The concept of neutrality: a new approach

Macdonald, S. and Birdi, B. (2019) The concept of neutrality: a new approach. Journal of Documentation, 76 (1). pp. 333-353. ISSN 0022-0418

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Purpose: Neutrality is a much debated value in Library and Information Science. The ‘neutrality debate’ is characterised by opinionated discussions in contrasting contexts. The study reported here fills a gap in the literature by bringing these conceptions together holistically, with potential to deepen understanding of LIS neutrality. Methodology: Firstly, a literature review identified conceptions of neutrality reported in LIS literature. Secondly, seven phenomenographic interviews with LIS professionals were conducted across three professional sectors. To maximise variation, each sector comprised at least one interview with a professional of five or fewer years’ experience and one with ten or more years’ experience. Thirdly, conceptions from the literature and interviews were compared for similarities and disparities. Findings: Four conceptions each were found in literature and interviews. In the literature these were labelled: ‘Favourable, ‘Tacit Value’, ‘Social Institutions’ and ‘Value Laden Profession’, whilst in interviews they were labelled: ‘Core Value’, ‘Subservient’, ‘Ambivalent’, and ‘Hidden Values’. The study’s main finding notes the ‘Ambivalent’ conception in interviews is not captured by a largely polarised literature which oversimplifies neutrality’s complexity. To accommodate this complexity, it is suggested that future research should look to reconcile perceptions from either side of the ‘neutral non-neutral divide’ through an inclusive normative framework. Value: This study’s value lies in its descriptive methodology which brings LIS neutrality together in a holistic framework. This framework brings a contextual awareness to LIS neutrality lacking in previous research. This awareness has the potential to change the tone of the LIS neutrality debate.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2019 Emerald. This is an author-produced version of a paper published in Journal of Documentation. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher's self-archiving policy.
Depositing User: Stephen Macdonald
Date Deposited: 08 Aug 2019 08:39
Last Modified: 30 Apr 2021 13:03

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