University needs to value and support its librarians

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What world do we live in? Last year, UC Berkeley went to great lengths extolling the free speech rights of all — spending $4 million to ensure that “alt-right” media hound Milo Yiannopoulos and his neo-Nazi followers had an unfettered platform on campus. Scores of police from surrounding communities were called in with riot gear to control protestors in the defense of free speech. This year, however, librarians peaceably negotiating their contract have been told that “academic freedom is not a good fit” for librarians. $4 million to defend the rights of people spewing hate speech, but not academic freedom for librarians who stand at the forefront of providing open, unfettered access to information — the hallmark of any democracy. Librarians, who teach information literacy and how to discern legitimate scholarship from fake news. Librarians, who archive sensitive and at times unpopular documents such as the Tobacco Papers, classified records on the health effects of tobacco that are housed in the UC San Francisco library. Librarians, who nationally protected patron records from being unjustly searched by the FBI. Librarians, who regularly struggle with administrators to ensure that all viewpoints are represented in our print and electronic collections. Librarians don’t deserve academic freedom?

Librarians, as academic employees, assume the academic freedom to collect, teach and write about sometimes unpopular topics. Providing unfettered access to information is in the very DNA of who we are as a profession and as individuals. As contract negotiations proceed, the university may claim it can’t afford to pay librarians what they need to live in the Bay Area. Just a reminder: The UC spent $4 million defending the speech of “alt-right” trolls. It’s time to find the moral courage and financial resources to support academic freedom and adequate salary and benefits for librarians so they can do their jobs in defense of democracy. And I encourage all who support academic freedom for librarians to sign our petition at: http://tinyurl.com/LibrarianAF

David Eifler graduated from the UC Berkely College of Environmental Design with a Masters in City and Regional Planning and now works as a Reference and Instruction Librarian in the Environmental Design Library.