#timetotalkaboutIF campaign


#timetotalkaboutIF is an invitation to open a discussion about libraries and their approach to intellectual freedom as a core value. All are welcome to engage in this discussion online and/or in person at the OLA Superconference. Inspired by the 2005 Quebec student movement and their symbolic red squares, we invite library workers to wear a square of green felt and/or change their Twitter avatar to solid green to signal their willingness to engage in this discussion.


We are library workers who feel that it is time to have a frank discussion about the current approach to intellectual freedom in libraries. We are concerned that the hierarchy of values in libraries prioritizes the ideology of intellectual freedom over human rights and the library’s commitment to inclusion. Recent events have presented our profession with challenging questions about the ways in which we build and sustain genuine relationships with marginalized communities while still championing the right to freedom of expression and open debate. We believe that this is a nuanced conversation that needs to be ongoing and inclusive of various perspectives and that are not necessarily absolutist in their approach. We seek to create space to bridge the tension between theory and practice, and to ultimately find a way to translate theory into practical application for those who work on the front lines. We also seek to invite policy makers to engage with alternative viewpoints about intellectual freedom, and attempt to chart a new way forward.


Anytime is the right time to talk amongst your colleagues and online, but we’ve arranged for a formal time and place for library workers from all sectors to come together for a start:

January 31, 11-12

OLA Superconference – Unconference Centre

The digital component of the discussion will carry on through the month of January 2020. Participants can participate via Twitter, either by using your own account (make sure to use the hashtag) or via the anonymous bot @talkaboutIF (details below) or via the anonymous online form.


There will be a Twitter chat on Monday, January 27 at 8pm EST. Anonymous contributions will be facilitated (details coming soon).


The following are three guiding questions that – while challenging – we feel are of paramount importance to the current climate and the very real challenges we are facing.

  1. In what ways does the current approach  to IF undermine the human rights of marginalized groups of people?
  2. How can library workers maintain and build relationships in the community when upholding IF conflicts with a commitment to inclusion?
  3. In what ways are the collections that libraries build different from the ways that space is made available to the public?
  4. How are we assessing risk in decision making related to IF? How can library boards/leadership best prepare to meet such challenges?

Instructions for the greening campaign

Green square:

Email or DM jschmidt@ryerson.ca or @janeschmidt to receive one via snail mail; send me your address, I’ll mail you a square. Alternatively, you can make your own. They will also be available throughout the conference site in various locations – it will be like a treasure hunt!

Green avatar for Twitter:

You can use the Twibbon app to add a transparent green layer to your Twitter avatar here: https://twibbon.com/Support/timetotalkaboutif


Download this image to change your avatar to green throughout the month of January.green avatar

About the @talkaboutIF bot

Thanks to my good friend, John Fink (@adr) and coding from Tim Ribaric (@elibtronic), folks who wish to contribute to the conversation anonymously can submit a direct message to the @talkaboutIF Twitter account. Here’s how it works:

DM @talkaboutIF with your grievances

Your personal identifying info is scrubbed

Your grievance is aired

The bot will delete your DM and the response DM; delete your original message and the response you get

Patience please! This only runs once ever 15 minutes

If your DM is longer than 280 characters, it won’t post

Questions? Hit me up on Twitter and I’ll do my best to get answers.


3 thoughts on “#timetotalkaboutIF campaign

  1. Tina Thomas

    I am sad to miss it as it should be an interesting discussion. One point related to the text above. It notes that “We are concerned that the hierarchy of values in libraries prioritizes the ideology of intellectual freedom over human rights and the library’s commitment to inclusion.” Intellectual Freedom IS a human right. https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/
    Article 19. “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

    Would you be open to questions that are less likely to position Intellectual Freedom in opposition to inclusion? For example instead of “How can library workers maintain and build relationships in the community when upholding IF conflicts with a commitment to inclusion?” what about something like “How can library workers support Intellectual Freedom and maintain and build relationships with community groups that may be opposed to a speaker or room booking?”

    I hope the discussion can help show that libraries and library staff can and do support intellectual freedom, AND diversity and inclusion, AND marginalized communities. It would be unfortunate to presume/start with the assumption of a suckers choice – that it’s one or the other.

    Thanks for considering.

  2. Alvin Schrader

    I can only echo Tina’s observation that intellectual freedom, whether it’s called free expression or freedom of expression or free speech, is the fundamental human right undergirding all civil liberties. This unconference topic wouldn’t be possible without it – or any other, for that matter. Nor would anyone be able to advocate for minority rights and service needs. So the way the theme is set up is a set-up. Contrasting intellectual freedom and human rights is a mortally flawed way of approaching the many complex issues involving social responsibility and libraries.

  3. Sam Popowich

    I just want to respond to Tina and Alvin to say some of us critical of what I call an absolutist intellectual freedom position are in Edmonton and would be prepared to come discuss these issues. However, IF events at EPL seem to only ever have defenders of the dominant position (Alvin Schrader, Jim Turk), and so I would not be at all surprised if you (and the library profession in Edmonton) are only ever hearing one side of the story. It is not the case, as Alvin has written, that what “the library profession needs is better informed critics” – such critics are here, have always been here – but rather that IF critics are regularly excluded from IF debates or discussions, such as the ones held at EPL and the annual “spotlight” at OLA, both of which tend to always include the same people. The “suckers choice” and “set-up” that you describe are, to my mind, a mischaracterization of critics’ positions, and are in fact straw-person defenses of the status quo rather than real engagement with critics. I don’t want to hijack Jane’s blog post. Feel free to reach out if you would like to discuss further.


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