McMaster University accused of libel

A librarian at McMaster University, as well as McMaster itself, is being sued by an American academic press, Edwin Mellen Press, after the librarian posted a blog opinion that was allegedly libelous. The blog post in question referred to Mellen as a “dubious publisher” that accepts books of poor quality and should not have its publications stocked by scholarly libraries. McMaster refused requests from Mellen to remove the post and supported the librarian’s right to free speech. However, McMaster has not explicitly supported the librarian’s assessment of Mellen and he has been forced to pay his own legal bills so far.

There has been an outpouring of support for McMaster and its librarian from the broader academic community, which is concerned about the effect a successful lawsuit would have on the publication of critical reviews, a cornerstone of academia.  Edwin Mellen Press has a history of taking legal action against its critics and scholars worry that, aside from free-speech issues, the ability of experts in a particular field to freely critique the work of others would be limited. Librarians especially are in a position of familiarity with the latest publishing developments and part of their job responsibility is to assess what publications should and should not be stocked. Mellen’s position remains that the blog post, along with many other comments published about the press, are false and injurious and therefore not subject to free-speech protections.