University of Calgary

University librarians speak out against controversial lawsuit

UToday HomeMarch 6, 2013

Last week, libraries, educators, and writers across Canada raised awareness for banned and challenged books with special events and displays as part of Freedom to Read Week.

At the University of Calgary, Tom Hickerson, vice-provost (libraries and cultural resources) and university librarian, celebrated Freedom to Read Week a little differently. In addition to standing up for books, he stood up for his colleagues’ freedom to judge the quality of academic scholarship.

Hickerson’s stand was prompted by lawsuits filed in 2012 by Edwin Mellen Press, a small American publisher. The lawsuits were filed against both McMaster University and its associate university librarian for Library and Learning Technologies, Dale Askey.

While working at Kansas State University in 2010, Askey, a librarian whose job was to evaluate library materials, shared his assessment of the publisher on a personal blog. What was meant as a conversation between peers sparked lawsuits by Edwin Mellen Press totaling more than $4 million for libel and damages.

In support of Askey, the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) issued a joint statement on Feb. 14, 2013. The groups took the position “that a librarian must be able to offer his or her assessment of a publisher’s products or practices free from such intimidation.”

Hickerson, president of CARL and also a member of the ARL board, fully supported his colleagues and was directly involved in preparing the joint statement: “The Edwin Mellen Press action was an audacious attempt to silence the academic librarian’s foundational role in judging the quality of exchange of academic scholarship,” Hickerson said.

Throughout the month of February, library associations and libraries across Canada and the United States issued statements condemning the actions of the small American publisher. For example, a passionate press release from the British Columbia Library Association condemned “ the misuse of the court process to intimidate libraries.”

On the University of Calgary campus, the Libraries and Cultural Resources Academic Council members showed their support by endorsing the Council of Prairie and Pacific University Libraries statement. Publishers showed support as well, with the Association of Canadian University Presses—of which the University of Calgary Press is a member—also issuing a statement.

UPDATE: CBC reported on March 4 that Edwin Mellen Press has dropped one of two lawsuits against McMaster University and Askey.


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