Category Archives: Freedom of Speech

Information Going *Poof?

Many people depend on websites hosted by the U.S. Federal Government. Whether someone is looking up information on cancer using MedlinePlus, trying to find out how much money can be made as a physical therapist, or simply wanting to check out a Federal tax form, websites in the .gov domain are invaluable.

We like to think that this information will always be available for us to access, that more and more information is being added all the time. However, that is not the case as of late: the Trump administration has been engaged in removing information from government websites, instead of adding information.

Some of the information that has been removed includes:

While some information can be found on an archived version of the White House website as it was under Barack Obama, what’s available doesn’t measure up to the past configuration of the Federal websites. This is why organizations such as the Library of Congress, the Internet Archive, California Digital Library, and scores of others, are collaborating to archive as much information from the government websites as possible.

One of the problems with information on the Internet is that it can easily be changed or deleted. While it’s not surprising that Wikipedia entries on certain people have been edited, information available via the government has more import. We need to think about how historical Internet information can be preserved in this era of electronic information. The organizations involved in saving information from the government websites are modeling efforts that could potentially be useful. But we need to remember that online information is ephemeral.



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Filed under Donal Trump, environment, federal government, Freedom of Speech, intellectual freedom, LGBTQ, spanish language

Vanity Projects?

Maybe it was a trick instead of a treat?

On 31 October, 2016, Greta Von Susteren sent out the following tweet on Twitter:

Considering the legion of librarians and library patrons on Twitter, this tweet provoked quite a response. Some responded that the digital divide (in which some people have ready access to computers and technology, while others have little access to technology, due to finances, and the only computers they have access to, besides those in the library, are their smartphones) makes libraries indispensable. Others noted that the changes in teaching modes and tools could require a new building, as that picturesque library building built in 1910 doesn’t have the wiring, much less the outlets, for 65 new desktop computers. The president of the American Library Association noted that librarians are trained to be able to discern information from knowledge, something which Google cannot. And, of course, there were comments on the fact that not everything is online, that libraries were less “vanity projects” and more “centers for collaboration, study, and research.”

Von Susteren feels that the increase in college tuition and student debt is due to the construction on buildings such as libraries. Yet some pointed out that the culprits were more likely administrative bloat and athletics. (Interested in seeing the highest-paid public employees in each state? I can guarantee you that they aren’t librarians.)

While it’s laudable that Von Susteren is concerned about the high price of college, she is chasing after the wrong culprit. Libraries, and libraries that are well-equipped and meet recommended standards play a great role in helping to create the kind of citizens that everyone can be proud of. It’s a little hard to do that on an IBM386 with a 1200 baud modem buzzing in the background while students read encyclopedias from the 1950’s or, worse, gather information from a Wikipedia entry that was just “edited” by a spiteful ex-spouse.

Back to the drawing board, Ms. Von Susteren.

(Credit to for many of the details)

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Filed under Freedom of Speech, Greta Van Susteren, librarians, Libraries, Library Resources, Twitter, vanity projects

Another “hysteric” librarian for freedom

Back in 2001, right after the 9/11 attacks, the federal government enacted a piece of legislation called the USA PATRIOT ACT (which stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism). This legislation essentially gave federal agents and law officers powers they had never had before, to use in the fight against terrorism.

Unfortunately, one of the features of the USA PATRIOT ACT was that libraries and library files could be subject to searches — an officer could demand to know who had checked out the Quran or The Anarchist’s Cookbook, and the library would have to release that information. Worse, the library could not even let patrons know that their private check-out records had been violated.

Librarians are often thought of a quiet bunch, collecting cats and hats and rare copies of The Cat in the Hat. But when it comes to intellectual freedom? Woo-whee, we get all roused up. In 2003, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft accused librarians of stirring up “baseless hysteria” in reaction to the controversial Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allowed for the confiscation of library records. But, it’s happened — our fears were not baseless.

Librarians will go to great lengths to protect intellectual freedom. It recently came to light that a librarian in Kansas City, Missouri, was arrested during a public event because he was trying to defend a patron’s right to free speech.

The Kansas City Public Library, no stranger to controversial speakers, had in May 2016 invited Dennis Ross, former advisor on the Middle East to Presidents George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama, to speak on the topics of Israel and President Truman. Three off-duty police officers and the head of security for the Jewish Community Foundation were asked to serve as security for the event. Security’s job was not to prevent guests from asking controversial questions, but rather eject patrons only after consulting with library officials.

Well, things went wrong. Jeremy Rothe-Kushel, a local activist, asked a question about what he considered to be the US’s support of Israel’s “state-sponsored terrorism.” This question was answered calmly. But Rothe-Kushel’s next question was more aggressive, and at this point, security, under the impression that the library was a private building, came up to him to immediately kick him out. Steve Woolfolk, the library’s director of programming, stepped in to defend Rothe-Kushel’s right to remain in a public building and participate in a public forum. Rather than stay, however, Rothe-Kushel said that he would leave if asked to. Woolfolk walked out with him, the two of them led out by security. Then, suddenly, several guards grabbed Woolfolk, kicking him in the knee, slamming him against a pillar and finally flinging down into a chair, where he was eventually handcuffed. Both men were arrested; Woolfolk was charged with interfering with an arrest. Both cases have yet to be resolved.

Intellectual freedom is important. It is what allows us to learn and grown as humans, to nurture and develop thoughts and ideas that may, at some point, evolve into something else entirely. Intellectual freedom is what lets us read about evolution AND creationism, Catholicism AND Paganism, Capitalism AND Marxism. It’s what lets the confused 18-year-old read about homosexuality, the hurting 40-year-old learn about adult children of alcoholics, the grieving 76-year-old suggest hospice for a dying loved one.

You may not always agree with what you read in the library. But know that librarians will fight for your right to read.

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Filed under Arrests, Freedom of Speech, Hysterical Librarians, intellectual freedom, John Ashcroft, legal, USA Patriot Act