Juggling librarianship with being a gov't employee:comments?

Today's journal entry is brought to you by a "letter to the editor" from a woman upset by librarians fighting a modification to a state's library privacy law. She stated that as "government employees", librarians did not have the right to fight governmental legislation.

Without a doubt, virtually all librarians are employees of some governmental subdivision. Most of us also have extremely strong feelings about freedom to information and patron privacy. We see ourselves, with some reason, as guardians of the right to know and the freedom to read. How do we balance these two sets of responsibilities?

I'd like to share my own personal view, which I don't claim to be the best. Then I'd like to hear from anybody who feels safe enough to chime in.

My own practice is to never speak out about the level of government that I am working for unless some deep moral value is at stake (relocating whole groups of people to camps, etc). When I worked in the federal government, I never wrote my Congressional delegation, though I felt free to speak out on state and local issues. Now that I work for a state government, I do not comment publicly on any bill before the state legislature. I now write often to my Congressional delegation on matters of concern to me, and I supported our city's anti-PATRIOT ACT resolution through written testimony and letters to the editor.

My wife doesn't understand my attitude and you might not either. She says that although I am a government employee, I am still a citizen of the state I reside in and so have as much right to speak out on legislation as anyone else.

How do you feel? Do you speak out on legislation before your political subdivision? Just library-related bills and resolutions? Anything but library related bills and resolutions?

Keep in mind, I am talking about speaking out AS AN INDIVIDUAL, not as a representative of your institution. Most political subdivisions have anti-lobbying statutes against employees advocating or fighting legislation in their official capacity, and I think that's perfectly fair. It's what we do "off the clock" that I'm exploring here.

If you haven't thought about this before, maybe it's time you did. This meme of librarians as gov't workers who should be seen and not heard seems to be spreading. We should try to define ourselves before others define us.

Until next time,


I think your self-regulation is very sensible and wise. You are respecting yourself by not endangering your job, and you are respecting your employer by acknowledging the lines of authority. There are so many layers of gov't, that choosing to involve yourself in a layer that doesn't employ you directly seems practical, doable and patriotic.

I agree with nbruce that you must use your judgement as to how taking public positions on matters concerning the part of government you serve might affect your employment. I see that as a practical issue.

It's not clear to me that there is an ethical reason not to take public positions on this kind of issue, though. I'd like to see someone spell out ethical arguments for or against speaking out on such issues as a private citizen. Would you make an analogy between the judge who refrains from speaking out on issues she might one day rule on?

By the way, in Houston at least there are more privately-employed librarians than you might think. When I attended library school here (via the University of North Texas's satellite LIS programunt.edu>, I was surprised at how many of my fellow students worked in corporate, engineering, and law-firm libraries.