Thursday, April 10, 2008

Why Intellectual Freedom Still Matters

Maybe I'm the last person on earth to twig to this controversy, but this week, I had my pride in librarianship refreshed.

Gloria Won, a librarian at University of California at San Francisco medical center, discovered that Popline, a federally-funded health information database housed at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health was ignoring keyword searches using the word abortion. (Ironically, Popline bills itself as "Your connection to the world's reproductive health literature.") She contacted the database's manager, who confirmed that this had been done to comply with an interpretation of federal rules about making information about abortion available through federally-funded sources.

After the story went public, the dean of the Bloomberg School quickly changed the policy, recognizing that this was an overinterpretation of the rules.

No matter whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, access to information that makes your case and can potentially save lives is vital. Calling out a stupid, misguided and ill-advised policy that limits this access is part of long tradition of librarians fighting for intellectual freedom. I salute Ms. Won for her actions, and hope that we can all embody her attitude in our work.

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