January 29, 2007

ALA Council supports immigrant rights

In Seattle last week ALA passed this Resolution in Support of Immigrants Rights:

Resolved, that ALA strongly supports the protection of each person’s civil liberties regardless of that individual’s nationality, residency, or status; and be it further resolved that ALA opposes any legislation that infringes on the rights of anyone in the USA (citizen or otherwise) to use library resources on national, state, and local levels.”

January 28, 2007

9th Circuit rejects Kahle vs. Gonzales, AAP PR

Just briefly mentioning two important things that I have neglected to follow here.

1). The 9th Circuit Court’s rejection of Brewster Kahle’s constitutional challenge to copyright laws that prevent people from using orphan works. That link is to the Cyberlaw project at Stanford and will be updated with commentary and future developments. This couirt decision is simply sad news, as many were hopeful that this challenge might lead to a real liberation in U.S. information policy.

2). The Association of American Publishers’ hiring of Dezenhall Associates, known as the “pit bull of PR,” to attack the open access movement in media messages. Ordinarily the public wouldn’t hear about this kind of a private arrangement, but somehow Nature Magazine learned of it. One rich quote from the Nature article for you:

Dezenhall noted that if the other side is on the defensive, it doesn’t matter if they can discredit your statements, she added: “Media messaging is not the same as intellectual debate”.

Lots more on the AAP PR thing on Peter Suber’s Open Access News blog.

January 27, 2007

Jesse Shera on academic librarians’ professional values

Here is an excerpt from Jesse Shera’s 1936 article in The Bulletin of the American Library Association, “The College Library and its Future.” (Vol. 30, pp. 495-501.)


Having seen that technologically librarianship has made significant progress, and that investigatory activities have already achieved impressive beginnings, we now turn our attention to a field of which the past can ill be proud. As Pierce Butler has shown, librarians have been singularly uninterested in the theoretical aspects of their profession. (Pierce Butler, An Introduction to Library Science. University of Chicago Press, 1933.) Satisfied with simple pragmatism, they are content with a rationalization of each immediate technical process, without any intellectual interest in attempting to generalize these rationalizations into a professional philosophy. From this indictment of the library profession as a whole the college librarian is not exempt. He has been as indifferent as the rest toward the development of any professional credo which might guide and direct his several processes, and give meaning to their results. J. Periam Danton has cut squarely to the heart of the matter when he asserts that:

When the library profession becomes thoroughly conscious of precisely what it is trying to do and why it is doing it, we may hope to see a very significant change affectingn only only libraries and librarians but also the society in which they serve. The bewildered groping which characterizes so much of our activity is largely the result of lack of a definite conception of our purposes. (J. Periam Danton, “A Plea for a Philosophy of Librarianship.” Library Quarterly 4:545, October 1934.)

[…] Lacking this guiding power of a valid philosophy, how, may it be asked, are the college librarians prepared to answer the host of questions that beset the academic world today? We boast of tolerance, but can we afford to be tolerant of intolerance? With academic freedom threatened on every hand, dares the profession to maintain a detached point of view? “There are times when silence is not neutrality but assent.” In a day when a drugstore demagogue can command a legislative investitation into alleged “subversive activities” in one of our great institutions of learning, it is not absurd to fear that some power crazed dictator of the future could repeat the holocaust of Alexandria.

Assuredly, there has been much glib talk among librarians concerning the ideals of the profession, its tolerance, its detachment, its objective point of view with regard to the problems that beset mankind – ideals which have seen their fullest realization in the building up of the respective book collections. College librarians cannot justly be accused of deficient idealism; in many ways they have exemplified the scholastic virtues of tolerance, objectivity, and breadth even more fully than their colleagues in the classroom. Their fault lies in their failure to organize for the defense of these ideals in some future crucial hour. They would do well to remember William James’ pragmatic judgment:

The more ideals a man has, the more contemptible, on the whole, do you continue to deem him, if the matter ends there for him, and if none of the laboring man’s virtues are called into action on his part – no courage shown, no privations undergone, no dirt or scars contracted in the attempt to get them realized. It is quite obvious that something more than the mere possession of ideals is required to make a life significant in any sense that claims the spectator’s admiration.

January 24, 2007

EDUCAUSE on libraries (with friends like these…)

Library Juice readers on most university campuses should be able to read this new one from EDUCAUSE Review: “If the Academic Library Ceased to Exist, Would We Have to Invent It?” It’s a brief think piece that demonstrates why academic libraries are necessary, answering the idea, apparently familiar to the EDUCAUSE crowd, that they are not. While it’s nice to know that EDUCAUSE supports the fact that we exist, I have to note that the author of this piece, Lynn Scott Cochrane, director of the library at Denison College, does not include reference librarians in her vision of the academic library that would have to be invented if it did not already exist.

Reference librarians in academic libraries are the mediators, the guides, the people in an explicitly educational role. I think it shows a definite inattention to important educational issues in students’ use of information resources not to perceive the importance of reference service in academic library settings. These issues are obvious if you look at a typical college student’s research project and look at the bibliography at the end. I think the primary problems are threefold (maybe there are more):

  • Unreliable resources are used.
  • Inappropriate resources are used.
  • Resources cited are not actually relied upon in the actual cognitive work of writing the paper, but simply included in the bibliography out of a formal requirement (which can be obvious at the reference desk, when students want the first three articles that come up in a search, without showing any interest in what they say).

Librarians and faculty both have roles in addressing these issues, and neither side is doing an adequate job in most places, it seems to me. But how can someone imagine that the average student can do good research – find reliable and appropriate resources and use them with integrity in their research projects – without a reference librarian’s assistance?

January 21, 2007

More on What’s Going On at the Library of Congress

Thomas Mann at the Library of Congress has written an update to his critical summary of changes there: More on What’s Going On at the Library of Congress, published through the Library of Congress Professional Guild, AFSCME 2910.

The cover page lists these topics in the 24 page document:

  • Series authority records
  • Integrating the Web into Online Public Access Catalogs (OPACs)
  • The Increasing Importance of Precoordination in LC Subject Headings
  • Maintaining a balance of OPAC and Web functions rather than forcing a transition
  • The pre-eminent importance of the book format for scholarship
  • The University of Chicago Task Force Report and its concentration on scholarly users
  • Misuse of body counts as determinative of importance
  • The proper goal for the Library of Congress and other research libraries
  • Misreading the evidence on interindexer consistency
  • The integral need for reference service
  • Proper and improper reliance on remote storage
  • The continuing need for onsite books shelved in subject classified arrangements
  • The larger information universe and its several component parts
  • “Under the hood” programming for “seamless one-stop shopping”?
  • The continuing need for reference librarians
  • Dumbing down the capability of scholarly research: LC management’s dismantling of
    cataloging and classification

Thomas Mann’s work on these issues of course has implictions beyond LoC, as he is addressing changes within the profession as a whole that deserve more critical attention and thought than they usually get. Those like Mann who are critical of many of these changes are often described as “traditionalists,” as though what is motivating them in their resistance is simply a generalized discomfort with change and a desire to maintain tradition for its own sake. Mann’s arguments are worthwhile reading for anyone in librarianship because they tie these questions of change to the basic values and goals on which the profession is still based and show the rational thinking behind the “traditionalist” perspective.

This article was today’s “Library Link of the Day.”

January 19, 2007

Library Director resigns over WiFi irradiation risks

Rebekah Azen resigned from her post as the director of the library at Southwestern College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, because she believes that exposure to WiFi emissions is a health hazard and got no response from administrators after complaining. Library Journal covered this story yesterday. The Council on Wireless Technology Impacts, a group that Azen works with, put out a press release detailing their view of the situation and talking about the dangers of WiFi radiation as they view them.

I debated Azen on the SRRT email discussion list about this issue last year, saying that WiFi radiation is no worse than many other sources of electromagnetic radiation that we’re exposed to all the time, from natural and technological sources. Ultimately, I had to admit that man-made electromagnetic fields are something that we expose ourselves to without knowing as much about their potential effects as we should. They constitute a way that we have changed our environment that might alarm us if it were perceptible to our senses. At the same time, I finally argued, and this is what I think, electromagnetic radiation all over the spectrum is in our environment all the time and there is really no getting away from it unless you move to a a pretty remote part of the world. Then again, this is something that is difficult to argue about unless you have an unusual level of technical knowledge. Whatever the truth is, I think Rebekah Azen is brave and principled to take the step that she did.

January 18, 2007

New Issue of Information Research

Tom Wilson has announced the new issue of Information Research, an electronic journal about information organization and information seeking behavior. This issue has some neat stuff in it, in my opinion: an article about casual, social information spaces used by college students, analyzed through the theory of “information grounds;” a study of how people organize their files on their computers at work; a thing on barriers to information seeking in school libraries; a study of health information seeking among African Americans; and a couple of articles on some questions that are too abstract to summarize. Contributions are from all over the world. Interesting stuff.

January 17, 2007

“Bandwagon innovation”

Jim Carroll blogged this on January 4th: Why “Bandwagon Innovation” Doesn’t Work. Carroll states very succinctly what is wrong with bandwagonny innovation ideas (including Web 2.0 ideas as they are commonly approached). He is a futurist whose primary interest is innovation; he is not anti-tech at all. His points about innovation bandwagons have to do with their shallowness and facileness. His post was blogged on ACRLog on Monday, and a friend at work just showed it to me.

It’s really wonderful when someone has a clear and simple insight that cuts through layers of popular bulldoody.

January 16, 2007

PLG endorses AHA resolution on US gov’t and historical preservation

The Progressive Librarians Guild has endorsed a resolution by the American Historical Association, titled Resolution on United States Government Practices Inimical to the Values of the Historical Profession. The resolution addresses the Bush Administration’s violations of historic preservation practices and other principles held by historians, in the context of the war in Iraq. The violations of these principles the resolution addresses are:

  • excluding well-recognized foreign scholars;
  • condemning as “revisionism” the search for truth about pre-war intelligence;
  • re-classifying previously unclassified government documents;
  • suspending in certain cases the centuries-old writ of habeas corpus and substituting indefinite administrative detention without specified criminal charges or access to a court of law;
  • and using interrogation techniques at Guantanamo, Abu-Ghraib, Bagram, and other locations incompatible with respect for the dignity of all persons required by a civilized society.

PLG’s endorsement is based on shared interests and shared principles between the library profession and the history profession. PLG should be thanked for bringing attention to this resolution by AHA.


Stephen Talbott’s NETFUTURE: Technology and Human Responsibility, the electronic newsletter he has edited since 1995, is back in publication after a fifteen month hiatus. I wondered if it would ever resume publication, and I am very glad that it has.

In Talbott’s words,

NetFuture is an electronic newsletter with postings every two-to-four weeks or so. It looks beyond the generally recognized “risks” of computer use such as privacy violations, unequal access, censorship, and dangerous computer glitches. It seeks especially to address those deep levels at which we half-consciously shape technology and are shaped by it. What is half-conscious can, after all, be made fully conscious, and we can take responsibility for it.

Talbott, who works with The Nature Institute, has a perspective on technology that is somewhat similar to Neil Postman’s, but with a more holistic emphasis. Talbott not only criticizes the effects of technology on human beings but makes a constant effort to explore and articulate what it is about being human that our technocratic society does not know how to recognize or protect.

In the early days of Library Juice I frequently copied sections from new issues of NETFUTURE as they reached me by email. I think it is valuable and somewhat unusual when intelligent critics of technology and its ideologies use the internet to communicate their ideas. I’m very glad Talbott is publishing NETFUTURE again, and I look forward to reading the book that he produced during his hiatus: Devices of the Soul: Battling for Our Selves in an Age of Machines, which is due to be released this Spring from O’Reilly Media.

Welcome back to the web, NETFUTURE.

January 13, 2007

Bush refuses to be photographed

After his last address on Iraq, President Bush broke with precedent and refused to be photographed at the podium by journalists, instead distributing an official, government produced photo which he expected the media to publish. Some media outlets did publish the official photo, and some published still video captures from the address.

Put it on the list of examples of the Bush administration’s hostility toward the fourth estate and of our declining information freedom. But in terms of this example specifically, why do you think he refused to be photographed at exactly this moment? I think it’s because he knew that the big truth about Iraq showed on his face after he evaded it in his address. It is the way that silence speaks.

January 12, 2007

ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom blog

ALA has started up some blogs. Some belong to staff members, but there are many that belong to units. Check out the Office for Intellectual Freedom blog, and then look at some of the others linked at the top of the top level ALA blogs page

New from LJP: Library Juice Concentrate

Library Juice Concentrate

Edited by Rory Litwin
Preface by Kathleen de la Peña McCook
Price: $25.00
ISBN-10: 0-9778617-3-2
ISBN-13: 978-0-9778617-3-6
6″ by 9″
Published: December 2006

Library Juice Concentrate is a compilation of the best of Library Juice, an e-zine published by Rory Litwin between 1998 and 2005 that dealt with foundational questions of librarianship during a period of rapid change. Library Juice served as the record for the “library left” during this period, including its veterans and newcomers, while at the same time offering original reflections on traditional questions. The book includes essays and other artifacts that investigate professional neutrality, intellectual freedom, alternative literature, the social effects of technological change, the cultural identity of the librarian, “anarchist librarianship,” the Cuba debate, Google’s scanning project, subject heading reform, and other issues. The aim of the essays in Library Juice Concentrate is to provoke original thought and to encourage newcomers in the field to participate in professional discourse with confidence and with attention to the intellectual and political struggles of the past.

Here’s what Dr. Toni Samek of the library school at the University of Alberta says about this book:

Library Juice Concentrate is a genuine stimulant and a punchy counter to the techno-managerial library literature of the day. In this slim but supple volume, Rory Litwin recaptures humanistic thought pieces, meditations, interviews, deliberations, critiques, quotes, recommended readings, manifestos, deep analysis, and uncomfortable questions from select salt of the earth contributors to the 1998-2005 run of his groundbreaking alternative library webzine Library Juice. This powerful early 21st offline offering is a must read for any authentic study of library philosophy. The book?s index, covering Asociac?ɬ?on Cubana de Biliotecaras to Muckracking to Zionism, is itself a remarkable guide to late 20th century critical library thought. Library Juice first documented some of the best writings in the field. Library Juice Concentrate now gives us the unique opportunity (not to mention responsibility) to continue to gain power from those challenging expressions. This labor of librarianship is destined to evoke thought, tears, laughter, and a desire for social action. Let?s all hope for more!

Kathleen de la Peña McCook’s preface to Library Juice Concentrate is online:

Library Juice Concentrate is available through major books jobbers as well as Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com.

Library Juice Press was founded in 2006 as an outgrowth of Library Juice, the webzine and blog in publication since 1998. Library Juice Press publishes books on topics that have been covered in Library Juice over the years, including library philosophy, information policy, activism, library history, media studies, and in general anything that can be covered under the rubric of “critical studies in librarianship.” Library Juice Press presently has four titles in print and a handful in progress.

New from LJP: Library Daylight

Library Daylight: Tracings of Modern Librarianship, 1874 to 1922

Edited by Rory Litwin
Introduction by Suzanne Stauffer, Ph.D.
Price: $25.00
ISBN-10: 0-9778617-4-0
ISBN-13: 978-0-9778617-4-3
6″ by 9″
Published: December 2006

Library Daylight: Tracings of Modern Librarianship, 1874 to 1922 is an eclectic collection of thirty-six articles about libraries and librarianship published between 1874 and 1922. These items, most of which will be new even to those most well-versed in American library history, cover topics that are hotly discussed today: library education, women’s issues, library technology, the image of librarians, copyright, the tension between libraries as educational institutions and libraries as popular centers, the nature of library service, the public sphere, library PR, librarians and political activism, and visions of the future. The sources of these articles include early ALA conference proceedings, early issues of Library Journal and other library periodicals, daily newspapers, and popular magazines. Authors range from still-well-known leaders in the field to anonymous journalists. This will be rewarding reading for anyone interested in how our present-day issues are connected to the library past.

Library Daylight is available from major book jobbers as well as Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com.

Congressional Research Service report on EPA library closures

I’ve been tardy in blogging this…

The Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Service has issued a report on the EPA library closures. That link goes to a PDF of the document hosted by the Federation of American Scientists.

Thanks to ALA’s Don Wood for distributing this info.