Why intellectual freedom? Or; Your values are historically contingent

Caitlin Ratcliffe
2020
Intellectual freedom is a cornerstone value of library and information studies (LIS) in the twentyfirst century. However, LIS institutions have not always held intellectual freedom with the significance it has today. Historic analysis situates the development of intellectual freedom in the context of the European Enlightenment. This systematized review analyzes the use of the phrase "intellectual freedom" in primary sources from the mid-eighteenth century until the American Library Association
more » ... ibrary Association (ALA) published the Library's Bill of Rights in 1939 in order to examine the historic origins and development of intellectual freedom as a shared cultural value prior to 1939. I consider the development of intellectual freedom from two perspectives: as a shared value that developed in Britain and the United States during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries and as a meaningful phrase found in primary sources regarding religion, politics, and education. By contextualizing the origins of intellectual freedom with Enlightenment values and discourse, it is hoped this study will illustrate the fundamental nature of intellectual freedom as a value within LIS philosophy and contribute to the conversation about intellectual freedom as a continually negotiated concept that must be held in balance with social responsibility. It would be difficult to overstate the value of intellectual freedom in the world of library and information studies (LIS). Yet LIS institutions have not always held intellectual freedom in the place of significance it has today. The goal of this systematized review is to examine the historic origins of intellectual freedom as a shared cultural value. The study will focus on cultural developments in Britain and the United States to contextualize LIS' eventual adoption of intellectual freedom. Through historical analysis, I intend to illustrate the underlying nature of intellectual freedom as a value grounded in the philosophies of the European Enlightenment. Since intellectual freedom is a central concept of LIS, it is vital to understand the origins of intellectual freedom and how this history impacts modern LIS practices. Ultimately, the study will contribute to the conversation about intellectual freedom as an ongoing and continually negotiated concept that must be held in balance with social responsibility. Despite the prevailing notion that LIS concepts-which are often presented as moral imperatives-have remained constant throughout our history, LIS professional ethics and standards have evolved over time due to particular historic circumstances. The value of intellectual freedom has emerged only relatively recently. A brief overview of "Western" history reveals countless instances of state-and community-perpetuated censorship for over 2,500 years (Kemp, 2015) . Indeed, Sue Curry Jansen (1988) argues that censorship is "an enduring feature of all human communities" as knowledge and power are inextricably bound together (p. 4). In this context, our value of intellectual freedom and its related values of free expression and the right to information are disjointed from the flow of history: the exception, not the norm.
doi:10.7939/r3-121s-kg20 fatcat:m5ywzgz4cvaylcefpkqn3m4yvu