Category Archives: intellectual freedom

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While some information can be found on an archived version of the White House website as it was under Barack Obama, what’s available doesn’t measure up to the past configuration of the Federal websites.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

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

Captain America: Civil War

So, “Captain America: Civil War” is due to come out in April. Some of you who are keenly interested in the Marvel Comics universe may be quite anxious for this movie to come out. Others may be wondering, “What’s the big whoop?”

The movie is based on a short run of Marvel comics called (you guessed it) “Civil War.” A superhero battle resulting in collateral damage makes the government wonder whether superheroes and mutants should register with the government in an effort to track and control them. This pending legislation pits hero against hero, as this question is raised: what is worth more, safety or freedom of privacy?

This argument is not unlike that which faces the United States on a regular basis. The bombings of 9/11 brought forth a flurry of legislation, intended to keep us safe, yet many felt that we were giving up our freedoms, that which made the United States unique, in the face of fear. The USA PATRIOT Act directly interferes with many of the beliefs that librarians hold dear. For example, we don’t believe in letting others know what books you’ve been checking out, or what you’ve been doing on the public computers. Yet the USA PATRIOT Act dictates that that information be made public, if necessary. I’m sure you can see the conflict here, and how it relates to Captain America.

We’re not asking you to think of libraries when you see this movie (well, librarians will, probably — that’s just the way our minds work). But definitely consider the different arguments that Iron Man and Captain America represent. Safety or freedom? (Oh, and another couple of questions: Tony Stark or Steve Rogers? Black Widow or Scarlet Witch?)

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Filed under Books, intellectual freedom, legal, Libraries, super heroes

Team Harpy

Every so often, something happens in Library Land that is important enough to bring attention to it. This is one of those times.

Two librarians, nina de jesus and Lisa Rabey, have had a civil suit brought against them by Joseph Murphy. Ms. de jesus and Ms. Rabey have called themselves #teamharpy. You can read their official statement here.

The issue is that Ms. de jesus and Ms. Rabey brought to light the behavior of Mr. Murphy at librarian conventions. Several women have reported his being a sexual predator, and reported being harassed and worse. He claims that such information was “false, libelous, and highly damaging.”

The issue of sexual harassment at library conferences is not new. Enough persons in the American Library Association (ALA) have reported disrespectful behavior towards them that the ALA enacted a Code of Conduct in Fall of 2013. This Statement of Appropriate Conduct is modeled after those in the information technology industry and in sci-fi, where women are often harassed.

Librarians are harassed in other situations. They are often the victims of unwanted sexual attraction while sitting at the Reference Desk. While librarians are big believers in intellectual freedom, this does not extend to harassment and come-ons while they work.

What makes this law suit so disturbing is that it seeks to punish those who want to speak out for the rights of victims of harassment and sexual abuse. Victims deserve to be heard. Those who speak for victims deserve to be heard. You’d think that Mr. Murphy, as a librarian, would understand that, as he is supposed to champion the ability for us to hear the voices of others. Yet this law suit demonstrates otherwise.


Filed under intellectual freedom, legal, librarians, Libraries