Free Access, Social Responsibility and Wikileaks

 

Image from Desertpeace.com

 

I am not a particularly politicized person. And, my blog has never been a forum for any sort of political chatter, in fact mostly the opposite. But, as I am a hard working graduate student in Library and Information Studies, the topic has presented itself to me through my studies, and I felt it necessary to comment.

I am taking a Foundations of Information Professions course, and the topic this week is Information Ethics. I knew that ethical concerns were part of the librarian’s code when I first read the ALA Code of Ethics pasted on the wall of the public library. I wonder though if ethics in information institutions may be reaching a new level of engagement since the web continues to open itself wider and more people have more access to an astounding variety of data. Being a “context” type of guy, I wanted to put this in perspective for my current historical/cultural place. Take for instance the Wikileaks topic. This is a perfect trial case for a young information professional to consider. Basically, Wikileaks is extending access to information for the purpose of transparency in our government. But, as the argument goes, they are being irresponsible with the costs of releasing these documents, and therefore the flow of information should cease. (This is of course an extremely glossed over portrait of the larger issue. Please read about it more in depth from the links below.) Where does the information professional stand?

We have a responsibility to fight for free access and resist censorship, all the while upholding the enrichment and enlightenment of our communities and society above all else. So how should I feel about Wikileaks?

Below is the short post I produced for the class discussion:

Ethical Concern: Free Access
Principle from ALA Code of Ethics – “We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom, and resist all efforts to censor library resources.”
Consideration: Social Responsibility

As the field of librarianship is interfacing with the surrounding culture more frequently and to a greater degree through the web and other access points, ethical considerations will become a larger portion of our daily work. Libraries, in protection of information, have constantly placed themselves at the crux of access and censorship debates. The protection of individuals rights to free access is a complicated position when considering how certain types of information may affect the user. One of the principles of the ALA Code of Ethics states, “[librarians] uphold the principles of intellectual freedom, and resist all efforts to censor library resources.” Taking into account the Social Responsibility that is also inherent in the guardianship of information, it is often difficult to define when information will be harmful or when social responsibility to the community is in service of the larger society.

This particular issue stood out to me for this assignment based on a very real and relevant topic that is happening right now. Wikileaks has recently released a massive amount of information concerning the United States involvement in the Iraq War, and there is much cultural controversy surrounding their decision to do so. Aside from personal convictions, how should we, as champions of access to information, respond in this? While conversations on this topic could be pressed to the “Open Government” level, I wonder how I would respond if a patron asked me my opinion on the Wikileak. Yes, I am for access, and yes I “resist efforts to censor library resources,” but to what extent would social responsibility play in here? Is Wikileak’s release of these documents in the best interests of a informed citizenry? Maybe?

Thoughts?

Read more about the issue below:

What is Wikileaks? – BBC

Guardian – Article

Huffington Post – Items tagged “wikileaks”

And the site itself – Wikileaks.org

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