by Tal Noznisky
Last March, Canadian libraries got caught in a quick swell of fear and worry over the freedom of expression. The Library and Archives Canada (“LAC”), employer of public service librarians, served their staff with a new set of professional guidelines. Many who commented on the new rules, entitled “Code of Conduct: Values and Ethics” reviled it. Boing Boing’s (and former Canadian library-worker) Cory Doctorow tagged it “censorship” and “surveillance.” Library Journal’s Annoyed Librarian called it totalitarian. What happened?
The Canadian government authorized numerous departments to codify a balance of loyalty and personal expression. The LAC did so and the Code of Conduct took effect in January 2013. Then, in late March, condemnation of the new rules erupted. One professional association after another attacked sections of the Code dealing with librarians’ duty of loyalty to their employer, the Canadian government.
Specific sections however, appear to override the right of self-expression. Critics called out requirements that library employees obtain permission for “high-risk” activities. The Canadian Library Association, issued a statement declaring the new rule an unnecessary obstruction to harmless activities like “teaching and speaking at conferences and other public engagements.” Sadly, these are not exaggerated claims. Neither are claims that other sections encourage librarians to snitch out coworkers whom breach the duty of loyalty by expressing critical views, even on social media.
Through an editorial in The Ottawa Citizen, Daniel Caron, head of LAC, upheld the Code. The Code, he wrote, “is wholly consistent with the values of the Public Service of Canada” and does not actually prevent anyone from doing anything outside of work or otherwise. Striking back at the claim that the new and numerous rules were too restrictive for librarians to be effective, Caron concluded that public servants’ have an overriding responsibility to be impartial.
Iler Campbell,LLP, an Ontario-based law firm, riposted an informative rebuttal on potential legal challenges against the Code. Their essay found that the Code heaps more concern on breach of loyalty than the visibility and relative position of librarians warrant. They concluded the Code is unnecessarily restrictive and arguably in breach of the right to the freedom of expression. Oddly, the debate tapered off after March and there appear to be no news or voices pursuing the aftershocks of the Code.