The Scandinavian Innovations on Freedom of Speech in Libraries

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Scandinavian Library Quarterly just issued their no. 3 this year, with several texts on freedom of speech. Which is neither fresh nor original in library journals or at library conferences. However what makes this issue worth reading is the special focus in the Scandianavian countries on the public libraries as explicit venues for political debate.

All libraries have programs on literature that include talks and debates, and some even move to politics now and then. But probably for the first time not only one but two national library acts have had their objects clauses amended to include just political debates and related activities. Thus every Norwegian public library is since 1st January 2014 supposed to «serve as an independent meeting place and forum for public dialogue and debate”. And Swedish libraries should “promote the democratic development of the society by contributing to the dissemination of knowledge and freedom of opinion” (my translations).

This is covered by two texts in this issue (one of which by this blogger, who has gone more thoughly into this in an earlier blogpost). Other articles cover library and societal debates in other Scandinavian countries after e.g. the «Charlie Hebdo» incident, after exhibitions in Finnish libraries that turned out to provoke certain groups, the same in Denmark after poetry recitals provoking political muslims.

Especially in Norway librarians seem to prioritize freedom of expression to the risk of provoking groups or individuals. E.g. at least three major public libraries in Norway have lately invited racists to debates, of course together with competent opponents, or opened their premises to more or less racist organisations. However In the Swedish contribution in this issue the author stresses that «…the freedom of expression … is undoubtedly an important right, but is it an obligation to use it to wound and to provoke?»

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