July 31, 2006

Contact your Senators about DOPA

Urgent message from the ALA Washington Office:

On Wednesday, July 28, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the amended H.R. 5319, the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), by a vote of 410-15. We believe the legislation will now go to the Senate, which may or may not have time to vote on this before their session ends for
the year.

Please contact your Senators about the importance of social networking sites. Share with them personal stories about how you or your library patrons use these sites in educational ways. Let them know what negative impact of DOPA or similar legislation will have on libraries and library
users if it passes.

Background information about this issue can be viewed on the ALA Web site located at:

ALA on the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA)

ALA on Online Social Networks

ALA’s Don Wood: Tell Your Senators Why DOPA Is Bad for Libraries

July 28, 2006

DOPA Resolution

The Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) would deny E-Rate funds to libraries that do not block whatever social networking sites and chat services the FCC puts on a “bad” list.

DOPA has just been passed by the house and is now in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

At ALA Annual in New Orleans, ALA Council passed the following resolution on DOPA. The text of it was just distributed by ALA’s Don Wood.

RESOLUTION IN SUPPORT OF ONLINE SOCIAL NETWORKS

WHEREAS, the online environment is an essential and growing part of economic, cultural, civic and social life; and

WHEREAS, the use of new Internet-based applications for collaboration and learning are increasingly important; and

WHEREAS, learning to use the online environment effectively and safely is an essential component of education and is increasingly promoting collaborative learning and social environments; and

WHEREAS, classrooms, school libraries and public libraries are the locations where a major part of this education occurs and where professional teachers and librarians are the adults best trained to educate young people to use online environments effectively and safely; and

WHEREAS, the development of essential information literacy skills require that young people be able to safely and effectively use these important new collaborative tools; and

WHEREAS, schools and libraries are critical environments for learning these skills and already have Internet use policies; and

WHEREAS, H.R. 5319, the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), as presently drafted, would require schools and libraries receiving E-rate discounts to block library computer users from accessing collaborative networking sites like MySpace, and would also bar access to a wide array of other important applications and technologies such as instant messaging, e-mail, wikis and blogs; and

WHEREAS, the H.R., 5319, the Deleting Online Predators Act, (DOPA) would require schools and libraries receiving E-rate funds to block important access to important new network-based collaborative environments that foster these crucial skills in our young people; and

WHEREAS, “DOPA” would place prior restraints on and denies access to constitutionally protected speech; and

WHEREAS, H.R. 5319 is unnecessary because schools and libraries receiving E-rate funds are already required to block obscene content; now therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the American Library Association oppose the Deleting Online Predators Act as it is presently drafted; and, be it further

RESOLVED, that the American Library Association affirm the importance of online social networks to library users of all ages for developing and using essential information literacy skills; and be it further

RESOLVED, that ALA ask library supporters to contact their representatives and senators to inform them about the important role “social networking sites” serve in civic participation, collaboration, etc. and about problems caused by mandatory blocking as proposed in H.R. 5319; and, be it further

RESOLVED, that ALA communicate this resolution to the United States Congress and to others, as appropriate.

Adopted by the ALA Council
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
New Orleans, Louisiana

July 27, 2006

Israel targets Nablus administrative records for destruction

Prior to Wednesday, the muqata’a was a large government building in Nablus, Palestine, originally built by the British in the 1920s and used until this week for civil government functions. It contained the archives of civil documents of the region, containing “hundreds of thousands of file cases and documents — birth and death certificates, identification records, passports and other travel documents, ledgers of hand written information — a heritage of historical information about Nablus residents that covered more than 100 years of successive Palestinian occupations under the Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate, the Jordanian kingdom, and the current Israeli regime.”

On Wednesday, Israeli troops showed up and destroyed the building with explosives – after staffers offered them entry to the building in order to go after the militants they were seeking. Once the building was reduced to rubble, according to Gale Courey Toensing in “First, Destroy the Archives,” Israeli soldiers drove over the broken file cabinets with bulldozers, mixing their contents with the earth to prevent their recovery. Destruction of the enemy’s information infrastructure is strategically understandable as a way of further weaking their ability to function as an organized society, but strictly in terms of fairness and human rights it’s the kind of thing that makes sympathy with Israel’s position impossible for me. (And I say that without losing any of my great pride in my Jewish heritage. Israel does not represent me as a Jew.)

July 24, 2006

International Committee of the Blue Shield statement on threatened cultural property in the Middle East conflict

The International Committee of the Blue Shield has released a statement on threatened cultural property in the Middle East conflict. The statement simply states the group’s concern about the conflict and the threat it poses to cultural property (artifacts, documents, art), and calls upon governments to ratify the The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its protocols. The United States has not signed.

July 22, 2006

What’s going on at the Library of Congress? (Thomas Mann)

The Library of Congress Professional Guild (AFSCME 2910) recently published a paper by LC librarian Thomas Mann entitled, “What’s going on at the Library of Congress?” (PDF) The paper addresses a number of controversial decisions and statments from LC in recent months and years, including The Calhoun Report, the decision to stop producing Series Authority Records, the decision to accept electronic files for preservation of works that were not “born digital,” a decision by the Copyright Office which could reduce the quality of LC’s cataloging by not looking at the actual deposited items, and continual reduction in cataloging staff. Mann’s point of view is that LC’s program for entering the “digital age” is irresponsible and short-sighted.

I found this item on Kathleen de la Peña McCook’s Librarian 2 blog.

July 21, 2006

Katrina victims muzzled

A new FAIR Action Alert reports that FEMA security guards are blocking journalists from talking to Katrina victims in FEMA trailer parks. FAIR cites the original story from the Baton Rouge Advocate. The report says that FEMA guards told reporters that Katrina victims are “not allowed” to talk to the media, that they “do not have that privilege.” Guards at the FEMA camp in Morgan City, LA, ordered reporters “not to talk to anyone and not to take any pictures.” Incarcerated criminals lose some of their first amendment freedoms, but hurricane victims in temporary shelter? The Constitution seems to matter less and less in Bush’s post-Sept. 11th United States.

July 18, 2006

New Orleans Public Library Wish List at Alibris

I found this on the Librarian 2 blog: New Orleans Public Library has set up a wish list through the online book vendor Alibris, to help channel people’s desire to help them rebuild in more productive ways than sending them all kinds of random, falling-apart, donated books that NOPL has no need for anyway. NOPL suffered about $18 million in damages from Hurricane Katrina. This wish list lets you help them by purchasing one or as many books as you choose to help them rebuild.?Ǭ† Other, related information is available on the NOPL website.

July 17, 2006

Wikipedia and Why Librarians Make Good Wikipedia Contributors

I’ve recently gotten into Wikipedia as a contributor, as Jessamyn West noted recently. She encouraged me to start editing articles during the ALA Midwinter Meeting back in January, but I didn’t start doing it until the head of reference where I work assigned me to learn about it so that I could teach the other reference librarians here how to do it. Initially I didn’t see much of a connection between librarianship and Wikipedia editing, because working on an encyclopedia seemed to me to be more of a writer’s or a researcher’s pastime than a librarian’s. As I got into it, however, I realized that the standards for writing a Wikipedia article are similar to a reference librarian’s approach to answering a reference question, especially in relation to one of the main “pillars” of Wikipedia: the “Neutral Point of View,” or NPOV, policy. The NPOV policy is frequently misunderstood by new editors and those unfamiliar with Wikipedia as being the same as journalistic or historical objectivity, but it really has much more in common with the librarian’s ethic of neutrality. According to the NPOV policy, the goal is to present, in as balanced a way as possible, a range of views on topics where there is disagreement by referring to published examples, and to also provide sources when providing factual information. In Wikipedia, just like in librarianship, what’s presented is either factual information or a description of what others say, rather than an author’s perspective on a subject.

Now, the NPOV policy is an ideal, and its realization is limited (to an extent) both by the human character of contributors and, I think, by some inherent conceptual holes. Wikipedia contributors are often attracted to topics that they’re passionate about, and can find it difficult not to promote a point of view, whether grossly and overtly or subtlely and unconsciously. Being really NPOV in Wikipedia takes actual effort. The inherent conceptual holes have to do with the difficulty of establishing what really constitutes neutrality. That is: when is a point of view or a fact about a topic significant enough to be mentioned and how do you tell, and how much “ink” does its significance warrant? What constitutes a “reliable source” and how do you know? Ultimately, in practice, debates about NPOV reach a point where they are not easily resolveable by facts alone, and the outcome is determined by a consensus whose basis in reason (as opposed to a shared or contested subjective “sense” of where the center lies, which is what I think we have) is not easily establishable. The same difficulty underlies librarianship’s ethic of neutrality.

My main goal in writing about Wikipedia right now is not primarily to problematize it so much as to get librarians interested in it. So, to that end, here are some links to pages in Wikipedia that are intended for use by contributors, to sort of give you an introduction to what is involved:

The Contributing FAQ

The Wikipedia Glossary

Wikipedia’s Policies and Guildelines, which are really much more interesting than you might think

The Wikipedia Community Portal

A quick introduction to editing pages

The WikiProject Librarians, where librarian Wikipedia editors get somewhat organized as a group.

Wikipedia’s Countering Systemic Bias project, aimed at countering the acknowledged built in bias stemming from the demographic characteristics of Wikipedia contributors.

Wikipedia is not without critics of course. Many librarians view it as basically worthless because of the process by which it’s created. Indeed, I think getting into wikipedia as a contributor and watching the way pages develop has really made its weaknesses as a reference source – in terms of reliability – more clear to me. So librarians who see contributing to Wikipedia as a complete waste of time may have a valid point. However, I think it depends on what activities you’re comparing it to. Compared to doing original research for publication in Library Quarterly – yes, it is probably a waste of time. But compared to putting one’s personal book collection into LibraryThing or blogging internet quizzes that tell the world what character from “That 70s Show” you are, it’s relatively productive and helpful. So, really, it’s a matter of perspective. For librarians who by force of habit or whatever else are going to spend a good deal of their free time online, contributing to Wikipedia can be a productive project where our skills are useful.

One warning: Editing pages on topics that are important to you can be frustrating, because people who know less or who are ideologically motivated might not care. If you are somebody who finds himself getting stressed out by internet debates, you might want to stick to topics that you’re not passionate about, or create some rules for yourself to keep your blood pressure low. Jessamyn warned me about this, knowing that I’ve had my share of online scuffles in the last ten years or so, and after a couple of months I certainly know what she’s talking about, but find it very manageable.

Have fun with it!

July 15, 2006

What ALA is doing

It has seemed to me for quite some time that discussions about the American Library Association in the blogosphere and in the popular press often distort the nature of the association by focusing on one or two small activities as though they represent a major priority or budget item. I am part of the group that has pushed for ALA to take stands on certain political issues, but it bothers me when news of ALA’s positions as a result of these efforts lead some to believe that these political positions represent a major focus of the association or a significant allocation of its resources. They really aren’t: ALA has a 54 million dollar budget (roughly) and all but pennies of that budget are focused directly on American libraries.

I got permission from ALA to post a few reports on ALA’s activities that were distributed to ALA Council in New Orleans. I’m interested in sharing them because I think they give more of a bird’s eye view of the association, as compared to the pictures we more frequently get from individuals who are active in one corner of the association or another. I’m posting three docs, as follows:

  • ALA Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels’ Report to the Executive Board and Council, on what ALA has been doing, from the point of view of the ALA offices in Chicago, that is, the staff side as opposed to the membership side. It includes discussion of the activities of ALA’s offices and divisions, and focuses on the new things that are happening.
  • ALA Immediate Past President Michael Gorman’s brief report to Council covering January to March, 2006, which covers his activities as President during that time.
  • ALA President Leslie Burger’s brief report to Council covering the same time period, reporting on her activities as President-Elect.

I think if you read these documents, and I encourage you to, you’ll get a different sense of what ALA does with its budget than you might get from following certain blogs or news outlets, or even from the listservs of particular divisions, round tables and subcommittees. ALA is big like the elephant that has 10 blind people trying to describe it, each describing it according to a different part that they know by feel. I would like to see a more widely-distributed annual report from ALA or something similar for a wide audience (members and the public), to give a good overview of what the assocciation does. American Libraries does it to an extent, but is less focused on the association’s activities than the world of libraries in the United States.

Later I will do a separate posting on ALA’s strategic plan…

July 14, 2006

Hymne ?ɬ† l’?ɬ©galit?ɬ©

Hymne ?ɬ† l’?ɬ©galit?ɬ©

par Marie-Joseph CH?É‚Ä?NIER (1764-1811)

?É‚Ä?galit?ɬ© douce et touchante,
Sur qui reposent nos destins,
C’est aujourd’hui que l’on te chante,
Parmi les jeux et les festins.

Ce jour est saint pour la patrie ;
Il est fameux par tes bienfaits
C’est le jour o?ɬ? ta voix ch?ɬ©rie
Vint rapprocher tous les Fran?ɬßais

Tu vis tomber l’amas servile
Des titres fastueux et vains,
Hochets d’un orgueil imb?ɬ©cile
Qui foulait aux pieds les humains.

Tu brisas des fers sacril?ɬ©ges ;
Des peuples tu conquis les droits ;
Tu d?ɬ©tr?ɬ¥nas les privil?ɬ©ges ;
Tu fis na?ɬÆtre et r?ɬ©gner les lois.

Seule idole d’un peuple libre,
Tr?ɬ©sor moins connu qu’ador?ɬ©,
Les bords du C?ɬ©phise et du Tibre
N’ont ch?ɬ©ri que ton nom sacr?ɬ©.

Des guerriers, des sages rustiques,
Conqu?ɬ©rant leurs droits immortels,
Sur les montagnes, helv?ɬ©tiques
Ont pos?ɬ© tes premiers autels.

Et Franklin qui, par son g?ɬ©nie,
Vainquit la foudre et les tyrans,
Aux champs de la Pensylvanie
T’assure des honneurs plus grands !

Le Rh?ɬ¥ne, la Loire et la Seine,
T’offrent des rivages pompeux
Le front ceint d’olive et de ch?ɬ™ne
Viens y pr?ɬ©sider ?ɬ† nos yeux.

R?ɬ©pands ta lumi?ɬ®re infinie,
Astre brillant et bienfaiteur ;
Des rayons de la tyrannie
Tu d?ɬ©truis l’?ɬ©clat imposteur.

Ils rentrent dans la nuit profonde
Devant tes rayons souverains ;
Par toi la terre est plus f?ɬ©conde ;
Et tu rends les cieux plus sereins.

++++++

Happy Batille Day to all our friends in France!

July 12, 2006

Vamos a Cuba update

The Dade County, FL, school board’s attempt to ban Vamos a Cuba, the children’s book that local Cuban expatriats complain paints too rosy a picture of life in the socialist country (blogged here on June 14th), is presently being held up as a result of the ACLU’s legal challenge. At the time of the ALA Conference the ACLU had just announced their lawsuit, and there was too little time for the Freedom to Read Foundation to consider joining the case, but in his report to Council on the FTRF’s activities, Board member John W. Berry stated that they definitely have it on their radar.

Meanwhile, REFORMA has just posted their statement in opposition to the book ban, in PDF and MS Word formats.

Also worth noting is the Cuban National Library’s petition campaign against the ban.

if:Book on the “trade imbalance” in international information flows…

In a blog post on if:Book titled the myth of universal knowledge 2: hyper-nodes and one-way flows, Ben Vershbow reports on a set of interesting discussions about international information flows, specifically the dominance of Western cultural products (including print and digital texts) in international markets, and what it means.

40th Anniversary of FOIA

This month is the 40th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act, which sets up the process by which the public can get access to unpublished government information.

The National Security Archive at George Washington University has a page about the history of the FOIA since its signing by President Johnson in 1966.

Also of interest, the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government has just posted a report on who is using the FOIA (PDF). According to this report, which analyzed FOIA requests to 11 Cabinet level Departments and Agencies in September, 2005, about two thirds were from commercial businesses, three percent from non-profits, and six percent from the media.

July 10, 2006

The “Love Libraries” campaign (UK)

Libraries in the UK have been in a state of crisis for the last decade or more far beyond the degree of troubles we’ve seen in the U.S. Library use is way down and so are budgets, and the cutbacks in hours and the closures of branches have been much worse than here. Part of the reason is the stronger tradition of public library service in the U.S.; that is, public libraries are more integrated into normal social life in the U.S. than in the U.K. Librarians in the U.K. are responding to the crisis in interesting ways, and we can probably learn how to deal with some of our own library issues a little better by observing them deal with theirs. So, to that end, here’s a link to a U.K. campaign to promote libraries to the public, called, “Love Libraries”.

July 9, 2006

Censorship via Washington State Anti-Gambling Law

Washington State recently passed a law against internet gambling that contains a provision banning speech that “aids and abets” the gambling industry it defines as illegal. As a result, two major gaming industry magazines have cancelled their Washington State subscriptions, considering themselves banned by that law.

Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat is bringing this issue to the world’s attention. A previous column by Westneat was about Bellingham’s Todd Boutte, whose website reviewing casinos was also declared illegal by the State.

The law can be found here.