Friday, July 2, 2010

Librarians Ponder IRB Resolution

On June 29, at the American Library Association's Annual Conference, Melora Ranney Norman proposed a "Resolution on Institutional Review Boards and Intellectual Freedom."

Norman, a former chair of the ALA's Intellectual Freedom Round Table, noted that

Despite the fact that walking down the street is more dangerous than any conversation could ever be, on some college and university campuses, assertions of liability or vague, unproven risk are allowed to trump any actual proof of risk or danger, to the detriment of the preservation of knowledge and the human record.

Libraries are all about preserving and providing access to the human record with all its pimples, bumps, and bruises. Many of us have heard a quote attributed to Jo Godwin asserting that "A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone." If the human record is not created to begin, how can we collect, preserve, and provide access to it?

She then called for the ALA to "[support] the American Historical Association in its position on oral history Institutional Review Board exemption, and [join] with the American Association of University Professors in recommending that 'research on autonomous adults whose methodology consists entirely in collecting data by surveys [or] conducting interviews . . . be exempt from the requirement of IRB review—straightforwardly exempt, with no provisos, and no requirement of IRB approval of the exemption.'"

The ALA Council voted to refer the resolution to the Intellectual Freedom Committee, the Library Research Roundtable, the Library History Roundtable, and the Committee on Professional Ethics. The American Historical Association hopes "they will reconsider the decision and support our efforts after further review."

Norman has also posted a Q & A, IRBs and Intellectual Freedom.

Hat tip: Rob Townsend.

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