Wayne Bivens-Tatum on Librarians and “Traditional Cultural Expressions”

There is a hot issue in librarianship that I think has great significance in terms of how society and the institution of libraries is changing. The issue is how the profession will deal with claims by native cultural groups who desire that their cultural works, documents, and artifacts be kept in public libraries, but with special access restrictions that respect their cultural traditions. ALA Council is presently debating a policy document on these “traditional cultural expressions” (TCE’s), but the topic needs attention from theorists who can see the issue for what it is: a site of postmodern, multicultural challenge to to the European Enlightenment foundations of librarianship and, and the changing reality of the public sphere.

I asked Wayne Bivens-Tatum, who is working on a book for Library Juice Press about the Enlightenment foundations of librarianship, for his take on the ALA’s draft TCE document, and he posted his thoughts on it today.

2 comments on “Wayne Bivens-Tatum on Librarians and “Traditional Cultural Expressions”

  1. Here is more on what is currently happening with the “Traditional Cultural Expressions” document:

    May 3, 2010

    Dear Council Colleagues:

    I wanted to update everyone regarding the Statement on Traditional Cultural Expressions.

    The responsible management of traditional cultural expressions – in which the principle of open access to information is balanced with a respect for the rights of indigenous and traditional communities — is an important issue for the American Library Association and for libraries.

    The Office for Information Technology Policy and its Advisory Committee have been working on a Statement for over a year. OITP has taken the lead on this issue because the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO), which OITP monitors, has been addressing the issue of traditional cultural expressions globally. OITP has worked closely with the Library Copyright Alliance and the Chair of the International Federation of Library Associations’ (IFLA) Copyright and Other Legal Matters (CLM) Committee. OITP also worked closely with AILA, the American Indian Library Association, in developing the draft document.

    A draft statement of principles was presented for adoption at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Boston, but a number of groups, external and internal, raised issues with the document just prior to or at Midwinter. Based on these concerns, the Committee on Legislation, which brought the matter to Council, decided not to bring the draft principles to Council until these issues had been addressed.

    Traditional Cultural Expression is a complicated issue for many reasons, but we believe that a statement of principles is needed, and that it will be possible to resolve the issues that were raised.

    To move this ahead, I am establishing a Presidential Task Force, with co-chairs appointed by the OITP Advisory Committee and the International Relations Committee (IRC), to work on this matter. The Task Force will also consist of representatives from the Intellectual Freedom Committee, Committee on Legislation, Association of College and Research Libraries, ALA Joint Committee on Archives, Libraries and Museums, American Indian Library Association, Asian Pacific Library Association, Chinese American Library Association, Reforma, and Black Caucus of the American Library Association.

    The Task Force is charged to:

    • Review the background and development of the current version (7.0) of the document “Librarianship and Traditional Cultural Expressions: Nurturing Understanding and Respect;”

    • Review the current principles draft document and other relevant material, including any issues raised by external or internal groups;

    • Propose revisions to the document as needed; and

    • Prepare a revised draft document for discussion and approval by the ALA Council at ALA Midwinter 2011.

    The Task Force will meet via conference call and in person at Annual Conference in Washington, DC in June 2010, and will also work online using ALA Connect.

    We are currently in the process of receiving nominations from the various groups, and I will share information on the Chairs and names of Task Force members as soon as they are finalized.

    Please let me know if you would like any further information.



    Camila Alire, President

  2. Rory,
    This is an interesting post, thanks for bringing this to our attention.

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