November 29, 2008

Shiraz Durrani anthology – Information and Liberation

Just published:

Information and Liberation: Writings on the Politics of Information and Librarianship

Author: Shiraz Durrani
Price: $45.00 (or £22.00)
ISBN: 978-0-9802004-0-9
7″ by 10″
385 Pages
Printed on acid-free paper.

Information and Liberation is a retrospective collection of Shiraz Durrani’s articles and conference papers on the politics of information. The book documents the struggle for progressive and relevant information policies and practices over a period of 25 years in Kenya, Britain, and other countries. The book records also the vision, struggles and achievements of many progressive librarians and activists to develop a system and a society which can meet the information, social and cultural needs of all, particularly those marginalised by forces of capitalism and imperialism.

Many standard books on information and librarianship take capitalism and imperialism as a “given” and develop visions of an “information society” within this overall economic and political context. They attempt to resolve issues of equality, exclusion and “information poverty” in isolation of the social, economic and political context in which libraries and information exist.

Durrani’s approach differs in that he seeks to link information liberation with active struggles for economic and social justice for all. A theme that runs throughout the book is that the struggle for information equality needs to be waged as part of a struggle against capitalist exploitation of human and natural resources. The theme is based on an assumption that “people have the right to the information they need.” The role of librarians and information activists is seen as one of providing relevant information to people as their basic human right. For this to happen, information workers and activists need to be empowered – or to empower themselves – to develop systems that meet the needs of their communities.

In addition to communicating a vision of a society where information is provided as a human right, the book records various innovative projects which put the progressive ideas into practice. It provides a rare record of a process of putting ideas and policies into practice, making available a useful resource for others involved in similar struggles, highlighting possible hurdles and showing the tools that can be used for success.

It is noteworthy that the book records this struggle in Kenya, a country of the South where many of the oppressive policies associated with corporate globalisation were first tried out before being used in Europe, USA and other parts of the world. The experience gained in addressing this stranglehold in Kenya thus has a greater, global significance. The focus of the book then shifts to England where a similar struggle is also recorded – perhaps indicating that the need for a more active and united struggle against capitalism and corporate globalization is as urgent in the industrialized world as it is in Kenya.

While this “information” struggle is waged wherever there is oppression, few such struggles are recorded from the people’s point of view and with the firsthand experience and social commitment that Information and liberation seeks to provide.

Durrani graduated from the University of East Africa in 1968 and got his library qualifications from the University of Wales. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP). He worked at the University of Nairobi Library from 1968 to 1984. Durrani was an active member of the then underground December Twelve Movement in the late 1970s and 1980s. Following the publication of his articles on the history of Kenyan anti-imperialist, liberation struggle in national press, Durrani left Kenya and moved to Britain in September 1984. In Britain he worked at Hackney and Merton public libraries before taking up the post of Senior Lecturer in Information Management in the Department of Applied Social Sciences at the London Metropolitan University.

Durrani’s main interest is the politics of information. His book, Never be silent; publishing and imperialism in Kenya, 1884-1963, was published in 2006 (London: Vita Books). His earlier short book, Kimaathi, Mau Mau’s first Prime Minister of Kenya (1986, London: Vita Books) remains an important resource for political activists in Kenya today.

Barbara Fister on Google and OA

ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy had its annual retreat this month. Barbara Fister, frequent poster to the ACRL blog and a librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, presented a talk there called “Open Access and Books in a Digital World – What Role Should Libraries Play?” Her talk is an interesting exploration of the Google settlement in economic and ethical terms and its meaning for libraries.

I was tickled to see two paragraphs of my Dec. 2004 article on the Google Print project quoted in the conclusion. (I made some predictions and turned out to be right.)

A quotation I especially liked, however, was one I hadn’t seen before. Barbara began her talk with this statement from Thomas Jefferson:

“If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.”

It seems that Jefferson would be in agreement with those who say that the founders wanted only limited property rights to inhere in intellectual property. This statement supports their reading of Article I of the Constitution.

November 26, 2008

LJP Series on Gender and Sexuality in Librarianship

Series on Gender and Sexuality in Librarianship

Emily Drabinski, Series Editor

Library Juice Press seeks book proposals and manuscripts for a new series, Gender and Sexuality in Librarianship, edited by Emily Drabinski. This series will publish works from both practical and theoretical perspectives that critically engage issues in the LIS field related to gender and sexual difference. Potential subjects include:

  • Queer and feminist approaches to traditional library topics including classification, pedagogy, collection development
  • Works that address gender and sexuality issues in conjunction with other articulations of difference including race, class, nationality, etc.
  • Practical approaches to developing community-based GLBTQ collections
  • Materials addressing library needs of specific populations, e.g., GLBTQ youth, elders, etc.
  • Workplace issues, e.g., ‘coming out’ at work
  • Historical perspectives on GLBTQ and women’s issues in the library
  • Works that bring library issues into conversation with contemporary theoretical debates in feminist, queer, and gender studies

Please submit queries, proposals, and manuscripts to Emily Drabinski,

David Wahl of the Wix Library (Special Libraries)

Here is a link to the March, 1959 issue of Special Libraries, which is Volume 50, Number 3. I’m posting the link because there’s an article in it by my maternal grandpa’s cousin, David R. Wahl, about the then-new Wix Library at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, of which he was the founding director. (The article runs from page 33 to 41 of the pdf.) I know that’s more interesting to me than anyone else, but maybe a few others will find it interesting, too. I do think many should find it cool that issues of Special Libraries from 1910-1996 are freely available online.

November 22, 2008

Against the machine (book review)

Just noting a book review in First Monday, of Lee Siegel’s Against the machine: Being human in the age of electronic media. According to the review, this book is a little deeper and more interesting than most books about how the internet is changing us for the worse…

November 17, 2008

Obama’s letter on the EPA

President-elect Obama’s letter declaring intentions regarding the EPA, including EPA libraries:

October 20, 2008

John Gage
National President
American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO
80 F Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001

Dear President Gage,

I am writing to share my views with you regarding the importance of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in an Obama Administration.

The mission of the EPA is to protect the environment of the nation. In recent years, however, the pursuit of this goal has slowed, and in some cases, has been jeopardized outright. This is due to the failed leadership of the past eight years, despite the strong and ongoing commitment of the career individuals throughout this agency. During this same period, inadequate funding for the EPA has resulted in the ineffective allocation of resources, thus weakening enforcement and oversight of many environmental laws and regulations that protect the American people.

That’s why I am committed to pursuing greater funding for the EPA so that its responsibilities are carried out. Clean water, land and air, and ensuring the health and safety of our citizens, especially children, will be high priorities in an Obama Administration.

In addition, EPA was established to be the nation’s leader in environmental science, research, and education – yet these are the three fields which have been damaged by politics and ideology. I strongly oppose attempts by the Bush Administration to thwart publication of EPA researchers’ scientific findings, as well as the attempt to eliminate the agency’s library system. In an Obama Administration, the principle of scientific integrity will be an absolute, and I will never sanction any attempt to subvert the work of scientists.

Thank you, John, for all you and AFGE’s members do for America, and for the protection of our environment.


Barack Obama

This letter has been distributed by email on Obama’s letterhead. I don’t have absolute verification of its authenticity, but the email I got that carried it originated with someone at the USPTO.

November 16, 2008

Add a little magic to your holidays…

What’s that under the tree?? It’s a little magic, from Litwin Books and Library Juice Press…







November 15, 2008

Forthcoming Books

Coming in the next six of months from Library Juice Press:

Coming in the next six months from Litwin Books:

November 14, 2008

OCLC Powergrab?

I have not been following this, but apparently OCLC has issued proposed new policy guidelines that would allow it to claim ownership of its catalog records, with serious consequences for libraries and other organizations that use information about books. Aaron Swartz (of Open Library) puts it in context on his blog in a post from yesterday.

I have a feeling many people reading this know more about it than I do. Please comment and link to bring me and readers up to speed. This seems like an important development.

November 8, 2008

Talk about government transparency and sunshine

It’s a new dawn in more ways than one.

One of the things I hated most about the Bush administration, from a librarian’s point of view, was their ever increasing secrecy. Every year it seemed that more and more government information, information that people needed in order for democracy to function, was being hidden in the shadows, made inaccessible. This was done through a number of means, including the use of private contractors to perform government functions, gratuitous classification of documents, and simply operating in the dark.

Welcome to daylight. Check this out: The Obama transition team has already put a directory of transition resources on the open web. The 2008-2009 Presidential Transition Resources Website is intended for the administration’s nominees and appointees, for orienting them and organizing them and helping the transition happen smoothly. It is not intended as public communication, but is totally open to the public, not on some government intranet as it might have been. Not only is it on the open web, but Obama’s President-Elect website actually links to it, encouraging the public to follow what the transition team is doing in detail.

Up to now I have only dreamed of this kind of openness in government….

November 6, 2008

There goes a failure in life

A friend of mine reported a Rodney Dangerfield moment to me yesterday, and it was something that I think I can relate to. This friend is a middle aged male reference librarian at an academic library, like me, and, like me, he stayed up late Tuesday night at an election party. Joe the librarian (not his real name) woke up late due to too much happiness as the election results came in the night before, and came to work without his usual shower, shave, and coffee. His first order of business was to do a BI for a small writing class. Though bedraggled and a little out of it, he was alert enough to do a good class and teach these bright students a few things about the library’s resources.

After the class, Joe the librarian headed back to the library, looking, as I said, a bit bedraggled and out of it. On the way he passed the Business School, where three frat boy types, who may or may not have recognized Joe as the guy who sits at the reference desk in the library, passed by him in the opposite direction. One dude said to his buds, “There goes a failure in life.”

Joe thinks that it was a combination of his unkempt appearance, tiredness, age, and familiar presence at the quiet reference desk that caused these future (potential) business leaders to form an impression of him as a loser. For many students who study at computers near the reference desk but never avail themselves of a librarian’s services, in many libraries we probably look like we aren’t doing much a lot of the time. I know that I have had numerous desk shifts with little action save fixing printer jams, lending out ball point pens, and directing students to the computer help desk. A student who forms his idea of what librarians do solely by being around the reference desk on days like that might understandably form the view that we have chosen to live as inactively and inconsequentially as possible.

For some librarians, that may actually be the case, but for Joe the librarian, it is not. Joe the librarian takes his work seriously and advances himself professionally, writing for publication and volunteering in his state association. He is doing fine financially and has a rich life outside of his job, including family, friends, and hobbies. He wasn’t wounded by the student’s comment, but he told me that it did end up making him wonder how he and his colleagues are generally seen by the students at his university, and whether students’ perceptions have some effect on their ability to provide optimal service. It seems to him that if librarians at a university have the respect of the students, then students will more highly value the library’s services, and that the reverse is also true. He said he is going to explore ways of better communicating the librarians’ academic expertise and general competence to students, without seeming to try too hard at it. Whether they understand that he has a life outside the library he says he is not going to worry about.

November 5, 2008

The Ethics of Information Organization – Conference Announcement and Call for Papers

The Ethics of Information Organization – Conference Announcement and Call for Papers

May 22-23, 2009
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Information organization (IO), like other major functions of the information profession, faces many ethical challenges. In the IO literature, ethical concerns have been raised with regard to, for example, the role of national and international IO standards, providing subject access to information, deprofessionalization and outsourcing of IO, education of IO professionals, and the effects of globalization. These issues, and others like them, have serious implications for quality and equity in information access. The Center for Information Policy Research and the Information Organization Research Group at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee join in presenting this conference to address the ethics of information organization.

The themes of the conference may include, but are not limited to, ethical aspects of and approaches to:
• The role of standards in IO
• Subject access to information
• Description and Metadata
• Folksonomies and social tagging as IO
• Day-to-day practice in IO
• Professionalism and IO
• Education for IO
• Culture and IO
• Economic, social and political factors in IO
• International, multicultural and multilingual aspects of IO

The keynote speakers will be:
Clare Beghtol
Professor, University of Toronto, Canada
José Augusto Chaves Guimarães
Professor, Universidade Estadual Paulista, Brazil
Janet Swan Hill
Professor, Associate Director for Technical Services, University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries, USA

We invite interested participants to submit proposals for papers to include: name(s) of presenter(s), title(s), affiliation(s), contact information and abstracts of 300-500 words. Presentations will be 30 minutes. Time will be set aside for questions as well as broader discussion. All abstracts will be published on the Web site of the UW-Milwaukee Center for Information Policy Research. Full papers will be further reviewed and selected for publication in a special issue of Cataloging and Classification Quarterly.

Abstracts due: January 1, 2009
Notification of acceptance by: February 1, 2009
Full papers due: April 3, 2009

Submit proposals electronically to: Hur-Li Lee, Chair of the Program Committee (

The Program Committee:
Grant Campbell
Associate Professor, University of Western Ontario, Canada
Allyson Carlyle
Associate Professor, University of Washington
Clara M. Chu
Associate Professor, University of California, Los Angeles
Edwin Michael Cortez
Professor/Director, University of Tennessee
Birger Hjørland
Professor, The Royal School of Library and Information Science in Denmark
Hur-Li Lee, Chair
Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Steven J. Miller
Senior Lecturer, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Hope A. Olson
Professor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Sandra Roe
Editor, Cataloging & Classification Quarterly
Bibliographic Services Librarian, Milner Library, Illinois State University
Richard P. Smiraglia
Professor, Long Island University
Michael Zimmer
Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Center for Information Policy Research, UW-Milwaukee
Information Organization Research Group at UW-Milwaukee
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries
Milwaukee Public Libraries

Archives of Dissent – video of conference

From Lincoln Cushing to the PLG list:

The “Archives of Dissent” panel held at U.C. Berkeley 9/18/2008 can now be seen on YouTube:

It includes presentations by:

• Julie Herrada, Labadie Collection Librarian, University of Michigan, and curator of a “1968” special exhibit. The Labadie Collection is an internationally renowned archive of social protest materials.

• Kalim Smith – UC Berkeley doctoral student in anthropology and folklore, researching the preservation of Native American languages threatened with extinction.

• Lincoln Cushing, independent librarian and Docs Populi archivist.

• Megan Shaw Prelinger & Rick Prelinger, co-founders of the Prelinger Library, an appropriation-friendly, image-rich, browsable research collection of 50,000 books, periodicals, printed ephemera and government documents, located south of Market St in San Francisco.

A great day in history!

November 3, 2008

Call for papers: Media in Transition 6: stone and papyrus, storage and transmission

Media in Transition 6: stone and papyrus, storage and transmission

International Conference
April 24-26, 2009
Massachusetts Institute of Technology


In his seminal essay “The Bias of Communication” Harold Innis distinguishes between time-based and space-based media. Time-based media such as stone or clay, Innis agues, can be seen as durable, while space-based media such as paper or papyrus can be understood as portable, more fragile than stone but more powerful because capable of transmission, diffusion, connections across space. Speculating on this distinction, Innis develops an account of civilization grounded in the ways in which media forms shape trade, religion, government, economic and social structures, and the arts.

Our current era of prolonged and profound transition is surely as media-driven as the historical cultures Innis describes. His division between the durable and the portable is perhaps problematic in the age of the computer, but similar tensions define our contemporary situation. Digital communications have increased exponentially the speed with which information circulates. Moore’s Law continues to hold, and with it a doubling of memory capacity every two years; we are poised to reach transmission speeds of 100 terabits per second, or something akin to transmitting the entire printed contents of the Library of Congress in under five seconds.

Such developments are simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. They profoundly challenge efforts to maintain access to the vast printed and audio-visual inheritance of analog culture as well as efforts to understand and preserve the immense, enlarging universe of text, image and sound available in cyberspace.

What are the implications of these trends for historians who seek to understand the place of media in our own culture?

What challenges confront librarians and archivists who must supervise the migration of print culture to digital formats and who must also find ways to preserve and catalogue the vast and increasing range of words and images generated by new technologies?

How are shifts in distribution and circulation affecting the stories we tell, the art we produce, the social structures and policies we construct?

What are the implications of this tension between storage and transmission for education, for individual and national identities, for notions of what is public and what is private?

We invite papers from scholars, journalists, media creators, teachers, writers and visual artists on these broad themes. Potential topics might include:

* The digital archive
* The future of libraries and museums
* The past and future of the book
* Mobile media
* Historical systems of communication
* Media in the developing world
* Social networks
* Mapping media flows
* Approaches to media history
* Education and the changing media environment
* New forms of storytelling and expression
* Location-based entertainment
* Hyperlocal media and civic engagement
* New modes of circulation and distribution
* The transformation of television — from broadcast to download
* Cosmopolitanism backlashes against media change
* Virtual worlds and digital tourism
* The continuity principle: what endures or resists digital transformation?
* The fate of reading


Abstracts of no more than 500 words or full papers should be sent to Brad Seawell at no later than Friday, Jan. 9, 2009. We will evaluate abstracts and full papers on a rolling basis and early submission is highly encouraged. All submissions should be sent as attachments in a Word format. Submitted material will be subject to editing by conference organizers.

Email is preferred, but submissions can be mailed to:

Brad Seawell
MIT 14N-430
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139

Please include a biographical statement of no more than 100 words. If your paper is accepted, this statement will be used on the conference Web site.

Please monitor the conference Web site at for registration information, travel information and conference updates.

Abstracts will be accepted on a rolling basis until Jan. 9, 2009.
The full text of your paper must be submitted no later than Friday, April 17. Conference papers will be posted to the conference Web site and made available to all conferees.