Before we move on to muzzled Canadians, I wanted to thank a kind reader for sending in a screenshot of a library computer where the Annoyed Librarian was blocked from view because the filter considered it pornography. Kind Reader commented, “Yeah, filters work alright.”
Many a librarian over the years has wanted the AL closed down so that no one would be allowed to read it. Maybe one of those librarians has some sway with the filter company. A conspiracy? You might very well think so, but I couldn’t possibly say.
But now on to another odd story making the news here in libraryland: muzzled Canadians!
They’re not really muzzled, so don’t fear for their physical safety. They’re metaphorically muzzled. No, that’s not quite right, either. They fear being metaphorically muzzled. I have that fear, too, although it’s nothing compared to my fear of being metaphorically tied to a railroad track by Snidely Whiplash.
Nevertheless the fear is real, and the metaphorical muzzle is weirdly totalitarian. “Federal librarians and archivists who set foot in classrooms, attend conferences or speak up at public meetings on their own time are engaging in ‘high risk’ activities, according to the new code of conduct at Library and Archives Canada.”
For most people, those activities would only be high risk is they personally had a fear of public speaking. They’re now considered high risk because the government has a fear of public speaking.
I couldn’t track down the full code of conduct, but some of the quotes in the article are eerie, like this one:
“As public servants, our duty of loyalty to the Government of Canada and its elected officials extends beyond our workplace to our personal activities,” the code says, adding that public servants “must maintain awareness of their surroundings, their audience and how their words or actions could be interpreted (or misinterpreted).”
That is one of the creepiest codes of conduct since the fall of the Soviet Union Library Association. So public servants in Canada now have a “duty of loyalty” to the country and its government, but also to “its elected officials”? And this extends into their “personal activities”? Come on, Canada. Personal loyalty oaths to political leaders went out with the Third Reich.
I always thought Canada was so nice and bland and democratic, and here the government is issuing codes of conduct that stop just short of creating thought crimes for its employees.
Then there’s the weird blending of the personal, the political, and the professional, all of which are bound together, just like in North Korea! Speaking at a library conference would normally be considered professional activity for a professional librarian, not a personal activity where they’d better watch what they say.
And it doesn’t sound like the code is just limited to professional “personal” activities, but to pretty much everything. Do librarian have to “maintain awareness of their surroundings” all the time? What if mom complains over dinner about her jerk boss at the archive? Can her children call the snitch line and turn her in for “disciplinary measures”?
Let’s see, I’m pretty sure there was another country that encouraged people to watch what other people said and report anything they thought the government wouldn’t like. Which one was that? It’s right on the tip of my tongue.
The weird totalitarianism continues. Read through these two paragraphs:
It points to the dangers of social media. ”For example, in a blog with access limited to certain friends, personal opinions about a new departmental or Government of Canada program intended to be expressed to a limited audience can, through no fault of the public servant, become public and the author identified.”
“The public servant could be subject to disciplinary measures, as the simple act of limiting access to the blog does not negate a public servant’s duty of loyalty to the elected government,” says the code. “Only authorized spokespersons can issue statements or make comments about LAC’s position on a given subject.”
So a federal librarian or archivist posting a comment on Facebook about the LAC is now a villain? What if the statement is true? That’s the kind of thing that doesn’t matter to totalitarians. When unpleasant truths are exposed, the problem for those people isn’t the truth but that it was exposed.
And that stuff about “only authorized spokespersons can issue statements” is factually wrong and politically creepy. Anyone can make a statement about the LAC’s positions. I just made one. Are you trembling in your boots now, LAC? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Anyway, so much for freedom of speech in Canada. Between that librarian being sued by a publisher for saying mean things and the government trying to silence its own librarians Canada doesn’t sound like a good place to be a librarian at the moment.
Apparently the Canadian government is afraid of librarians, and any government afraid of librarians must be a wee, timid government indeed.
Since this is in Canada, and will have no effect on American librarian, the Socially Responsible Round Table councilor posted this to the ALA Council list: “If the policy described below is still in-place in June, we should take some action at our Chicago meeting.”
Ah, yes, the ALA Council should “take some action,” and then everyone could feel better about themselves for “fighting” injustice with absolutely nothing changing for the Canadian librarians or anyone else.
Or, everyone who finds out about the new code of conduct could call it out for the creeping fascism it is. It probably wouldn’t change anything either, but it would then allow a whole lot more people feel better about themselves.
I feel better already.