Dale Askey Recipient of the 2014 Award for the Advancement of Intellectual Freedom in Canada from the Canadian Library Association

The Canadian Library Association is pleased to announce that Dale Askey, of McMaster University, has been chosen as winner of the 2014 Award for the Advancement of Intellectual Freedom in Canada for his commitment to intellectual freedom in the face of an unprecedented defamation suit brought against him by the academic publisher Edwin Mellen Press.

Mr. Askey, who is now McMaster University’s Associate University Librarian (Library and Learning Technologies) and Administrative Director for the Lewis and Ruth Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship, wrote a blog post in September 2010, when he was still employed at a Kansas university in the U.S., on his personal website “Bibliobrary” about Edwin Mellen Press. He described the publishing firm as a purveyor of “second-class scholarship” and noted that constraints on library budgets for acquisition of first-class scholarship leave no reason to support “such ventures.”

Over two years later, in June 2012, Hebert Richardson, founder and editor-in-chief of Edwin Mellen Press, sued Mr. Askey, alleging what he published was “false and defamatory.” In a broader attack, Edwin Mellen Press sued Mr. Askey along with McMaster University on the grounds that the University was liable for allowing Mr. Askey “to continue the publications and refusing to intervene to require him to remove the defamatory statements from the world wide web”. In the lawsuits, filed in a Canadian court, Mr. Richardson and Edwin Mellen Press sought damages totalling $4.5 million for both the blog post and comments left by blog readers.

When the case came to public attention in February 2013, librarians, academics, and their respective professional associations, among them the Canadian Library Association, protested the lawsuits as an assault on the freedom of librarians to provide informed professional comment on publishers and on the quality of their publications. The lawsuits represented a direct threat to librarians, with far-reaching and momentous consequences for the ethical practice of librarianship as a profession.

In the wake of the widespread public reaction, McMaster University disclosed it would cover Mr. Askey’s anticipated legal costs in defending himself against the defamation suits. As a result of uniformly adverse international media attention, less than a month later, on March 6, 2013, the publisher announced it was discontinuing its legal action against McMaster University and Mr. Askey. Regrettably, the separate lawsuit brought by Mr. Richardson continues.

One of the Canadian Library Association’s core beliefs is that the principles of intellectual freedom and unfettered universal access to information through libraries, are key components of an open and democratic society. The frank professional judgments of librarians are essential to these principles. Librarians must be able to openly discuss and publish their thoughts, research and informed opinion. The impartial evaluation of information quality is a central contribution to scholarship and public debate. This imperative concerns not only academic freedom for academic librarians but freedom of expression for all professional librarians.

Mr. Askey’s judicial experience of ongoing litigious intimidation and interference with academic and intellectual freedom in Canada casts a deep chill on the free speech rights of librarians, and indeed of all authors, to publish responsible professional opinion without fear of reprisal. Such court actions also deprive readers of their constitutional right to receive objective information on subjects in the public interest. The proper forum for public disagreements about the quality of publications and publishing enterprises is in the court of public opinion, not in a law court. Librarians should not face multi-million dollar lawsuits because of a candid discussion of publications or publishing practices. Publishers should embrace positive models of publishing that foster—rather than hinder—research, teaching, learning, and public debate.

This award recognizes and supports Mr. Askey in his exercise of academic freedom and freedom of speech, as evidenced by his upholding of professional responsibility as an academic librarian to provide informed reviews of materials in the process of collection management. In the face of great personal and professional risk, Mr. Askey continues to stand firm in defence of intellectual and academic freedom against this ominous chilling effect on independent scholarship. Not only has he remained steadfast in his professional ethics as a librarian, he has been a role model for professional conduct in the face of great pressures. In honouring Mr. Askey, the Canadian Library Association continues to urge Mr. Richardson, and the Press, to drop the remaining libel action.

The award will be presented to Mr. Askey on February 25, 2014 in Toronto by CLA Treasurer Michael Ridley. The presentation will be part of a celebration of Freedom to Read Week coordinated by the Book and Periodical Council and held at the Gladstone Hotel 1214 Queen St West. Event begins at 7:30 pm; doors open 7:00 pm and will include Dear Censor a short play in defense of the written word by the Toronto theatre group Birdtown and Swanville. For event information: publicity@bpc.ca or www.freedomtoread.ca

The Canadian Library Association’s Award for the Advancement of Intellectual Freedom in Canada recognizes and honours outstanding contributions to intellectual freedom in Canada by individuals or groups. Preference is given to librarians and library institutions. However like-minded individuals such as teachers or authors or groups such as schools or publishers are also eligible. The award is given from time-to-time, not necessarily on an annual basis, and there may be more than one recipient in any one year. For more information go to CLA IF Award.

Recent recipients:

  • 2013 Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs
  • 2012 Calgary Freedom to Read Week Committee
  • 2011 Alan Borovoy
  • 2010 Kent Weaver
  • 2009 Kim Bolan

The Canadian Library Association / Association canadienne des bibliothèques is Canada’s largest national and broad-based library association, representing the interests of public, academic, school and special libraries, professional librarians and library workers, and all those concerned about enhancing the quality of life of Canadians through information and literacy.

For information contact

Dr. Alvin Schrader, PhD, Chair CLA Intellectual Freedom Advisory Committee 780-719-4907 aschrade@ualberta.ca
Marie DeYoung, CLA President, 902-420-5532 marie.deyoung@smu.ca
Valoree McKay, CLA Executive Director, 613-232-9625 x306 vmckay@cla.ca

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