Beacon for Freedom for Expression: Censorship and “Reference activism” in a Global Perspective

TISDEL, Michelle Antoinette (2014) Beacon for Freedom for Expression: Censorship and “Reference activism” in a Global Perspective. Paper presented at: IFLA WLIC 2014 - Lyon - Libraries, Citizens, Societies: Confluence for Knowledge in Session 101 - Reference and Information Services. In: IFLA WLIC 2014, 16-22 August 2014, Lyon, France.

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Language: English (Original)
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Beacon for Freedom for Expression: Censorship and “Reference activism” in a Global Perspective

In this paper I discuss the international censorship database Beacon for Freedom of Expression ( as a resource that combines reference librarianship and activism. I will examine the internet-based database as both a product of and a tool for reference librarianship by exploring examples of database content and international collaboration between librarianship and activism. The goals of the database are to document historic and current censorship in a global perspective, provide a collaborative learning resource, and facilitate dialogue about censorship and freedom of expression. Thus, I argue that with continued international collaboration and promotion, the database has the potential to help people to do something, make something, and change something. Reference librarianship illustrates one of the ways that the library delivers access to information, while reference services encompass many forms of information management. This interaction is not neutral but rather directly and indirectly mediated by the library staff and thus presents an opportunity to advocate implicit and explicit values. In this way, reference services are important not only to the flow of knowledge and information, but also the transfer of values. Reference tools designed specifically to preserve and give access to information of a political nature enhance the opportunity to advocate political values. This is particularly so when the highlighted values also reflect principles central to the library’s role in social infrastructures that empower people and strengthen democratic values. Beacon for Freedom of Expression is an example of a reference tool that is founded on principles of advocacy and activism. According to Oxford English Dictionary, activism is a “policy of active participation or engagement in a particular sphere of activity; specifically the use of vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.” In the mid-1990s, the Norwegian Forum for Freedom of Expression initiated the database as a monument to censored media around the world. The idea was to collaborate with national and university libraries and press-freedom organizations to preserve data about censorship in a global perspective and thus illustrate that throughout history and all over the world, censorship has threatened free expression and access to information. The database combines reference data and information collected by an international network of freedom of expression advocates. The result is a reference tool that reflects censorship trends, as well as highlights freedom of expression and access to information. Preservation and transfer of knowledge are core values of the library. They are also implicit aspects of access to information and central goals of Beacon for Freedom of Expression. The database is a poignant example of what collaboration between librarianship and activism can create. The maintenance and promotion of this unique reference tool relies on sharing information about current and historic censorship, and thus illustrates how reference librarianship can successfully coexist with activism, while being rooted in the library’s core principles of promoting access to information and the free flow of knowledge.

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