Archive for February, 2009

Intellectual Freedom, the Digital Divide, and Cuba
February 23, 2009

I’ve started doing some research for an intellectual freedom project that examines the relationship between the government and the media in Cuba.  By way of the “Future Librarians for Intellectual Freedom” blog, I came across this article that the Guardian ran last May.  The issue of the Cuban government restricting access to Cuba’s most popular blog is, of course, disconcerting if, admittedly, emblematic of the current information environment in Cuba.  What surprised and concerned me perhaps even more significantly, was this line: “Old Havana has just one internet cafe, a state-owned enterprise charging £2.50 an hour for computer use, a sum that is a third of the average Cuban monthly salary.”

Having the ability to access information is an essential element to intellectual freedom.  In the States, much of the significance of the First Amendment, in regards to intellectual freedom, has just as much to do with being able to freely and easily access diverse information as it does with being allowed to speak freely.

Of course, this is not the first time that I’ve perceived a connection between the digital divide and what I like to call “equality in information.”  But I think that it is imperative that we frequently remind ourselves of how interconnected digital divide and intellectual freedom issues often are.  Addressing one and not the other often overlooks a significant portion of a bigger issue.  In this case, Raúl Castro could lift all governmental bans on access to the Internet today, which would be a cause for joy, in terms of intellectual freedom.  Yet, until the digital divide is bridged, a majority of Cubans would still be unable access this information.

Addressing the digital divide and intellectual freedom in Cuba are both daunting and, in many ways, distinct tasks.  I will be focusing my efforts on intellectual freedom, but I need to remember that it is important to often take a step back and look at the whole equation.  This can be overwhelming, but it should also provide an even stronger impetus to address these issues head on.

Section 215 Revisited
February 18, 2009

I couldn’t have been happier when President Obama drew up plans to shut down Gitmo during his first week in office.  It signaled the very break with the Bush administration that he emphasized throughout his campaign.  Now, the next step is to rework, or better yet abolish, the Patriot Act, right?  Well, perhaps not.  As the San Francisco Chronicle and Library Journal explain, Obama’s pick for Attorney General, Eric Holder, has not only hesitated to consider amending the Patriot Act, he has actually asked Congress to renew Section 215 of the Patriot Act which, in part, reads:

The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or a designee of the Director (whose rank shall be no lower than Assistant Special Agent in Charge) may make an application for an order requiring the production of any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items) for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such investigation of a United States person is not conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution.

Section 215 is one of the sections of the Patriot Act that has caused the biggest controversy, as it not only endorses surveillance, it also directly threatens readers’ privacy and other related civil liberties.  Section 215 is vehemently opposed by numerous independent booksellers groups as well as the American Library Association, and the latter sent a report last month to the transitional Obama administration recommending a thorough review and reworking of the Patriot Act, especially Section 215.

Of course, it’s still to early to know for sure how all of this will turn out, but sentiments such as Holder’s, who, in response to Section 215, said:

That’s one that I think has certainly generated more controversy, I believe, than the other two. And I think that the examination, the questions that I need to ask people in the field and who have been using that, I’d want to know as much as I possibly can. But as I said, the tools that we have been given by Congress in FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] are important ones. And so I would look at all three of these and make the determination as to whether or not I will be able to support them. But I would expect that I would.

are quite discouraging.  Without reconsidering and reworking the Patriot Act—one of the Bush administration’s most controversial, invasive, and violating legacies—Obama’s claims at distancing himself from the Bush administration will appear rather empty and acts such as shutting down Gitmo will seem to be nothing more than hypocritical gestures.

Call to Action
February 9, 2009

In a past post, I lamented the ALA’s inaction in advocating for more government funding to be allocated to education and libraries, considering how much was being thrown at the prviate sector from the financial bail out and the first half of the stimulus plan.  Well, they’ve ceased being neutral and have started advocating in releasing this call to action, which highlights the fact that amendment 501 to the current stimulus plan aims to cut $200 million that were to go to libraries.

Apparently, the benefits of libraries in tough economic times are not immediate and tangible enough to our government, which is shortsighted to say the least.  Obviously, those pushing amendement 501 in congress didn’t read this, or this, or this, or any of the other sundry testaments to the significant RISE in library use during this time of supposed crisis.  Perhaps, Ann Patchett is right– per her views in the Guardian article–that the government might better represent their constituency and be altogether more functional if they were to pattern themselves after libraries, rather than deeming libraries and education unworthy of funding in tough economic times.

Due Process
February 4, 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot about library challenges lately, and I’ve decided that it’s not just about making the right decision in upholding library policy, it’s also essential that we do our best to make sure that all parties involved in the challenge feel validated throughout the process.  I had this sort of epiphany last weekend, during a conversation with a fellow library student about the difficulties inherent in deftly handling a challenge.  The ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Manual insists that all library policies must, among other essential elements, be “accompanied by an appeal mechanism, even if that mechanism is informal” (p. 374).

My cohort, in our conversation last weekend, emphasized this exact point.  It is essential for us to offer—even recommend—the “appeal mechanism” to the party that is voicing the challenge, for, even if their challenge is not ultimately accepted by the library, we validate their status as a library patron by asking for their input and participation in the great due process from which library policy springs.

When dealing, especially face-to-face, with a challenge that fairly clearly seeks actions that violate library policy, it is easy to grow unresponsive or even defensive toward the challenger.  Yet, if we keep in mind the importance of the “appeal mechanism” and encourage the challenger to take part in the due process that they, as a library patron, are entitled to, I have a hunch that the entire challenge process might unfold a bit more smoothly.