June 26, 2008


I’m bringing this double-sided flyer with me to ALA tomorrow to hand out to people who visit my reception on Saturday night, and to guests at the Alternative Press Reception on Monday night. Check it out and distribute it at work if you’d like selectors to consider LJP books….


June 21, 2008

Saad Eskander’s open letter to the Hoover Institution

Open letter from Saad Eskander, Director of the Iraq National Library and Archives, June 21, 2008

An Open Letter to the Director of Hoover Institute

I have read Mr. Sousa’s letter to Mr. Mark Greene, President of the Society of American Archivists (dated 06-06-08), Mr. Al-Jaberi’s statement (dated 27-04-08) and the article published by Stanford University’s official site regarding the illegally seized documents of the former Iraqi state and the archive of the Ba’ath Party (dated 18-06-08).

As the national archivist of Iraq, I would like to clarify several points regarding the issue of the illegally seized documents of the former Iraqi state and the archive of the Ba’ath Party.

1. Mr. al-Jaberi does not represent the Ministry of Culture, let alone the current Iraqi government, insofar as the issue of the seized documents is concerned. The statement is written by Mustafa al-Kadhemi, who is the director of IMF and Mr. Makkiya’s right-hand man. Al-Kadhemi exploited the good intention of al-Jaberi and persuaded him to sign a statement about a sensitive issue he knows literally nothing about and has no authority to talk about or to deal with.

2. Regarding the retrieval of the seized documents, I have been coordinating my efforts with the Acting Minister of Culture, his deputy Mr. Taher al-Hmud, advisors of the Vice-President, and other important figures inside the Iraqi government as well as a number of Parliamentarians.

3. The Iraqis inside and outside the country have supported my position and disapproved of Makkiya, al-Kadhemi and the IMF’s [Iraq Memory Foundation’s] activities, which are considered to be morally wrong and manifest violations of Iraq’s sovereignty.

4. Some parts of al-Jaberi’s statement contradict the IMF’s claims, not mine, regarding the fact that the National Board of Accountability and Justice (NBAJ) will establish an archive for the records of the Ba’ath Party. I informed al-Kadhemi about this in order to tell him that IMF has no right whatsoever to keep these records abroad. Moreover, the INLA is in constant contact with Dr. Ahmed al-Chalabi, who presides over NBAJ, which replaced the former De-Ba’athification National Board. Dr. Chalabi has expressed his support for INLA’s campaign to retrieve all the seized documents, including the Ba’ath Party ones. The two sides (INLA and (NBAJ) hope to work together to return all the seized records.

5. I tried through direct negotiations with IMF’s representatives including Mr. Makkiya to reach a satisfactory settlement regarding the issue of the seized documents. Unfortunately the IMF’s representatives were not interested in making any compromise that would have put an end to the dispute. For instance, I asked IMF to enlarge its agreement with Hoover so that INLA would be included as the representative of the Iraqi state and people.

6. I would like to draw your attention to Iraqi legislation no. 111 for the year 1969. This legislation imposes severe punishment on those who destroys, hides, steal, forge, publish or remove official Iraqi documents. The legislation also imposes severe punishment (10 year-imprisonment) on those individuals who collaborate with and provide foreign states with Iraqi documents. Therefore, the IMF’s confiscation, purchases, scanning, declassification and publication of the Ba’ath documents are incontrovertibly illegal. It also means that the IMF has violated the same Iraqi legislation when it decided to provide the American government with copies of its illegally seized records. In light of that one can say that the letters of clearance IMF received from one or two Iraqi high-ranking officials carry no weight because they went against the above mentioned Iraqi legislation.

7. The IMF has not been authorized by the Iraqi government to ask the Pentagon and the CIA to transfer tens of millions of Iraqi documents they both seized to it. The IMF’s action goes clearly against current Iraqi legislations. We all know that IMF has no storage rooms inside or outside Iraq. This means that the IMF will keep tens of millions of Iraqi documents in America by making deals similar to the one it made with Hoover. Thus, the Iraqis, including the scholars and the victims of the former regime will be given no access to their own documents, while the Americans (the occupiers) will continue to enjoy such a privilege. .

8. Makiya’s claim that his deal with Hoover is legal because he got the approval of the Iraqi government contradicts his refusal to return the documents to Iraq because he says that he does not trust the intention of my ‘bosses’ as he puts it. Are not my bosses the same people from whom Makiya has claimed to have obtained approval for the shipment of the records to the US and for the deal he made with Hoover? This is pure hypocrisy.

9. The INLA has never claimed that it should alone decide the fate of the seized documents. On the contrary, its director has demanded from the very beginning the establishment of National Archival Committee to include members from the three branches of government (executive, legislative and judiciary). The Committee will be entrusted with the task of making new legislation for all the records of the former regime including the Ba’ath party.

10. The INLA and other governmental agencies have been gathering information on the activities of the IMF since April 2003. Rest assured that this Foundation has violated Iraqi laws and regulations all the way. It violated the principle of the rule of law and the priority of state-based institutions.

11. I would also like to remind you that the IMF came into being within the framework of the American occupation of Iraq, and thus was an integral part of a grand imperial vision for the New Iraq. This explains why IMF has not been accountable politically, administratively, legally, financially or morally to any Iraqi authority since its formation.

12. The IMF’s purchases of illegally seized documents from individuals and private organizations has considerably encouraged the black-market phenomenon, and discouraged local Iraqis from handing over seized documents to the proper authorities.

13. The Ba’ath documents are the property of the Iraqis and the institutions that represent them, and so it is arrogant and unethical for one person (an ?©migr?©) to decide the destiny of millions of sensitive official documents that have had and will continue to have considerable impact on the private lives of millions of Iraqi citizens. It is not in the interests of Iraqi victims and academic investigation for the IMF to have been using the documents for propaganda, self-aggrandizement and obtaining funding. The Iraqis desperately want to know and confront the realities of their recent past. They need to recognize the suffering of the victims and to identify those who committed crimes, before bringing them to justice. The Iraqis are well aware that any national reconciliation project cannot be successfully implemented without making the seized documents available for both scholars and the public mediated by a responsible agency representative of them..

Last but not least, it should be noted that the Iraqi public, Iraqi intellectuals, and Iraqi media all support the INLA’s cause. We also rely on the support of our colleagues abroad, especially in Northern America.

Dr. Saad Eskander,
Director General,
Iraq National Library & Archives

June 20, 2008

Democratizing Public Services

John Ronald sent me a link to a review of a British pamphlet titled Rethinking Public Service Reform: The Public Value Alternative, from the Trade Union Congress (UK). The review is in the blog A Very Public Sociologist, which has the subtitle “Sociology with a Socialist Punch.” Sociology should have a socialist punch, shouldn’t it?

The review gets into the issues of privatization and the task of re-democratization. It’s all in the British context, but the issues are the same as issues we are facing here. I think it’s good to keep these issues in the forefront.

June 19, 2008

LJP Standing Orders

You (or your library) can now place a standing order for books published by Library Juice Press or Litwin Books. Standing orders will get a 25% discount from the cover price. Also, when you place a standing order you’ll have the opportunity to purchase any of our previously published books at the same 25% discount.

You can set up your standing order to include just Library Juice Press books, titles from Litwin Books, or specifically the titles from Litwin Books that are about libraries. (Library Juice Press books are aimed at an audience of librarians. Titles from Litwin Books can be on a number of subjects, but are often about libraries and library history, but for a wider audience.)

Minnesota orders will have to add 6.5% for sales tax, and shipping is a $5 charge per mailing. Your invoices will come with the books.

Our standing order is a one-year commitment.

June 18, 2008

ISC Call for Papers

ISSN 1364-694X (print)
ISSN 1756-901X (online)


The Summer 2009 issue of the journal Information for Social Change (ISC) will focus on the theme of SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY FOR UTOPIAS.

This issue of ISC aims to document 21st century science and technology initiatives designed for utopian societies. The intended audience is hands-on Utopian makers, as well as those individuals and groups who share in the vision of Utopian futures.

ISC seeks submissions in the following two areas aimed at encouraging adaptations, constructive intercultural dialogue, and international participation:

1) General action research, development based participatory action research, case studies, and DIY (do-it-yourself) aspects of creating low cost, long term science and technology solutions to our present ecological mess, which also make for viable long term social justice (e.g., ethical
aid, alternative transportation, living labs, green housing, and slow food movements) and the role of library and information workers and work therein.

2) Thoughts on information ecology, sharing, and recycling as they relate to the production of human and natural resources and how best to achieve egalitarian societies in which there is free flow of information (e.g., social, cultural, communication, and information systems which combine ICT within egalitarian decision making processes in the context of non-proprietary systems and free information movements).

Anyone interested in contributing work related to the above expressed theme is invited to share their ideas with issue co-editors Martyn Lowe (martynlowe @ usa.net) & Toni Samek (toni.samek @ ualberta.ca).

Whilst encouraging rigorous debate, the journal exists primarily for workers and practitioners, so simple and clear English is preferable. Articles should, where possible, be between 500 and 2500 words. This is to ensure a wide coverage of topics in each issue. However, longer articles
may be excerpted in the journal and the full text made available from the author(s), if you wish. As well as articles we are also interested in shorter pieces (including letters, review articles, and poems). For our submission guidelines, see: http://libr.org/isc/policy.html#2

The closing date for final submission is DECEMBER 10 (HUMAN RIGHTS DAY), 2008.

For more information about ISC and this forthcoming issue, see: http://libr.org/isc/forthcoming.html

Toni Samek, PhD
Professor & Graduate Coordinator
School of Library & Information Studies, Faculty of Education, University
of Alberta

Mailing Address: SLIS, 3-15 Rutherford South, University of Alberta,
Edmonton, Alberta, CANADA T6G 2J4
Phone: (780) 492-0179
Fax: (780) 492-2430
E-mail: toni.samek@ualberta.ca
Skype: antoniacan
Web: http://www.ualberta.ca/~asamek/toni.htm

“A word after a word after a word is power.” Margaret Atwood

Cuba Update from the International Relations Committee

The ALA International Relations Committee has just released a very nice, detailed history of the “independent library” movement, Friends of Cuban Libraries, and ALA and IFLA’s activities in relation to them. I think it is going to be an essential point of reference on this issue for years to come, and I applaud the IRC for putting it together and doing such a thorough job.

June 17, 2008

Review of Questioning Library Neutrality

Jeff Lilburn has reviewed Questioning Library Neutrality for the blog LibrarianActivist. His review is careful not to be overly excited by the book, but is much appreciated as the first review of the book to hit the screens, and by a person who understands what the book is trying to say. Thank you Jeff and LibrarianActivist…

June 14, 2008

The Cuba Debate – Why the “middle” is not the middle

It is still not dead. A resolution has just been sent to the ALA Council list for discussion, calling on ALA to recognize the dissident “independent librarians” as members of the library community who deserve our support as colleagues, calling for the return of “library materials” to the “independent libraries,” and calling for the release of prisoners.

As this debate has worn on and grown tiresome over the years, many people who understandably just want it to go away try to close the books on it by saying, “I’ve heard all the arguments, and I think both sides have a point. They just need to sit down and be rational about it for a change instead of haranguing us on our listservs. The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle.”

Well, what are both sides saying, and what would the middle be?

On the one side, you have Robert Kent and company, who are campaigning for the cause of Cuban dissidents who have set up “independent libraries” in their homes. He acknowledges that they are dissidents and that their activities contra the Cuban government are the reason for their libraries. But in Kent’s campaign, there is no angle on the issue other than intellectual freedom in a pure, undiluted form. No room for the complexity which we know characterizes the question. For Kent, there is only one side. It is a question of good and evil.

On the other side, you have members of the Progressive Librarians Guild, myself included, and others who have engaged Kent on the listservs where he has sent his campaign messages. We have never advanced the Cuba issue other than to counter Kent where he needs to be countered.

Because we have written and spoken counter to Kent, it would be easy to assume that our message is equally black and white, but this has never been the case.

What we have pointed out, to oversimplify, is that the “independent libraries” are propaganda distribution centers set up in people’s homes rather than libraries in the usual sense, and that they are set up using funds coming from the U.S. government and routed through “pro-democracy” NGO’s that are staffed by members of the Cuban exile community who want their land and property back. (Jorge Sanguinetty should be named, because he is the originator of the “independent library” movement.) The “independent librarians” who have been arrested were arrested for violating a Cuban law that bans citizens from accepting money or material support from a foreign state for the purpose of undermining the government. The United States has a parallel law, as well as a set of more specific laws directed at individuals aiding Cuba, which American citizens also go to prison for violating, a fact which Kent has understandably avoided dealing with, because it does not fit into his simplistic picture.

Some of us who have written against Kent’s campaign are lifelong socialists and friendly toward the Cuban revolution. But readers should not conclude from that that any of us deny support to real, homegrown dissidents in Cuba, or deny that more freedom of speech in Cuba would be a good thing, or that there are serious problems in Cuba that are partly the result of failures of Castro’s government. On this side, you will not find anybody avoiding the true complex nature of the question. This side, I argue, IS the middle.

That is why everybody in the Progressive Librarians Guild who has been working contra Kent over the years was happy with the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee’s 2003 Report on Cuba, despite its being a response that validated many of Kent’s concerns. We supported it as the final word of the Association. The report is based on ALA’s long history of support for intellectual freedom, and took the occasion to join IFLA in its prior statement on Cuba, which it arrived at because of the same issue. IFLA in 2001 and ALA in the 2003 IFC Report called on Cuba to “eliminate barriers to access to information imposed by its policies,” and expressed their deep concern over the arrest and long prison terms of the dissidents, as well as calling on the Cuban library community to monitor violations of the right to free access to information and work to promote civil liberties in Cuba.

Note that PLG liked the report and Kent found it totally inadequate.

PLG liked the report because it dealt with the complexity of the issue. The report recognized the relevance of the US blockade of Cuba in contributing to the conditions there that have led to such a defensive posture, and called on the US to end its economic embargo, because it is also an embargo of information exchange. The report also acknowledged that the “independent librarians” do not consider themselves librarians at all (this based on interviews by members of an IFLA delegation), and that the dissidents are in prison for violating the Cuban law against accepting material support from a foreign power to undermine the state. (The IFC didn’t point out that the U.S. also has such laws, as that would have been to advocate for the Cuban state’s action, which, whether comparable to what the U.S. does or not, is still essentially contrary to intellectual freedom in an absolute sense.)

Kent did not like the Report because it fell short of condemning Cuba for not releasing the imprisoned dissidents. Unlike Kent, the Intellectual Freedom Committee sees the complexity of an issue involving the policies of a sovereign state that has rule of law. I think the IFC used a mature, diplomatic approach in its choice of language regarding the imprisoned dissidents. (The Report says, “ALA joins IFLA in its deep concern over the arrest and long prison terms of political dissidents in Cuba in spring 2003 and urges the Cuban Government to respect, defend and promote the basic human rights defined in Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights” – hardly a defense of the Cuban government!)

Now three Councilors, inspired by Kent’s campaign (without which this would not be an issue at all, as he has worked with Sanguinetty from the beginning) are bringing forth a resolution that goes far beyond the IFC report and takes us into quite un-diplomatic territory.

I say the 2003 IFC Report is sufficient and nuanced, and expresses our commitment to intellectual freedom while at the same time respecting the real complexity of the issue. In a very general way, I think it is a much better example of what intellectual freedom means to us as librarians than are Kent’s absolutist missives. I hope you’ll contact a Councilor and express your opposition to the resolution.

June 11, 2008

Area Eccentric Reads Entire Book

Thank you The Onion, for this: “Area Eccentric Reads Entire Book.”

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Nicholas Carr writes in the Atlantic Monthly that “Google is Making Us Stupid,” focusing on the way a decade of web browsing has altered the way his mind works to the extent that he now struggles to read long texts. I pretty much know what he is talking about – I do find it harder to get into a book now that I am so accustomed to reading small bits and clicking to the next thing.

Carr makes reference to the work of psychologist Maryanne Wolfe, whose book, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, delves into the neuroscience of reading and language development. Wolf believes that internet reading is more efficient and shallow than the deep reading of longer works that seems to have become more difficult for people in the internet age.

Carr also makes reference to Nietzsche, Marshall McLuhan, Alan Turing, the “Hal” character is the film 2001, Daniel Bell, Frederick Taylor, and Plato (the Phaedrus, in which Socrates expresses his opposition to the new technology of writing).

Thanks to Mark Rosenzweig for sending the link to multiple lists.

June 10, 2008

New SRRT Newsletter

SRRT Newsletter issue 162/163, June 2008, is now up on the web in PDF form. This issue has a schedule of SRRT events at ALA in Anaheim, news from the Feminist Task Force, the International Responsibilities Task Force, and the Task Force on the Environment; a report from the Coordinator, resolutions on the crisis in Kenya and the Iraq National Library, SRRT Action Council meeting minutes, a report on Council, a report on the Rainbow Project’s GLBTQ book list for young readers, a report on a bookmobile-to-Cuba project, book reviews, and other features.

June 9, 2008

The problem with cultural property

Here’s a brief essay in the New York Times by Edward Rothstein that I am afraid I don’t have much to say about at the moment. I think I agree with it, at least partially, but I get the feeling that there is an important counterpoint that is not coming to mind. The editorial essay is from May 27, and is titled, “Antiquities, the World Is Your Homeland.” It argues that the idea of cultural property, which is supposed to protect important art, artifacts, and architecture from looting and destruction, though well-intentioned, is having the effect of restricting public access out of bureaucratic state (and tribal) interests. Though he doesn’t advertise it specifically, an aspect of Rothstein’s point is anti-authoritarian and decentralist. As I say, I don’t have much to say about it other than that I think it presents an important question.

June 7, 2008

Library Juice Press / Litwin Books Reception at ALA in Anaheim

Are you going to be at the ALA Conference in Anaheim later this month?

Litwin Books / Library Juice Press will be holding a reception. I will be showing the eight books we have published so far and networking with readers and authors. I look forward to meeting you at the reception if you’re interested in our books.

I’ll be holding the reception in my regular old hotel room mega suite at the Anaheim Marriott on Saturday night, June 28th, from 8pm to 11pm. I’ll be serving wine and cheese for you (until I run out). I expect to have some materials you can take back to your library if you are into collecting that sort of thing at conferences, and as always, I’ll be networking like a madman.

I don’t have a room number yet at the Anaheim Marriott, but you can ask for Rory Litwin at the main desk, and they should give you the room number.

Looking forward to seeing you…

Thomas Mann’s Foreword to Responsible Librarianship

Thomas Mann’s Foreword to David Bade’s Responsible Librarianship: Library Policies for Unreliable Systems:

There is a kind of “code word” situation that has developed in the library profession in recent decades; it is manifested in an appeal to a set of beliefs that, while largely unarticulated, is nonetheless socially endorsed without a perceived need for argument or evidence. The evidence is assumed to be there; after all, when enough people share the same assumptions that support networks can be appealed to, those social networks functionally take the place of what, in other situations, would require considerable explicit justification. Were the “code words” actually based on the “science” part of “library science,” then their adherents would have to realistically consider the possibility of falsifying evidence, of counter-examples, of whole bodies of literature to the contrary, and of the possible–perhaps radical–incoherence of their beliefs when situated in larger contexts of other beliefs known to be true via other tests. What matters with the “code word” mind set is not whether one examines possible falsifying considerations; what matters is simply whether one “gets it” or not. Fashion replaces argumentation.

Perhaps the most insidious of the “code” beliefs in the library profession today is the oft-repeated statement “We should not let the perfect stand in the way of the good”; or “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” This assertion has various implications in practice. Most frequently it means that, particularly for library catalogers, “throughput time” or “speed” in turning out records is now to be considered “the gold standard” of quality. Despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary (Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, 23 [3/4], 1997), it is further assumed that “indexer consistency studies” demonstrate that trained catalogers don’t agree with each other in any event, in the supposedly-perfect products they have been (vainly) trying to produce up to now. And therefore, it follows, consistency–i.e., standardization, categorization, authority work, cross-referencing, etc.–is not a realistic goal to pursue in the first place; instead, we just need more transcribed or harvested keywords taken from books themselves, that can be relevance-ranked (not standardized) by machine algorithms; or we just need more “tagged” keywords added to records by the general public, whose collective folk wisdom can replace (not supplement) subject experts who have actual knowledge, not just of the book (or other work) in hand, but of the larger context of its subject relationships to other works that are within, or related to, its own field. Neither relevance-ranking nor democratic tagging by non-librarians, of course, is expensive; neither requires thinking by library personnel. Neither requires any expensive professional work. Whether the needs of the library’s users–particularly academic and scholarly users–are met by such processing procedures is irrelevant, because “the code” also assumes (without argumentation) that the very goal of cataloging is no longer to show “what the library has”–that is much too parochial a focus when there is an entire Internet out there with billions of things in it–but is, rather, to provide “something quickly”–and provide it especially to remote users outside library walls who are further assumed not to need any training or education in how to go about finding what they need. (The “under the hood” software manipulations of whatever keywords they type into “a single search box” will handle those problems for them.) Traditional library-access mechanisms will obviously not “scale up” to dealing with billions of records; so it follows that they must be simply abandoned (rather than having them continue to deal with a much more manageable subset of all informational records, such as the set of pesky books that keep being published each year.)

So: where do we go from here? I suspect many librarians will have visceral feelings that something is wrong with “the code” they hear so frequently repeated. Perhaps instead of endlessly repeating these assertions we should actually look at the evidence, either in their favor or falsifying them. That’s where David Bade comes in. Bade, a cataloger at the University of Chicago’s Regenstein Library, is a genuine scholar in the library profession. And he has done something that is rarely seen in library literature: he has read widely enough to examine library science as a whole in the context of related disciplines. He has immersed himself in the literature of high reliability organizations, human error studies, ergonomics, reliability engineering, and joint cognitive systems. He brings to bear a knowledge of philosophy, history–-and even farming!-–in his considerations of what actually works in libraries, and for what purposes. What he offers in this book is a coherent integration of what is, demonstrably, established knowledge from a wide variety of relevant fields, weighted not by machine algorithms but rather by a fine professional discrimination based on decades of actual experience in doing the work of librarianship. He combines the perspectives of a 30,000 foot overview with the necessary corrections that must be made, extensively and routinely, at ground level. A sure sign of a real scholar is his or her ability to provide concrete examples from that “ground level” experience, with an extended analysis of their further implications, not just out-of-context individual sentences cherry-picked from user surveys devised by people lacking that experience, who may have therefore failed to ask the right questions to begin with. Bade’s extensive quotations from the literature he has researched–N.B.: extended quotations from, not just superficial footnote citations to–provide the rest of us with a coherent patterning and integration of knowledge that the library field so desperately needs at present. Bade offers not the “snippets” of information that quick and dirty searching offers, but a deep understanding that comes from his rare combination of very wide reading and very extensive personal experience, not just with the intentions, but with the results of the systems he’s talking about.

“The perfect is the enemy of the good”? Perhaps, after reading this timely and much-needed study by David Bade, the library profession might actually consider a counter-proposition: “The even greater enemy of the good is the slipshod, the incompetent, the superficial, the incomplete, and the demonstrably incorrect.”

Thomas Mann
Washington, D.C.