Open Letter to CFLA Board

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Gwen Bird
Gwen Bird signed this petition

Dear CFLA Board of Directors,

We are writing to express our disagreement with the position of CFLA expressed in your October 22 letter to the Toronto Public Library Board.  In it, you defend TPL’s decision to proceed with the event entitled “Gender Identity: What does it mean for Society, the Law, and Women?,” which was held at TPL’s Palmerston Branch on October 29.  You cite the CFLA-FCAB Statement on Intellectual Freedom and Libraries and the CFLA-FCAB Position on Third Party Use of Publicly Funded Library Meetings Rooms and Facilities in your letter. We are writing to ensure that CFLA leadership understands that these policies and the Board’s interpretation of them do not represent the views of the undersigned Canadian library workers. 

We recognize that CFLA is not a member organization, but a federation of membership organizations.  Further, as a relatively new federation, we acknowledge that some processes and communication channels may still be in formation.  For these reasons, we believe it is critical for you to hear from us as members of your member organizations.  We are writing to say that we do not stand with you in using a simplistic and outdated understanding of intellectual freedom as an excuse for libraries to be used to promote hatred.  We call on the CFLA Board and Intellectual Freedom Committee to engage with the community in a renewed conversation to update this policy.

Your letter states, “Libraries also encounter pervasive confusion that renting space to a third party equates to support for the third party.”  As library workers, managers, and directors, we are not confused.  We understand that library users, members of our communities, and library workers are not immune to the use of libraries as platforms for hatred.  Events such as the transphobic one at TPL render our libraries unsafe for trans and queer people, particularly trans women, and especially those already marginalized by other vectors of oppression such as Indigeneity, race, class and/or ability. 

At its core, the CFLA policy on Intellectual Freedom is premised on an assumption of institutional neutrality.  We vociferously object to this tenet.  We understand that if a library is seen to be hosting an event, it lends institutional credibility to that event, and to the views and speakers involved. It is time for the CFLA policy on Intellectual Freedom to be updated to include more nuance and a contemporary understanding of the balance between human rights and intellectual freedom. 

We write as members of CFLA member organizations, and as library workers opposed to CFLA’s position on this important issue.  We call on the Federation to undertake meaningful engagement with the Canadian library community and the broader community, especially those most impacted by recent events, to update this outdated policy. 

Sincerely,

Gwen Bird, Dean of Libraries, Simon Fraser University
Shirley Lew, Dean, Library, Teaching & Learning Services, Vancouver Community College
Todd Mundle, University Librarian, Kwantlen Polytechnic University