British Columbia Civil Liberties Association Submission to the Vancouver Public Library Board, November 2, 2011
RE: Room Booking Policy
Micheal Vonn, Policy Director
The BCCLA addressed this subject in 2000, at a public forum on “public meetings in public spaces” held – appropriately – at the Vancouver Public Library. Our position is now as it was then, that the library, as a public institution, must not regulate citizens’ access to meeting rooms according to the content of their ideas.
This is imperative not only from the view of citizens’ right to free expression, but also in view of the vision and values, the point and purpose of the library, which is to impartially facilitate access to the broadest possible range of ideas.
This policy of impartial access means that the library proudly contains books and materials that are virtually guaranteed to offend everyone. That is the hallmark of excellence in a library collection.
And while it is perfectly understandable that people do (and they do) complain about library materials that they find objectionable, it is the role of library to support the provision of the widest possible range of ideas and not to attempt to sort the morally good from the morally bad, or the politically advisable from the ill-advised or indeed any other categorization that needs to be left to the discernment of the citizen.
Because it is inherent in the role of the library that it must not judge the factual or moral acceptability of ideas, the Flat Earth Society and the Round Earth Society are equally welcome to use the public meeting spaces. Anyone who suggest that the library “endorses” or “supports” the Flat Earth Society because it allowed the meeting seriously misapprehends the proper role of the library.
The BCCLA would like to lend its support to the library in maintaining its admirable record of open access and to suggest that the appropriate action in response to this recent complaint, is to use this as an opportunity to educate the public about the role of the library in a free and democratic society.