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.

Advertisements

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.

Neutrality versus Advocacy
January 19, 2009

The American Library Association’s Council voted, in 1970, to “define the broad social responsibilities of ALA in terms of the willingness of ALA to take a position on current critical issues with the relationship to libraries and library service clearly set forth in the position statements.” (Intellectual Freedom Manual, p. 37)  This decision essentially sanctioned ALA to occasionally eschew neutrality in order to advocate for libraries within the political and social spheres.

In 1970, this meant taking a stand against the Vietnam War on the grounds that funds for educational programs and institutions were suffering so as to bolster military costs.  The resolution reads: “WHEREAS, The continuing U.S. involvement in the conflict in Southeast Asia has so distorted our national priorities as to reduce substantially the funds appropriated for educational purposes, including support for library services to the American people…” (Intellectual Freedom Manual, p. 37)

Drawing a parallel between the situation in 1970 and now, in terms of the Iraq War, is obvious and has become, therefore, somewhat rote—though, the ALA could stand to be more outspoken about this, in my opinion.  But what I would like to see ALA address is the neglect of educational institutions and services amidst the recent financial bailout.  While we have yet to see how the remaining $350 billion of the bailout will be spent, the fact that $700 billion were allocated to bailout reckless private financial institutions, while, at the same time, education funds were cut around the country (here in Washington State, Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire, who ran on a “pro-education” campaign, is cutting K-12 and higher education significantly in 2009) is completely unacceptable to me as an information professional and advocate for education.

Specific to libraries, the situation has not seemed as dire, and, in fact, according to the ALA’s website, federal funding for libraries will rise slightly in 2009.  Thus, the ALA “applauds” President Bush.  Yet, the simple fact that the funds for libraries are not being cut, as they are for education, does not override the fact that the priorities of the government in the midst of the so-called “financial crisis” are, to employ the ALA’s adjective from 1970, completely “distorted.”  Even with a growth in funding for libraries, the support is vastly incommensurate as compared to the money that is being thrown at the private financial institutions.  Add to this the nationwide cuts in education, and a serious issue takes shape.

The ALA is often criticized by many in the library profession as an enormous bureaucratic institution that is slow to act and often behind the curve of innovation.  However, one of the benefits of being an enormous institution is the clout and power that is inherent in such a substantial organization—especially one that stands for education and public service.  When the ALA takes a decisive stance on an issue, it can be impressive display of advocacy.  Presently, there are many challenges to libraries in which ALA needs to become more involved.  Of course it is always tricky balancing neutrality with advocacy, as both are central to the ethos of a library.  Thus far, though, in terms of the Iraq War and, presently, the financial bailout, the ALA has appeared to choose to remain safely in the arena of neutrality.  This, I firmly believe, is a mistake and gives added credence to the criticism that ALA is becoming, more and more, an ineffective bureaucracy.

ALA President-Elect’s visit to Moscow
December 12, 2008

Here is a link to the first of a couple of postings about a recent trip by the ALA President-Elect to Moscow to meet with colleagues from the Moscow State University for Culture and Arts and the Russian State University for the Humanities Library.