Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Date of this Version

September 2007

Document Type



The USA Patriot Act has presented librarians with the dilemma of balancing national security against the freedom of access to information and the protection of confidentiality of library records. The paper examines forms of argumentation put forth by the American Library Association in its defense of access and confidentiality rights. It finds that utilitarianism and rights discourse are the most dominant forms of ethical reasoning in the ALA and suggests that these might be replaced or supplemented by other forms of reasoning. Modernist notions as well as postmodernist views are explored and a synthesis of the two positions is offered. Confidentiality/privacy and access to information are necessary for a public dialogue that seeks not only consensus truths but is itself constitutive of the types of autonomous selves Americans are and value.