Librarianship and Human Rights: a twenty first century guide by Toni Samek – reviewed by John Pateman

Oxford, England; Chandos Publishing, 2007; 200 pages, ISBN 1843341468

Review by John Pateman

This was by far the best book I have read on librarianship for a very long time. I wore my pencil out underlining all the statements which I agreed with.

The subjects of Librarianship and Human Rights can be viewed as dull in themselves and a very dry and boring combo when hitched together. But this is no dusty, academic, detached tome. Instead it is a lively, passionate, committed, well argued call to arms.

At its core there is a challenge to the perceived professional wisdom that librarians should be objective, neutral and apolitical. Rather, we should not separate the personal, political and professional, particularly in this age of the so called War on Terror when human rights are constantly being eroded and under mined.

Even the concept of Universal Human Rights itself is contested here, as an essentially western capitalist ideology which cannot and should not be applied to all countries and all people’s all of the time.

Samek succeeds in all three of her stated aims: to encourage library workers to take a stand; to challenge professional rhetoric about human rights; and to position the library as a point of resistance.

Samek then moves us beyond the rhetoric and presents a wide range of practical strategies and examples of social action used in library work for social change. The UK based organisation Information for Social Change features prominently here.

This is a manifesto for a new critical library movement as part of a more humanistic profession which should oppose the following: commodification of information, corporate globalisation, privatisation of public services, monopolisation of the media, and profit driven destruction (or private appropriation and control) of cultural artefacts and the human record.

Inspiring, affirming, activating, energising, I ran out of superlatives to describe this book. If you are a library worker who wants to change the world, read it today – because tomorrow may already be too late.

(317 words)

John Pateman

Head of Libraries, Learning & Inclusion

Lincolnshire County Council