Libraries on the frontlines: Neutrality and social justice

Amelia N. Gibson, Renate L. Chancellor, Nicole A. Cooke, Sarah Park Dahlen, Shari A. Lee, Yasmeen L. Shorish

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to examine libraries' responsibility to engage with and support communities of color as they challenge systemic racism, engage in the political process, and exercise their right to free speech. Many libraries have ignored the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, citing the need to maintain neutrality. Despite extensive scholarship questioning the validity of this concept, the framing of library neutrality as nonpartisanship continues. This paper examines librarianship's engagement with, and disengagement from black communities through the lens of the BLM movement. It also explores the implications of education, engagement, and activism for people of color and libraries today. Design/methodology/approach - The authors have engaged the topic from a critical race perspective as a practice in exercising voice - telling stories, presenting counterstories, and practicing advocacy (Ladson-Billings, 1998). Findings - The assertion that libraries have been socially and politically neutral organizations is ahistorical. When libraries decide not to address issues relevant to people of color, they are not embodying neutrality; they are actively electing not to support the information and service needs of a service population. In order for libraries to live up to their core values, they must engage actively with communities, especially when those communities are in crisis. Originality/value - As a service field, librarianship has an ethos, values, and history that parallel those of many other service fields. This paper has implications for developing understanding of questions about equitable service provision.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)751-766
Number of pages16
JournalEquality, Diversity and Inclusion
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • African Americans
  • Black Lives Matter
  • Libraries
  • Library as place
  • Neutrality
  • Social justice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Cultural Studies
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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