In a collection of old political campaign buttons I found a pink one with the number “321.8” across it in dark blue. The discovery triggered memories of activist times in librarianship four to five decades ago. In our view then, the Dewey number 321.8 was the classification for “participatory democracy,” the system of government in which our small cadre of librarians believed. We were one of dozens of groups that formed within the new Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association (ALA). We believed, as I still do, that good librarians are politically enmeshed in the larger national and international issues of war, peace, social justice, and the vital role of good government in human affairs. We even tried to convince our professional organizations publicly to support our positions and amplify our voice on these issues. Sometimes we were successful.
Librarians in Massachusetts are working to give their patrons a chance to opt-out of pervasive surveillance. Partnering with the ACLU of Massachusetts, area librarians have been teaching and taking workshops on how freedom of speech and the right to privacy are compromised by the surveillance of online and digital communications -- and what new privacy-protecting services they can offer patrons to shield them from unwanted spying of their library activity.
We live in a “diverse and often fractious country,” writes Robert Dawson, but there are some things that unite us—among them, our love of libraries. “A locally governed and tax-supported system that dispenses knowledge and information for everyone throughout the country at no cost to its patrons is an astonishing...
In late June, a minor brouhaha erupted when the library at the University of Arkansas suspended reporters from the Washington Free Beacon, an online newspaper, from using its special collections. The reason given by library administrators was that on multiple occasions the newspaper's reporters had published content from those collections without asking permission, as library policy requires. Much has been made in the right-wing press about the politics supposedly surrounding this conflict. I want to focus on a different issue: the practice of making patrons request library permission before republishing content drawn from documents in our special collections.