neal Image






ALA President, Jim Neal is University Librarian Emeritus at Columbia University.  Previously, he served as the Dean of University Libraries at Indiana University and Johns Hopkins University, and held administrative positions in the libraries at Penn State, Notre Dame, and the City University of New York.  Jim is a frequent speaker at national and international conferences, consultant and published author, with focuses in the areas of scholarly communication, intellectual property, digital library programs, and library cooperation.  He also serves on the Board of the Freedom to Read Foundation.

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