The Cost of Speaking Out: Do Librarians Truly Experience Academic Freedom

Danya E Leebaw, Alexis Logsdon

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Academic librarians might believe they are protected by academic freedom policies, but how extensive are their protections and what is their lived experience when it comes to freedom to speak and act in the workplace or in public? In the United States, the 2016 election and the rise of the Far Right and state oppression of marginalized communities brought urgency to these questions. Many librarians feel compelled to speak and act against oppression in and outside of the library. Academic freedom protection for librarians is far from settled practice, and is complicated by the profession’s focus on the broader concept of intellectual freedom for library users. The authors are interested in studying the experiences and perceptions of academic freedom among academic librarians, a topic which has not been widely studied. We are also interested in studying the relationship of social identity and financial status to academic freedom for library staff. Doing so raises interesting questions about academic freedom more broadly, such as the extent to which academic freedom policies matter when library staff stay silent out of fear of negative repercussions. In order to study these questions, we developed and issued a survey to academic librarians in the Fall of 2018. We hypothesized that most academic librarians would value academic freedom but not believe they are completely protected by academic freedom policies. We also hypothesized that librarians who belong to socially marginalized groups and/or are economically insecure would experience fewer freedoms in the workplace. In this paper, we provide a preview of our overall findings and also a more detailed analysis of the relationship of race and financial security to freedom of expression and experiences of infringement. Our initial findings support our hypotheses: academic freedom is very important to a sizeable majority of academic librarians. However, the degree to which they experience or perceive their own freedoms varies by scenario and by their racial identity and financial situation. Indeed, we find that non-white librarians and financially precarious librarians feel less free and experience more infringements than their white and financially secure counterparts.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Number of pages472
StatePublished - Mar 2019
EventAssociation of College and Research Libraries : Recasting the Narrative - Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland, Cleveland, United States
Duration: Apr 10 2019Apr 13 2019


ConferenceAssociation of College and Research Libraries : Recasting the Narrative
Abbreviated titleACRL 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited States


  • Academic Freedom
  • Self-Censorship


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