CAPAL Statement on the CFLA National Forum Paper: Artificial Intelligence and Intellectual Freedom Key Policy Concerns for Canadian Libraries

CAPAL Statement on the

CFLA National Forum Paper: Artificial Intelligence and Intellectual Freedom Key Policy Concerns for Canadian Libraries


The  Canadian  Association  of  Professional  Academic  Librarians / l’Association canadienne des bibliothécaires académiques professionnels (CAPAL/ACBAP) supports the key takeaways on the intellectual freedom rights of library users from a national forum  hosted by the Canadian Federation of Library Associations/Fédération canadienne des associations de bibliothèques’s (CFLA-FCAB)  on artificial intelligence and intellectual freedom as articulated in the Artificial Intelligence and Intellectual  Freedom Key Policy Concerns for Canadian Libraries (2018) paper. However, CAPAL/ ACBAP would like to also highlight the need to protect the intellectual and academic freedom of librarians and information professionals.

The rights of users are fundamentally undermined when the rights of librarians who develop collections, systems, and library spaces are not protected. The CFLA-FCAB national forum paper does not adequately consider, or address, the inherent and imperative link between  intellectual freedom rights of librarians and information professionals and their ability to perform the work that is essential to a strong democracy. The freedom to hold, inquire into, support, and express all ideas, including the unpopular and unorthodox, is a fundamental professional value which librarians not only uphold and defend but one to which they also have a right.

The vulnerability of librarians and information professionals in this regard was underscored when, in 2013, Library and Archives Canada released the LAC Code of Conduct: Values and Ethics which placed conditions on the ability of LAC’s librarians to teach, speak at public conferences, and other public engagements.

In 2016, CAPAL/ACBAP issued the Statement on Academic Freedom For Academic  Librarians reinforcing our view of the essential nature of academic freedom to the role of the Academic Librarian. CAPAL/ACBAP “believes that academic librarians have the right to academic freedom and, at the same time, a responsibility to uphold academic freedom,” and defines academic freedom as:

[…] the freedom to express, communicate, enquire, review, examine, question, teach and learn, in private or public contexts, even when those ideas oppose  the viewpoints held by bodies of authority, religious, sectarian or political perspectives.

Further, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) affirms the right to academic freedom by faculty members, including librarians, with its Policy Statement on Academic Freedom,

Academic freedom includes the right, without restriction by prescribed doctrine, to freedom to teach and discuss; freedom to carry out research and disseminate and publish the results thereof… freedom to acquire, preserve, and provide access to documentary material in all formats… Academic freedom always entails freedom from institutional censorship.

By considering only the rights of library users, the CFLA-FCAB statement ignores that librarians require professional autonomy and protection to offer unfettered information access to users, and to conduct their own research. Without such protection, librarians and libraries could be put at professional risk. CAPAL/ACBAP urges CFLA-FCAB to consider adding explicit support for librarians and library staff in this statement on intellectual freedom.

The CFLA-FCAB further states that artificial intelligence (AI) “is a category of technology that is becoming more and more capable of understanding our information needs, and which we will need to embrace in order to fully uncover its true potential.” CAPAL would like to echo the words of John Buschman (2003) who argues that LIS tends “to fall well within the boundaries of uncritical hype of technologies”, that we “celebrate rather than evaluate,” and thus “remain largely unconnected to the ongoing scholarship that has raised critical questions about technologies” (149-150). CAPAL/ ACBAP therefore cautions that the profession needs to critically assess artificial intelligence and its impact on LIS and society at-large in order to more fully understand its potential and impact.

In the face of the disappearance of 50% of jobs in the next 20 years, CFLA-FCAB makes the point that libraries could help users transition to new jobs in sectors that are expected to grow including technology, social services, and the creative industries.

CAPAL/ACBAP wishes to consider the costs of a wholesale embracing of AI.  We believe there is merit in considering whether the expanding  job sectors will fully replace the 50% of jobs that are anticipated to disappear. Critical discussions and inquiry on the social impact this massive economic shift and the mentioned “income

distribution problem” will have on individuals and communities is particularly warranted. Libraries, as the nexus where disciplines and divergent subjects converge, are well positioned to promote and facilitate such critical discourse.

Also, one must look at the impact of AI on library work itself. The automation of library functions has to be accompanied by ensuring that the values and decision required to maintain and reinforce intellectual freedom are robustly defined and operationalized within a more automated library world.

Finally, the CFLA-FCAB statement, highlights the openness of AI including open source code and unfettered access to datasets as important to the library community’s concerns regarding privacy, consent, and appropriate data use, and considers prevention of anti-competitive behaviour as the paramount benefit. CAPAL/ACBAP believes the benefits of  openness extend beyond anti-competition and include improved access to data, data transparency, and data sharing resulting in improved collaboration and innovation. The potential benefits and detriments of AI extend beyond data and open source code, and the effects on libraries need to be delineated beyond these concerns.



Buschman, J. E. (2003). Dismantling the public sphere: Situating and sustaining librarianship in the age of the new public philosophy. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

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