In this age of information explosion, the Librarian is supposed to be an opener of blocked pathways in the maze of knowledge, a blazer of trails in the encompassing dark forest of ignorance and a leader in keeping the human mind free. To censor is to act so as to change or suppress speech or writing that is condemned as subversive of the common good. Literary censorship goes back to the office of censor established in Rome in 443 B.C. but however honourable the origins of its name, it is today generally regarded as a relic of an unenlightened and much more oppressive age. It is an infringement of human rights and affects the Librarian in many ways. It also affects the Universal Availability of Publications (UAP), a programme developed within the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and supported by United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Prohibition of the production, distribution, circulation or sale of material considered being objectionable for reasons of politics, religion, obscenity or blasphemy is an infringement of the individual's right. It contradicts the most powerful statement of the global aspiration of respect for human rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly. Article 19 is an independent and impartial human rights legislation established in 1986 to promote freedom of expression to combat censorship worldwide. It reads: "every one has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers" (Shawcross 1991, p.409). The African Charter on Human Rights, European Convention on Human Rights, the Arab Charter on Human Rights and the Helsinki Final Acts - to mention a few- all stress that everyone should have the right to freedom of expression; a right that includes freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his/her choice.
HUMAN RIGHTS IN 'DEMOCRATIC' SOCIETIES
In practice one sees the opposite. Even the quite open society of Athens had limits, as indicated by the trial and conviction of youth and acknowledgement of unorthodox divinities. In the ancient Greek communities, it was assumed that the character of a people would and should be shaped by that of the government. In the ancient Chinese system, control of the information was retained - not by the information worker - but by the authorities who also determined the contents of the authoritative texts. Perhaps the most dramatic form of literary censorship in Christendom was the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a list of books Roman Catholics were prohibited by ecclesiastical authority from reading or keeping without permission. Such books could not be imported into countries where Roman Catholic control was considerable. The Roman Catholic Church used this index to police the literature available to its followers.
THE ROLE OF THE LIBRARIAN IN SOCIETY
The Librarian serves the precious liberties of the nation; freedom of inquiry, freedom of the spoken or written word and freedom of the exchange of ideas. A democracy smugly disdainful of new ideas could be dismissed as a sick democracy and a democracy chronically fearful of new ideas would be a dying democracy. The last person to be a censor should be the Librarian whose responsibility is to provide materials which stimulate growth in factual knowledge, literary appreciation, aesthetic values and ethical standards. S/he provides a background of information which will enable citizens to make intelligent judgements in their daily lives. By providing materials on opposing sides of controversial issues, citizens develop the intellectual practice of critical reading and thinking.