Charitable Institutes and their obligations to the public
Sun, 19 Mar 2000
Re.: Rights of Researchers to Consult Historical Archives At Wiener Library
I am writing to you in relation to the charitable status of bodies that are incorporated as non-profit making organizations within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and their obligations as by law established.
In the recent high court action taken by Mr. Irving against Professor Lipstadt and Penguin Books for alleged defamation, it appears some archival source material held by the Wiener Library of the Institute of Contemporary History, which was required by Mr. Irving (whom I do not know nor have I ever meet), was denied to him. Apparently, this material was required for a lawsuit. The Wiener Library denied access to Mr. Irving because of some remarks they say Mr. Irving made against some academic members of the Institute. In essence, the Institute, a charitable body, funded by tax-free gifts and public monies, proceeded to deny Mr. Irving access to the diary of a Doctor Kremer, which was a document contemporaneous to a period of time (c.1943?) required by Mr. Irving for his law case. It has been identified that this diary was made readily available to lawyers for Dr Lipstadt and Penguin Books.
I think a charitable public body, enriched by its public charitable status and public monies has an obligation, in fact a duty, to make important historical material available to everyone, regardless of how any individual may have inappropriately expressed themselves in relation to personnel of the Institute. This is more so the case when an individual requires such material for a legal case. This right should apply to everyone in such a predicament; it is not an issue that relates solely to the episode concerning Mr. Irving. Should a precedent be set about whom may, and whom may not access material, one could have a form of censorship or the deliberate withholding of information to anyone who needs to consult material in the large and valuable collection held by your Institute's library. This would be most undemocratic and authoritarian. It would also pose serious legal implications.
I would welcome your observations about this matter. A public archive has duties to perform, and the issue is not whether an institute likes the researches who use such archival material or not, it is about meeting the rights of researchers who need to consult the material held by a (quasi)-public body. As the Charitable Commission are responsible for the evaluation of what bodies qualify for charitable tax-exceptions and public subsidies, I feel it is your duty is to ensure that all bona fide researchers have access to the archives at the Wiener library, regardless of the personal feelings some members of the IHR and Wiener Library hold about the individual/s concerned.
It is about openness, accountability and fairness to all academics and researchers who need access to material held in trust for the people. I believe the International Federation of Library Associations also requires that all peoples, no matter what their political opinions are, alleged or otherwise, have access to all libraries, public and specialist. Given the Wiener's Library's high esteem in the eyes of many, it would be a great pity if it were to appear that it fails to uphold the standards of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA).
I look forward to a reply from you to my letter in the near future.
Niall McNamara M.A. (Dubl., NUI), D.L.I.S. (NUI).