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Library as a Political Institution. Presentation to Maldives Library Association - May 2010 By Amman Adam. Introduction.

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library as a political institution

Library as a Political Institution

Presentation to Maldives Library Association - May 2010

By Amman Adam

  • In a democracy free flow of information is necessary and essential; libraries are important institutions that have a significant role in the dispersal of this information, in turn enabling informed discourse among the public.
  • Libraries in their work ensure the freedom to read, to view, to speak and to participate. Therefore indeed, they are the cornerstone of democracy.

According to former American president Franklin D. Roosevelt, libraries are essential to the functioning of a democratic society…

Toronto Public Library

historical overview of the role of libraries in democracy
Historical Overview of the Role of Libraries in Democracy
  • First library was established in Egypt in 1250BC
  • Core objectives of a library:
    • Collection
    • Organization
    • Processing of information resources for easier and better access

Alexandria Library,



Historically library holdings were usually limited to a privileged few and also usually censored by a higher authority.

  • Free access to knowledge and ideas has political and economic costs to totalitarian systems.
  • According to a Chinese emperor when men become too wise they become worthless.

Censorship of information was not only restricted to totalitarian regimes.

  • The library, like the press and broadcast media, is controlled and manipulated as a propaganda tool of a totalitarian government.

The first notable departure from the traditional norm of library censorship and control was seen in the Anglo-Saxon library tradition.

  • Public library “which is freely open to all irrespective of age, profession, race, color and in which there is free access to any literature required”

Democratic theory argues that a democratic government and society must enable individuals to achieve their fullest potential of development.

  • It assumes that individuals who reach their fullest potential will contribute to the society better in general.
  • In order to achieve such development, an individual needs knowledge and access to ideas, this is where the library fits the whole scheme of democracy.
role of library and librarians in civic life
Role of library and Librarians in Civic life
  • Public libraries provide access to a broad range of community information.
  • Librarians are an important element of a functioning democracy:
    • deal with issues of access to information
    • and educating the public to make better, more informed citizens as part of their everyday job.

In US and Canada, both of which have well established governance mechanisms based on the principles of democracy, often justification as for the reasons for existence of a library is not clearly articulated and often never articulated in a way that explains its significance in the role it plays as a facilitator of democracy.

roles libraries play in supporting democratic values
Roles Libraries Play in Supporting Democratic Values
  • Library’s responsibilities:
    • Source of independent thought,
    • critical attitudes
    • and in-depth information, makes library’s function as the guards against tyranny or ignorance.

Inside Toronto Public Library


Important pillars of democracy such as freedom of speech, the freedom to read, the freedom to view are guaranteed and supported by a well functioning library.

  • A truly democratic institution, libraries are for everyone, everywhere and they provide safe spaces for public dialogue.
  • Libraries provide the resources needed for the public to inform itself in order to participate in every aspect of our society.
  • They provide information so the public can participate in self-governance. They provide access to government information so that public can monitor the work of its elected officials and hence a system of checks and balances.

According to Kranich (2001) in America libraries were “invented” and exist in order to give all people equal access to learning and self-determination and as such libraries are uniquely democratic.

  • From equal access to free flow of information, libraries epitomize democracy.
concluding remarks
Concluding remarks
  • Libraries like all the other institutions are products of their own history.
  • Because there are many different views as to the political purpose of library, which is colored by the political context in which it is found in, there is no universally acceptable notion of political roles assigned to libraries.

Maldives National Library

  • Chowdhury, G. G., & Burton, F. P., & Mcmenemy, D. & Poulter, A. (2008). Librarianship: An introduction. London: Facet Publishing.
  • Durrance, C. J., & Pettigrew, K. & Jourdan, M. & Scheuerer, K. (2001). Libraries and civil society. In N. Kranich (Ed.), Libraries and democracy: Cornerstones of liberty. (pp.49-59). Chicago: American Library Association.
  • Garceau, O. (1949). The public library in the political process. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Hafner, W. A., & Sterling-Folker, J. (1993). Democratic ideals and the American public library. In W. A. Hafner. (Ed), Democracy and the public library: Essays of fundamental issues (pp.9-43). London: Greenwood Press.
  • Hafner, W. A., (1993). Democracy and the public library: Essays of fundamental issues. London: Greenwood Press.

Karel, C. (1938). Masaryk on thought and life: Conversation with KarelCapeck. New York: Macmillan.

  • Kranich, N. (2001). Libraries, the internet, and democracy. In N. Kranich (Ed.), Libraries and democracy: Cornerstones of liberty. (pp.83-95). Chicago: American Library Association.
  • Kranich, N. (2001). Preface. In N. Kranich (Ed.), Libraries and democracy: Cornerstones of liberty. (pp.v). Chicago: American Library Association.
  • Kretchmer, B. S., (2001). The library internet access controversy and democracy. In N. Kranich (Ed.), Libraries and democracy: Cornerstones of liberty. (pp.96-107). Chicago: American Library Association.
  • McCabe, R. (2001). Civic Librarianship. In N. Kranich (Ed.), Libraries and democracy: Cornerstones of liberty. (pp.60-69). Chicago: American Library Association.
  • Ministry of Tourism. (2008, November). Maldives. Retrieved 20 November, 2008, from Visit Maldives Web site:
  • Smith, S & Usherwood, B. (2003). Public library politics: International perspective. International Federation of Library Associations, 16(2), 76-80.

Stielow, F. (2001). Reconsidering arsenals of a democratic culture: Balancing symbol and practice. In N. Kranich (Ed.), Libraries and democracy: Cornerstones of liberty. (pp.3-13). Chicago: American Library Association.

  • Turner, M. A., (2004). It comes with the territory: Handling problem situations in libraries. London: McFarland & Company Inc.
  • Wheeler, B. M., (2005). The politics of access: Libraries and the fight for civil liberties in Post-9/11 America. Radical History Review, 93(fall), 79-95.