November 20, 2013
An interesting, overlapping discussion about the recent Google Books copyright decision took place on the Progressive Librarians Guild email discussion list and the Social Responsibilities Round Table discussion list over the past few days. I have permission from the participants to reproduce that discussion here. I used to do this frequently with the original Library Juice webzine but have done so only rarely in the past few years. This thread may see some invited comments as a follow-up.
Shouldn’t librarians’ enthusiasm about this be tempered by the understanding that Google is not the do-no-evil corporation it once represented itself as being?
We have much evidence of how the profit-making corporation is not operating strictly in the public interest, never mind in ways entirely consistent with librarians’ code of ethics. I won’t review this here, but I am sure most of you are familiar with the record. In any case, Google’s attempt to present its book project as being an attempt to create “the world’s largest library” should certainly give us pause.
Am I the only one here to wonder , given what Google does in collecting and cashing in on data about users’ browsing what they will do with the data from the book search? Am I wrong in thinking that now they will know, in addition to our other browsing activity, not only what books we are looking at but what we are reading in those books? There are other aspects of this project too which deserve more critical examination.
What do you think?
Mark C. Rosenzweig
co-editor, Progressive Librarian
Thanks Mark! Not only do I wonder about that, I also think about the fact that so many colleges and K-12 schools have embraced “Google Apps for Education,” meaning that not only does this for-profit corporation have increasingly profound access to our reading habits, but also to our documents storage and communications.
I really have to wonder where the ALA Washington Office gets the idea that “libraries” consider this a great victory. Or where they get the OK to sign on to alliances with Google in the name of the association and the profession.
The issues involved are matters of some contention among librarians , there is no consensus, but somehow the Washington Office seems to think it is “speaking with one voice” on our behalf.
We need a much more robust debate in the Association about the implications of monopolistic tendencies in corporate domination of information and, indeed, the entire human record.
Mark C. Rosenzweig
The Washington Office’s infatuation with Google has always baffled me, as is the idea that this is a ‘victory for libraries .’ A company that exists to sell advertising (a global Leopold Bloom), to cosy up to authoritarian regimes, and to peddle the personal information of millions has won a court case that will add even more to their zillions of $$s. Meanwhile, libraries limp on, underfunded and undervalued. What a victory!
I just wanted to point out that I, as a researcher and cataloger, have benefitted tremendously from the results of Google Books. I can’t imagine ever uncovering certain citations or facts had these documents never been digitized and put on the public web. I can tell you from professional experience, it is transforming the speed, accuracy, and depth of original cataloging. Does that mean that I love Google, or think that it is noble? No. But under capitalism there are some developments that serve the broader public as well as the corporation. This is one, and we should appreciate the fruit of that contradiction.
I don’t know if some of the libraryland hostility is because this was done by a corporation or if, in concept, mass digitization is a bad idea. As with the earlier furor over JSTOR, it’s important to remember that these companies do not retain exclusivity over the content. In a perfect world, such a project might have been undertaken by a consortium of universities – but that didn’t happen. And I’ll bet that references to obscure publications are driving up book sales and library usage, not curbing them. I know that I’ve bought more than one used volume because it came up in Google Books. How about you?
yours in struggle,
Thank you for another good observation. I think , as libraries, especially K-12 public school libraries and public libraries and library consortia, especially medium to small size libraries, find themselves with dwindling budgets, dwindling staff, dwindling services and dwindling stature and status, as essential capital assets for the community good, Google is increasingly looked upon as the salvation for access to information. Sadly, this happens at a time when I think our profession became much more conservative in its worldwide view of things. Yes, thankfully, there are still librarians motivated by a strong socially responsible ethic. However, I feel that number is also among the things dwindling in our societal responsiveness.
I would _LOVE_ to hear what younger, and new members of SRRT have to say, but again, sadly the number of students joining SRRT has been dwindling for quite some time, and I think that number is getting to a point where it must be addressed in the near future.
The primary reason why we should be concerned about Google? Mark said it succinctly in noting that things, “deserve more critical examination,” and one of those things needing examination is ALA’s fiscal relationships with Google. Perhaps the situation is much worse, and “everyone” feels Google has so saturated “the markets” than most ordinary people just no longer care and use it, and use, and use it. The Wal-Mart model: You have to use us, especially when we take away all your alternatives.
I’m not a “young” librarian, but if 44 years of age qualifies as youthful in any context, I’ll take it as compliment. I am a recently enrolled member of both SRRT and PLG, and I look forward to renewing my membership in these organizations for years to come.
What compelled my interest in social responsibilities and progressive librarianship was a quote by then President Maureen Sullivan who, in the March 18, 2013 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education said: ‘It’s important to remember that there is a difference between the work and role of the teaching faculty…and the work and role of librarians.’ When one recalls the fact that Ms. Sullivan at the time was doing consulting work at East Carolina University where the university administration was deciding to end tenure for librarians, her words seemed especially suspect. Many of my colleagues sent a letter to ALA headquarters demanding that Ms. Sullivan clarify her statement. In response, she updated her Facebook page to say that she supported the Joint Statement on the Status of College and University Librarians (2012). Many librarians on this list may recall that the original 1973 Joint Statement defined librarians as equal to faculty and deserving of tenure whereas the 2012 revision defers to policy set by local administrative authority. In sum, Ms. Sullivan clarified her position by endorsing a document that blurs the line between due process (tenure) and at-will employment. Our responses to this turn of events ranged from cynical acceptance to bemused disdain. Granted, we did not expect ALA to act in the role of a labor organization. Yet we did not believe that ALA would actively collude in the de-professionalization of librarianship itself, either in word or deed.
You could say that we were naïve.
In the months after this episode, I investigated the opinions and writings of other members of the ALA hierarchy, both past and present, and was bowled over by the sheer volume of corporate-style discourse that passes for critical thought among the most esteemed members of our profession. I always had the impression that the management literature in librarianship was positivist, rationalist, and prone to technological utopianism. But the scale and depth of what is termed by John Buschman and others as ‘neoliberal reason’ in librarianship is so widespread and deeply rooted that it presents an existential threat to the mission of our profession. We may be witnessing a transformation of librarianship from its traditional democratic values to a monetized, market-oriented, agile enterprise that harnesses human capital to maximize ROI in a competitive and customer-driven environment. (Say that three times fast).
And we see elements of this “belief system” at work in the unreservedly positive response to the recent Google books ruling. The ALA leadership seems to have forgotten that Google is a corporate entity, and thus may have interests beyond altruism. Moreover, as you point out, both the ALA and the public at large have embraced Google as “the salvation for access to information”. Indeed, if one reads the amicus brief filed by the Library Copyright Alliance on behalf of Google you will note that on page 4 the heading “GBS Serves the Public Interest”. What follows is a passionate infomercial asserting the essential goodness of Google’s digitization project. A project which, once the Authors Guild is assuaged, will result in the largest known searchable corpus of texts in English hosted on the privately owned servers of a corporation which bases its business model on deriving revenue from the aggregation and monetization of user data.
But if rank and file librarians cautioned the ALA leadership against their credulous assertion that a corporation can serve the public interest as well as—or even better?—than the cultural institution known as “the library”, would those leaders listen? My own personal experience, and the work of Buschman, John Budd, Ronald E. Day, Douglas Raber, Christine Pawley, and many others predict that such concerns would be blithely dismissed.
As a younger librarian (I’ve been in the profession only since 2009), I think I do have a slightly different viewpoint on this case. To me, it’s not really about Google. It’s about asserting fair use, and the parameters of fair use. It’s asserting that enabling the kind of access to texts that Google (and Hathi) are enabling is fair use, and does not violate copyright. And I think THAT is why I see this as a huge victory.
The kind of access scholars can have to our literary corpus now is amazing, and I get very excited when I think of the kind of work in the digital humanities that can happen, and about how scholarship, especially in the fields of English and Literature, will be changed.
I think this case is a positive development in a string of copyright decisions that have tended to limit the kind of access we can have to our cultural heritage. And I can’t help but feel good about that.
Here’s a short reply to Mark and Kathleen’s comments to my Google Books comment the other day.
I’m not going to get into a big thing here. I’m not saying “What’s the problem” or that those who are critical of Google Books have no grounds to complain (although I was not that shocked by Nunberg’s article; cataloging is one of those professions where you pretty much get what you pay for, and since this cost libraries nothing I’m not surprised that there’s crappy metadata.) Corporate-driven incursions into library practices should always be inspected for lice. As I learned when Nicholson Baker wrote Double Fold and evoked a firestorm of libraryland protest, this is a profession that has trouble dealing with criticism. As with microfilming and newspaper disposal decades ago, new errors were made at high levels with Google Books.
But the notion that Google has cornered the market on our intellectual heritage neglects the huge amount of material that fell outside of their scope. Underground newspapers? Brochures? Political posters? That’s up to us.
What’s missing here is, what are the alternatives? How can we support non-profit, public access ventures that do this better? There are several, and I consider the giant online poster archive I’m building through the Oakland Museum of California as being one. There are others.
And to Kathleen’s point, we need to reinforce better pedagogy and research practices. Bad metadata in Google Books? Expect that. Use it as a starting point, not the end. If you want to beat up on low hanging fruit, take a whack at Wikipedia. Research and scholarship are ever evolving.
The genie’s out of the bottle, we can’t put it back.
Google is interested in redefining the infosphere in its own image and for its own purposes. The sheer size, power and influence which Google has achieved make it , not one of many tools, but the framer and decider of the form and content of bibliographic –and, moreover, informational– reality. It is not , as Lincoln would have it, a genie out of the bottle, ready to do our bidding if we but know how to wish wisely and ask properly. Nor is it something we can just ignore as we cultivate our own little islands of bibliographic quality.
To take just one aspect of the problem, Google Books , in its rush to complete Google’s domination of the infosphere, is recklessly creating a bibliographic muddle whose junk bibliographic information is crowding out the results of the scrupulous efforts librarians have made over centuries to bring bibliographic order and rationality to the textual universe. Google is creating pseudo-editions of already published works, replete with false attributions and incorrect meta-data, rife with countless uncorrected scanning errors which obscure and distort the meaning of texts –all of which mistakes, note well, becoming part of the permanent bibliographic record – illegible, scrambled and illegitimate bibliographic garbage polluting the information pool because of Google’s disregard for, nay, contempt for, bibligraphic integrity.
As for the judgment of the court in the recent case of the Authors’ Guild v Google, we can argue, of course, about the correctness of its interpretation of “fair use”. But I am struck by the insensitivity of the library community to the case of authors and their publishers. Google, in any case is not interested in the “fair”part of “fair use”: it will force the law to conform to its projects’ demands because it can, because it has the power, and it is doing it, not in the public interest, but in the corporate interest of Google.
The colonization of the infosphere and the cannibalizing of the bibliographic record, these are the hallmarks of Googlization. What can we do about it as librarians? Lincoln Cushing suggests there is precious little we can do. We should just make th ebest of it. Well, we can at least ask our Association to not make common cause with Google in legal cases! The so-called “fair use” case of Google is questionable enough for ALA not to have felt compelled to side with Google against authors and publishers rights. That it did so only expresses to me a craven and pathetic hope that siding with the giant is going to somehow prevent the giant from eating us up and spitting us out.
Mark C. Rosenzweig
The bibliographic inconsistency of the database and its quality are indeed unfortunate, as is the fact that it is controlled by Google and not the institutions that own the material: some materials I needed for my history thesis required multiple searches for different issues of the same periodical. Once I did find them, because Google owned the digital copies, the universities that provided the print copies couldn’t give me even temporary access to the digital copies, so I had to go where paper was kept anyway.
However, IMO the missed opportunities go back farther than this court case. Had the large research institutions implemented the project themselves and retained control, its development would have been slower, but the quality problems Mark mentions would not have developed. Had the profession been able to embrace and integrate information technologies to such an extent that we merged rather than separated completely from the technicians, network admins and coders, we’d be on the cutting edge rather than the trailing.
Given the state of the project and our profession, perhaps as Lincoln’s message implies, the best we can do at this point is make good use of it. Metadata, anyone?
Another thing we can do is continue to explain the intricacies of fair use: people always want simple answers, even though there aren’t any.
We’ve also had some success advocating for privacy–we can and should keep doing that, as the unprecedented access of this monolith to our reading, recreation, research, writing and other communications makes that effort increasingly vital.
October 14, 2013
A few weeks ago, I attended the opening dedication of the Jean Rice Homeless Liberation Reference Library in the Fordham area of the Bronx. (I’ve written before about Picture the Homeless [PTH], a grassroots organization of currently and formerly homeless people and allies that does advocacy and data collection, among other campaigns.) By the time I got to the event, someone was just beginning a foot-stomping rendition of “A Change Is Gonna Come,” to murmurs of encouragement from the crowd, so I suppose it wasn’t your typical library ribbon-cutting. There was wine and cheese, but there were also references to Simón Bolívar and the “shelter-industrial complex,” and the invitation postcard included quotes from Frederick Douglass (“Once you learn to read you are forever free”) and Malcolm X (“My alma mater was books, a good library”).
I love hearing non-librarians talk about what a library means to them (comment cards were also distributed at the event so that everyone could share their thoughts). One speaker described it as an avenue to read, discuss, and critique books together. Others emphasized the self-education element, with someone declaring that everyone has something to offer and something to teach (“We’re all learning”).
This library is meant to be a resource for people fighting homelessness, a space for self-education and reflection. It will be open midday (lunchtime) for now. The collection is mostly nonfiction with some shelves of fiction, and it’s a mix of reference and circulating books. There are also some materials unique to the library, including scholarship from when PTH members traveled to Colombia and other places. A review committee has been set up to vet book donations.
After the opening speeches, I spoke with PTH member Rogers, who actually used to work in the collection development department at Queens Library back in the ’80s. He told me about the divide at the time between the white librarians and the Creole publisher six blocks from the library, of which the QL staff was unaware despite such materials’ relevance to many library users. His former work at QL, he said, would be “only a shadow” of what he’ll do in the new PTH library.
A former PTH employee (and current library school student) who’s a member of the review committee recently gave me an update on how the homeless library is progressing. The committee is refining the book categories and hammering out a collection development policy. They’re building a catalog on LibraryThing, and book discussions (some with the authors present) are already taking place in the library. If you’re in NYC and want to help out, get in touch—they’re currently in need of more bookshelves, bookends, a stamp or ex libris labels, a cart, and transportation to get larger items into the space.
Some dedication attendees in the library.
September 15, 2013
Information Literacy and Social Justice: Radical Professional Praxis
Editors: Shana Higgins and Lua Gregory
Published: September 2013
Information Literacy and Social Justice: Radical Professional Praxis extends the discussion of information literacy and its social justice aspects begun by James Elmborg, Heidi L.M. Jacobs, Cushla Kapitzke, Maria T. Accardi, Emily Drabinski, and Alana Kumbier, and Maura Seale. Chapters address the democratizing values implicit in librarianship’s professional ethics, such as intellectual freedom, social responsibility, and democracy, in relation to the sociopolitical context of information literacy. Contributors, ranging from practicing librarians to scholars of related disciplines, demonstrate how they construct intentional connections between theoretical perspectives and professional advocacy to curriculum and pedagogy. The book contributes to professional discourse on libraries in their social context, through a re-activation of the library neutrality debate, as well as through an investigation of what it means for a global citizen to be information literate in late capitalism.
This book is available through Amazon.com or your library’s book jobbers.
Download a PDF of the front matter, including the title page, copyright page, table of contents, acknowledgments, foreword, and introduction.
July 28, 2013
What would have happened, do you suppose, if Malcolm Little, instead of serving six years for petty crimes, had been imprisoned for a much longer time, locked in the conditions of long-term isolation common in what’s euphemistically called “special housing” (as, for instance, the prisoners at Pelican Bay in California are)? He would not have been allowed to receive political books, would not have been able to converse with anyone. The mind that developed through reading and talking in prison during the 1950s would probably have been crushed, and there might have been no Malcolm X.
— Laura Whitehorn
In recent decades, the landscape of U.S. criminal “justice” has changed dramatically (some visualizations at The Society Pages; bibliography at LLRX.com), not that imprisonment hasn’t always been dehumanizing, racist, and generally problematic. For many years, I worked with books-to-prisoners groups, mostly NYC Books Through Bars. These are grassroots, all-volunteer projects that receive letters from individuals in prison requesting reading material of all sorts (sometimes by topic, sometimes by specific title) and then mail them donated books that—ideally—approximate what they’re looking for.
Some years ago, there was an uproar after the federal Bureau of Prisons made a decision (quickly reversed) to get rid of religious books that weren’t on approved lists for prison chapel libraries. Unfortunately, what many don’t realize is that the vast majority of incarcerated people are in state prisons, where they are subjected to the arbitrary policies of the state department of corrections, including with regard to reading materials.
When a book arrives at a Texas prison mailroom, an employee first checks the database to see if the book is already prohibited. If not, said [Texas Department of Criminal Justice staffer Tammy] Shelby, “he’ll flip it over and read the back.” If that provides insufficient information to make a decision, “they scan through it looking for key words” or pictures that would disqualify the publication. “You can pretty much tell by reading the first few pages,” she said. “We rely on them to use their judgment.” (source)
Once we got a form denying a Texas prisoner Invented Lives: Narratives of Black Women 1860-1960 by Mary Helen Washington because “page 29 contains racial material.” Books and magazines have been rejected because they apparently present “a threat to the security, good order, or discipline of the correctional system or the safety of any person” or because information in it might be “designed to achieve the breakdown of prisons through offender disruption such as strikes or riots,” without further explanation. (Some prison mailroom rejections and letters from prisoners are below.)
Why bring up all this now? As you may have heard, one of the largest prisoner resistance movements is underway. Thousands of prisoners in California have been on a hunger strike as part of a fight for human and labor rights (there was a hunger strike in 2011 with the same demands; the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said they would make improvements but have not, hence the renewed action).
Solitary confinement—considered a form of torture, especially long-term—is a common punishment within the prison system. Among the things that can get someone in trouble in a California prison is having particular literature. “‘[E]vidence’ of gang affiliation has included possession of prisoner-rights literature or books like Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’ or Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince.’ It has included journal writings on African American history,” Shane Bauer points out. (Incidentally, The Art of War and The Prince, I have observed over the years, are on the unofficial top ten list of requested titles by people in prison around the country.) There is a lot that can be said about philosophies of reading material as proof of (bad) character or predictor of action, or, conversely, as a therapeutic tool, and as librarians we’ve spent more time than most thinking about this. Here I’ll say only that using literature as a criterion of judgment in this way, amid the general violence and toxicity of prison, does nothing to address the wrongness that the prisoners may have done to others, the wrongness that has been done to them, and the systemic wrongnesses that have brought us to this moment of mass incarceration, a “new Jim Crow,” and a correctional officer putting into administrative segregation someone who had a donated copy of Machiavelli in his cell.
Maybe you’ve done library service in a jail or are interested in prison librarianship. Maybe you’ve visited a loved one in prison. Maybe you’ve been locked up yourself. Maybe you grew up with people who got channeled into the detention system in one way or another. Maybe you live in a town where a prison is the largest and most stable employer around. Maybe imprisonment is nothing that you or your community seems to have experienced directly. I think that regardless of which category (or categories) you’re in, we should keep in mind that at least 95% of all state prisoners will be released at some point, and how we approach crime and punishment says a lot about our collective humanity. Former and possibly future prisoners are likely users of your library. Rather than being some separate element of society, they are patrons and would-be patrons.
You can keep up with the hunger strike and support the California prisoners in a number of ways. More generally, there are alternatives to incarceration, organizations for prison abolition and projects of decarceration. And in the meantime, you can always send someone behind bars a good book.
2006 letter from a man in a “special housing unit” (SHU) in a California prison.
2005 letter from a man in “administrative segregation” in a Texas prison.
2008 rejection (“non-appealable”) by a Texas prison mailroom employee of “Nobody Knows My Name” by James Baldwin because “page 100 contains racial material.”
2009 grievance form by the prisoner who was denied the Baldwin book.
June 19, 2013
This great response to an illegitimate takedown notice is going around on Facebook. It’s funny because of how it shows just how unjust these robo-generated takedown notices can be, but it also reveals a problem that deserves serious discussion. These kind of takedown notices go out by the thousands, and not many people who receive them have access to a pro-bono attorney who can respond in this way. As far as I am aware, there is no system of monitoring and penalties for companies that abuse the law by intimidating people with baseless legal threats like this. I would love it if someone with more knowledge of the relevant law and the relevant aspects of the legal system would take this up, and comment here informatively, if not actually try to do something about this problem.
March 13, 2013
I am going to link to an editorial that is not like what we normally link to here, but it is on a favorite topic of mine, one that I have written about here before (here, here, here, and here), in order to continue asking a question and perhaps to challenge our faith as librarians. Mark Morfords has a column in this morning’s San Francisco Chronicle about elitism, in a positive sense, titled, 37 Percent of People Completely Lost. Morfords is asking the uncomfortable question about how a democracy can function when the population is, as measured by surveys, shockingly ignorant and determined to stay that way. He further suggests that providing more and better facts to the ignorant multitudes has not worked and is not going to work, which challenges the faith of librarians who see our mission as supporting the foundations of democracy through information. What do you think?
February 28, 2013
John Chrastka is the former membership director at the American Library Association, and has left that position recently to start a political action committee for library advocacy purposes, called Every Library. This organization is about three months old at this point. I had heard of it and realized that I didn’t know anything about it, so I contacted John and asked him some questions. He agreed to be interviewed for this blog. I think our interview goes into a good degree of depth at explaining what Every Library is doing and how you can be involved.
John, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. I want to start simply by asking you to explain what Every Library is and how it got started.
Rory, I appreciate the chance to connect with your readers about EveryLibrary and our work helping local ballot committees talk to voters about libraries. EveryLibrary grew out of a gap in national library advocacy work. The existing associations and organizations that advocate for and support libraries, like ALA, OCLC, the Gates Foundation, and most state library associations, are all 501c3 organizations. They do great advocacy to the public and decision-makers through projects like Geek the Library, the @yourlibrary campaign, and I Love Libraries. They focus their efforts in bringing advocacy messages about the value, impact, and importance of libraries in our communities and campuses – and in the lives of our users – out to new audiences. Their work in D.C. and state capitals to pass legislation affects issues of access and funding. But none of these advocacy groups or campaigns can say “Vote Yes” to the public, directly, on either ballot measures or candidates. As a 501c3 they are not able to use charitably donated monies to do direct voter outreach to endorse a candidate or ballot measure. EveryLibrary exists to fill in that gap, at least when it comes to local ballots. We are set up as a 501c4 social welfare organization. We are intentionally politically active and are technically the first Super PAC for libraries. And as such, we can do advocacy and talk directly to voters and ask them to Vote Yes for a library ballot measure.
That is really intriguing. So what exactly are Every Library’s activities in terms of talking directly to voters?
EveryLibrary is all about building capacity for library political action at the local level. Somewhere near 97% of all public library funding is appropriated locally. We are set up to help local ballot committees and PACs do voter education, outreach, and get out the vote work. We do that in two ways: providing direct funding to the local committee to do an effective “Vote Yes” campaign, and consulting services to help ensure that the messaging is solid, the voter data is useful, and the volunteers are well trained. You won’t see generic commercials from EveryLibrary. If you live in a district with an EveryLibrary backed ballot measure you will see the local committee’s message about their own library and proposition. We’re transparently behind the scenes.
Where does the funding come from to do this work?
To date, we have received 100% of our funding from individual donors. As a c4, we are not eligible for grants or foundation money. Like other politically active organizations we are looking to both small and large individual donors who believe in our mission. We are reaching out the corporate community both inside and outside the library world. And we are approaching unions and other issue-PACs for resources. We are a lean organization and have very little overhead. Every dollar goes to work helping to win on Election Day.
I think many librarians and other library advocates may not be aware of the importance of donating money for this purpose. What are you doing to raise funds from the public? Are you able to do much with the funding that presently is coming in? What do you feel you need to raise to accomplish your goals in addition to what is coming in now? You’re brand new, so I would imagine some potential donors might want to see a track record that there is no way of showing yet. Is that the case?
I am happy to say that we have our first success already! We backed “Yes for Spokane Libraries” on a Feb 12th, 2013 ballot measure. The Spokane Public Library had a $1.6 million 4-year dedicated levy out to the voters. EveryLibrary provided about 25% of the funding to the “Yes…” committee do voter education and get out the vote. The library ran a great informational campaign but the chance to back an active Vote Yes campaign – with phone banking, yard signs, and a little door-to-door canvassing – was wonderful. They won with 66% of the vote. Having EveryLibrary there in such a substantial way was important for them and for us. All that funding came from individual donors.
We have a funding plan in place that will provide us with the resources we need to support several dozen campaigns in the 2014 election cycle while laying the foundation for to support any campaign we’d want in 2015 and beyond. Our fundraising plan is to continue to ask for donations from librarians and library supporters but to broaden the ask to the general public. Whether it is direct mail or telephone solicitations, both cost money to do. We know that we need to build capacity for campaigns so we’re going to be out there doing that kind of fundraising in the fall. But until that time we’re working on telling our story about supporting libraries at the ballot box to some key larger donors who can support our early work.
You referred to Every Library as a “Super Pack,” and mentioned local PACs working on ballot measures, saying that Every Library assists them. What is a Super Pack, technically speaking? And also, regarding the behind-the-scenes work that Every Library does to help local efforts, can you talk about the expertise that your group offers to the local ballot organizers or PACs, what specifically you are doing for them?
The term Super PAC refers to the way we’re organized. As a 501c4 we are a Social Welfare Organization and our charter makes it clear that we do not work on candidates for office at any level of government. Other “regular” PACs do candidates. Super PACs can raise funds from individuals, corporations, unions, and other PACs to support their particular issues – and expend funds to advocate for their issues. Our issue is libraries and our mode of advocacy as a Super PAC for libraries is to work supporting local ballot measures. For example, when a library puts a Bond Issue on the ballot to build the first new library since Carnegie died there are millions of dollars at stake and the potential to have generational impact on that community. If they win, it is a game changer for services, programs, collections, and librarian jobs. If they lose, it could be a huge setback for the community. We work in support of a local PAC or ballot committee to provide seed money to help them campaign as well as technical assistance to run that campaign well, if needed. We can help by looking at the voter data and doing voter segmentation. It is critical to the success of campaigns to “touch” high-turnout voters with your message. We can help by doing pre-polling about voter attitudes about the library and the ballot measure. Knowing where you are going with messaging in your community is important. We also can help with the messaging, design, and outreach techniques from planning through execution. There are a lot of resources we’re ready to bring besides funding.
Right now, we’re helping the “Citizens for a New Shorewood-Troy Library” committee with voter segmentation and developing their precinct ‘walk lists’, working with them on messaging, and training their volunteers on how to do door-to-door canvasing. We’re not involved as part of their committee – they run their campaign and make all the decisions on how to expend their funding. But we help build capacity within their committee as consultants.
Well, I would just like to say that I think what you are doing sounds really great. I am wondering what people can do if they want to support Every Library and show their support. Also, I’m wondering what kind of partnerships you have or are planning to start with other organizations.
We built the organization with small donations – $10 or $100 goes a long way when we’re talking about library ballot measures and voter outreach. When something fails at the polls it doesn’t usually fail by huge numbers. In a district with a service population of 10,000 people, perhaps 6,000 are registered voters and maybe 1,800 will come out for a library election. If they lose by 3% or 4% (which is not atypical), that’s 55 or 60 votes. We think that we can do a lot to educate and influence 61 voters with not too much money. If you agree that this idea matters because every one of those ballot measures matter to the future of that library, you can donate at www.rally.org/everylibrary. We’ll put it right to work.
Throughout the spring we’re going to be announcing several partnerships and key funders that will help extend and expand our work. Stay tuned.
That sounds great, John. This was very informative. I want to encourage readers to donate – it seems like a very effective use of funds. Thanks for doing the interview.
Rory, I truly appreciate the chance to talk about EveryLibrary and to be featured on Library Juice press. It was an engaging interview. Thanks so much.
February 15, 2013
Dale Askey, a librarian at McMaster University in Canada, is the one who has been sued by Mellen Press for giving them a bad review. Here are two statements supporting him, one from the Association of Research Libraries and the Canadian Association of Research Libraries, and the other from the British Columbia Library Association…
ARL-CARL Joint Statement in Support of Dale Askey and McMaster University
View a PDF of the ARL-CARL statement
The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) share a commitment to freedom of opinion and expression of ideas and are strongly opposed to any effort to intimidate individuals in order to suppress information or censor ideas. We further share the belief that a librarian must be able to offer his or her assessment of a publisher’s products or practices free from such intimidation.
Consequently, we are highly supportive of Dale Askey and of McMaster University as they confront the lawsuit brought against them by Edwin Mellen Press. We strongly disapprove of the aggressive use of the Canadian court system to threaten Mr. Askey with millions of dollars in liability over the contents of a blog post. We urge Edwin Mellen Press to withdraw this suit and use more constructive means to address its reputation.
“No academic librarian, research library, or university should face a multi-million dollar lawsuit because of a candid discussion of the publications or practices of an academic publisher,” said Brent Roe, Executive Director of CARL. “The exaggerated action of Edwin Mellen Press could only impose a chill on academic and research librarians’ expression of frank professional judgments.”
“Unfortunately, this is just the latest publisher that has chosen to pursue costly and wasteful litigation against universities and librarians,” said Elliott Shore, Executive Director of ARL. “These hostile tactics highlight the need for people who share the core values of research libraries to embrace models of publishing that foster—rather than hinder—research, teaching, and learning.”
Together, ARL and CARL represent 136 research libraries in the United States and Canada.
Press Release from the British Columbia Library Association
The British Columbia Library Association (BCLA) is extremely concerned about the unwarranted and frivolous lawsuits that Edwin Mellen Press has filed against Associate University Librarian Dale Askey and against McMaster University.
Edwin Mellen Press alleges that that comments made by Mr. Askey on his personal blog regarding the quality of their publications were defamatory, and are seeking a total of $4.5 million dollars in damages to compensate for injury to their reputation.
As a professional librarian engaged in collection development, Mr. Askey is both qualified and obliged to make decisions about published materials. Central to this issue is Mr. Askey’s academic freedom which should ensure that he, as well as fellow academic librarians, has the ability to freely speak, write, review and evaluate as professionals without fear of reprisal, litigation, or control by vendors, employers or other external bodies.
As a citizen in a democratic society Mr. Askey is free to have and share his opinions with his community, society and country. Sharing and debating perspectives without fear of recrimination is the hallmark of a healthy democratic society peopled by engaged citizens.
Librarians and information workers uphold the rights of all community members to express a critical view about the value of a book or other information materials. This includes a librarian’s own right to do the same. Every citizen should be able to express an opinion without fear of litigation should they offend an author or publisher. By filing lawsuits against Mr. Askey and McMaster University Edwin Mellen Press is attempting to create a climate of fear among librarians, information workers, and all libraries that may critique their product.
BCLA condemns the misuse of the court process to intimidate libraries, librarians and information workers from discharging their professional obligations and from demonstrating one of the library’s core responsibilities to uphold the right of freedom of thought and expression.
BCLA urges Edwin Mellen Press to withdraw its lawsuits and instead engage in a debate, a conversation or a discussion with the library community in order to build a healthy society that reflects a myriad of opinions held by diverse community members.
For information contact:
BCLA Executive Director
January 7, 2013
Radical Reference has posted its live video recordings of its Critical Librarianship Symposium in Boston, which was held by the local Radical Reference Collective there on November 17th. Participants in the symposium were Susie Husted, Maria Carpenter, Akunna Eneh, Laura Foner, Alana Kumbier, Ryan Livergood, and Bill Mongelli. I hope they organize many more events such as this at their local collectives, and who knows, maybe on a national scale as well, parallel to ALA perhaps.
January 3, 2013
There’s a passage that stood out to me in an article I read a few months ago, “Why Must We Be Small? Reflections on Political Development and Cultural Work in Brazil’s Landless Movement” by Tamara Lynne. (The piece is the Fall 2011 issue of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory; it’s not online, but you can see a glimpse of it on the Justseeds website.)
Speaking of her own entry into political activism via anti-World Trade Organization (WTO) protests, Lynn writes:
No teach-in, no books or notebooks, no academic discussion could have accomplished what thirty seconds of action told me about my own power and its connection to why we were resisting the WTO. However, post-WTO, the processes of political development I observed appeared to focus on information. There was an attitude that if people simply had the correct information, they would see clearly what to do and take action. This view misses the point that most people feel powerless most of the time, their experiences of themselves and their world are often submerged, and that many people do not have enough sense of their own power to speak up in the face of injustices in their daily lives, let alone in the face of unjust international trade agreements. (p. 44)
I’ve written a little about this topic before, about the potential and the limitations of “information” in liberatory social movements. So, as an early-2013 thought, how might we who work in libraries offer information in various formats while also creating channels for people to grasp a sense of their own power?
To bring this to something rather more concretely applicable to the library context, I was also struck by a line in Anil Dash’s recent post The Web We Lost:
The technology industry, like all industries, follows cycles, and the pendulum is swinging back to the broad, empowering philosophies that underpinned the early social web. But we’re going to face a big challenge with re-educating a billion people about what the web means, akin to the years we spent as everyone moved off of AOL a decade ago, teaching them that there was so much more to the experience of the Internet than what they know.
His “we” is developers and technologists, not librarians (not that some librarians don’t also have those skillsets!). But still. Here we are, in our buildings, with our classrooms and computer stations, and whatever slice of humanity that uses our libraries looking for education and empowerment on any number of levels. How do we best use this opportunity our work affords us?
Happy New Year.
November 14, 2012
An article by Josh Wallert went up on Nov. 8 at the Design Observer Group’s Places: Forum of Design for the Public Realm, titled, “State of the Commons: Wikipedia, Flickr, and the Public Domain. It’s a good, though brief, read on the state of the public commons for visual documentation. Excerpt:
For better and worse, public-making in the early 21st-century has been consigned to private actors: to activists, urban interventionists, community organizations and — here’s the really strange thing — online corporations. The body politic has retreated to nominally public spaces controlled by Google, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, which now constitute a vital but imperfect substitute for the town square. Jonathan Massey and Brett Snyder draw an analogy between these online spaces and the privately-owned public space of Zuccotti Park, the nerve center for Occupy Wall Street, and indeed online tools have been used effectively to support direct actions and participatory democracies around the world. Still, the closest most Americans get to the messy social activity of cooperative farm planning is the exchange of digital carrots in Farmville.
More at The Design Observer Group
November 7, 2012
If you can make it to the Boston area on Saturday, November 17, head to the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University. The wonderful Boston collective of Radical Reference is putting on a symposium called “Practical Choices for Powerful Impacts: Realizing the Activist Potential of Librarians.” It features a panel of “librarians who use their skills to undertake consciousness-raising in libraries and within the LIS profession; actively participate in anti-oppression and empowerment work; and develop programming that supports the library as space and library as a means of liberation,” followed by group discussions. And it’s free!
November 5, 2012
George Eberhart of American Libraries magazine has written an article about the role of libraries during Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath: “Libraries Weather the Superstorm.” He summarizes the damage done to libraries by the storm (to the extent that we know about it at this point), describes some budding efforts to repair damage and rebuild collections, and talks about how libraries served as important resources and gathering places for some of the communities affected by the storm.
October 15, 2012
Library Juice Press to “Unglue” a Book for Prospective Librarians with Unglue.it
October 15, 2012
Library Juice Press is announcing one of the latest campaigns to “unglue” an e-book so that it can be shared under a creative commons license, in partnership with Unglue.it.
Unglue.it is an organization devoted to opening up access to electronic books in a way that is community based, library friendly, publisher friendly, and convenient. Using crowd-funding, Unglue.it facilitates campaigns to buy out future e-book rights so that e-books can be used freely by the public, perpetually. Library Juice Press supports the Unglue.it project, because it is smart, realistic, forward-thinking, and motivated by values that librarians can get behind.
Coinciding with Unglue.it’s relaunch with a new crowd-funding platform, Library Juice Press is announcing a campaign to “unglue” Lauren Pressley’s popular book, So You Want To Be a Librarian, a concise yet comprehensive guide to the library profession, aimed at an audience of college students and recent graduates, as well as career changers. Library Juice Press determined that the book would be a suitable candidate for an Unglue.it campaign, due to the financial limitations of college students, as well as their familiarity with e-readers.
As Lauren Pressley says about Unglue.it, “Unglue.it is something every librarian should be paying attention to. Part crowdsourcing, part open access, part answer to the ebook problem, it’s a solution to some of the most critical issues libraries are facing today. Ungluing a book gives it to the world, so that anyone can access the ebook without Digital Rights Management (DRM), without worrying about how many devices they’ve put it on, and without worrying about legality and compensation issues. Libraries can provide access to unglued books for free, forever, in any format — no need to worry about changing contract terms or pricing.”
Author Lauren Pressley currently serves as Head of Instruction at the Wake Forest University Library. She is a frequent presenter on library technology topics, with numerous published articles and book chapters. A 2009 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, she is also a member of ALA Council, Director at Large of the LITA Executive Committee, and otherwise active in national, regional and state associations. She is also the winner of the 2011 Greenwood Publishing Award for Best Book in Library Literature for The Tech Set, from Neal-Schumann Publishing. Her CV is available at
Library Juice Press is a small publisher for the library profession founded in 2006 by Rory Litwin, specializing in library philosophy, information policy, library activism, and library history. It is an imprint of Litwin Books, LLC, which publishes books about media, communication and the cultural record, primarily for an academic audience.
To support the Unglue.it campaign for Lauren Pressley’s book for prospective librarians, go to:
For more information about Lauren, go to:
For more information about Library Juice Press, see:
The fourth session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RToP) took place in New York City two weekends ago. According to an info sheet in the program folder, it was an “International People’s Tribunal” that “has no legal status, [but] like other Russell Tribunals on Vietnam, Chile and Iraq, its legitimacy comes from its universality and the strength that it draws from the will of its citizens and the support of international personalities…” If anyone is interested in the actual content, you can go to the RToP’s website (and I would also recommend you take a look at Ethan Heitner’s wonderful renderings, with sketches, of each day). But I bring this up here to talk about the value and limitations of documentation.
“I don’t know what I’m doing here,” an acquaintance said with a laugh when I bumped into her during a coffee break on the first day of the session, and I was happy to hear that because I didn’t really know what I was doing there, either (a future Library Juice post notwithstanding). But then I reminded myself, again, that it was called a “people’s tribunal” for a reason, that our very presence in the audience was necessary and gave the event weight. (There is also something called the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, which formed in 1979 and recently held a session in India about agrochemical transnational corporations.) We were what made it all different from the issuing of another bunch of reports and essays. The jury was stacked, as it were, composed of people whose progressive politics in general and on Israel-Palestine in particular are well known. And the event certainly wasn’t about hearing the voices of those most directly affected by the issue at hand, as there were only two Palestinian speakers the entire weekend (there would have been a couple more, had illness and visa denials not prevented their presence). But there we all were in the Great Hall at Cooper Union, having gotten up early on a Saturday morning for this sold-out tribunal.
The session opened with an introduction (in French, and tant pis to the majority of the audience who didn’t realize they would be needing the translation headphones) by Pierre Galand, who told us how Bertrand Russell had formed the first Tribunal (on Vietnam) in 1966 to combat “the crime of silence.” He also explained that as the audience, we were participants in the tribunal and as such should rise when the jury entered and filed out, refrain from applause, and generally behave as befitting a serious event in which we played a serious role. (Being asshole Americans, most of us had a hard time with even these limited directions and just laughed it off when Galand tried to shame us by comparing New York with all the other world cities where people managed to conduct themselves properly.)
And so the weekend proceeded, with hours of intricate presentations. And we listened. And I formulated questions in my head: Does the proclamation of a foregone conclusion have value? Is having a big event and inviting ordinary people (albeit those who already care deeply about the issue) to hear testimony important if only as an affirmation and inspiration to keep up with their solidarity work? Will the additional documentation and judgment change minds?
Regarding the documentation, the single livestream file is online, but this is not useful if you want to find a particular witness’s presentation. The RToP website has all of the reports, of course, including a draft one for the NYC session, but I don’t know how easy it is to find the multilingual softcover reports that detail each session. A book about the London tribunal came out from a trade publisher and, according to WorldCat, is held widely in academic libraries around the world. I wonder if any public libraries have ever done programming related to these “people’s tribunals”?
And regarding the judgment and the changing of minds – as one commentator put it, “The conclusion was essentially preordained, but its importance lies in the fact that the findings were presented by a jury full of luminaries like Angela Davis and Alice Walker to a United Nations body.” Well, but that depends on whether you consider someone like Angela Davis a “luminary” or a culturally irrelevant ex-Black Panther.
Another commenter wrote afterward, “While the ‘witnesses’ were mainly international law experts at home in the world of inter-governmental bodies and narrowly-defined protocols for advancing an action, the majority of attendees (and indeed, of the local organizers who worked countless hours to make the event a success) were oriented toward grassroots activism operating largely outside of such channels. This particular contradiction resonated throughout the entire event. All through the proceedings, there was a distinct sense that different segments of those assembled were processing all of the same facts, and yet arriving at radically different conclusions.”
I don’t know if the conclusions were quite so radically different, but the sort of disconnect between the witnesses and the attendees pales in comparison to the disconnect between the overall RToP conclusions and many US perceptions of this particular subject. (Consider how the narrative in the [very minimal] mainstream journalistic coverage was unaltered.) Oftentimes facts and legal justifications are just not enough, and it all has to do instead with political will and public opinion shifts and individual reflection and critical thinking.
So, as usual, the upshot is that a rational assemblage of truthful evidence is only part of the surround of information that shapes our thinking, whether we are a US senator or a random librarian. (I also thought of the circle of information and the human role in it when juror Alice Walker spoke up after Jeanne Mirer’s particularly harrowing testimony about life in Gaza, telling her, “Thank you for going, seeing, witnessing, and sharing with us, with such compassion.”) From our personal lives to our political actions, we are usually guided by one narrative or another, and it’s everything from the recorded testimonies of expert witnesses to the stories we tell ourselves that ultimately change the world.
If you are interested in this topic, a delegation of librarians to Palestine is being planned for next summer. Get in touch with me if you’d like more information when it’s available.