Free Access, Social Responsibility and Wikileaks

 

Image from Desertpeace.com

 

I am not a particularly politicized person. And, my blog has never been a forum for any sort of political chatter, in fact mostly the opposite. But, as I am a hard working graduate student in Library and Information Studies, the topic has presented itself to me through my studies, and I felt it necessary to comment.

I am taking a Foundations of Information Professions course, and the topic this week is Information Ethics. I knew that ethical concerns were part of the librarian’s code when I first read the ALA Code of Ethics pasted on the wall of the public library. I wonder though if ethics in information institutions may be reaching a new level of engagement since the web continues to open itself wider and more people have more access to an astounding variety of data. Being a “context” type of guy, I wanted to put this in perspective for my current historical/cultural place. Take for instance the Wikileaks topic. This is a perfect trial case for a young information professional to consider. Basically, Wikileaks is extending access to information for the purpose of transparency in our government. But, as the argument goes, they are being irresponsible with the costs of releasing these documents, and therefore the flow of information should cease. (This is of course an extremely glossed over portrait of the larger issue. Please read about it more in depth from the links below.) Where does the information professional stand?

We have a responsibility to fight for free access and resist censorship, all the while upholding the enrichment and enlightenment of our communities and society above all else. So how should I feel about Wikileaks?

Below is the short post I produced for the class discussion:

Ethical Concern: Free Access
Principle from ALA Code of Ethics – “We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom, and resist all efforts to censor library resources.”
Consideration: Social Responsibility

As the field of librarianship is interfacing with the surrounding culture more frequently and to a greater degree through the web and other access points, ethical considerations will become a larger portion of our daily work. Libraries, in protection of information, have constantly placed themselves at the crux of access and censorship debates. The protection of individuals rights to free access is a complicated position when considering how certain types of information may affect the user. One of the principles of the ALA Code of Ethics states, “[librarians] uphold the principles of intellectual freedom, and resist all efforts to censor library resources.” Taking into account the Social Responsibility that is also inherent in the guardianship of information, it is often difficult to define when information will be harmful or when social responsibility to the community is in service of the larger society.

This particular issue stood out to me for this assignment based on a very real and relevant topic that is happening right now. Wikileaks has recently released a massive amount of information concerning the United States involvement in the Iraq War, and there is much cultural controversy surrounding their decision to do so. Aside from personal convictions, how should we, as champions of access to information, respond in this? While conversations on this topic could be pressed to the “Open Government” level, I wonder how I would respond if a patron asked me my opinion on the Wikileak. Yes, I am for access, and yes I “resist efforts to censor library resources,” but to what extent would social responsibility play in here? Is Wikileak’s release of these documents in the best interests of a informed citizenry? Maybe?

Thoughts?

Read more about the issue below:

What is Wikileaks? – BBC

Guardian – Article

Huffington Post – Items tagged “wikileaks”

And the site itself – Wikileaks.org

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[Guest Post] – What I’ve Learned in Library School So Far: Me, You, and All Of Us.

And now for another episode of the “What I learned in Library School” series! I am growing ever more fond of this series as it goes on, and reading the variety of perspectives that have been offered has given me another really cool idea that I will be revealing in the coming weeks. Library school students, take note!

Without further ado, welcome Britt Foster to The Infornado. Ms. Foster graduated from San Francisco State University as an English Literature and Creative Writing major, and after an epiphany while sitting on the floor of the children’s section of the main San Francisco Public Library, decided to pursue a Master’s in a field with an equally impressive career outlook– public librarianship.  Britt is currently beginning her second year at UCLA, and would like to visit every LAPL library before graduation.  She hopes to work as a children’s/youth librarian, and includes a comprehensive knowledge of E.L. Konigsburg and mad glitter skills on her resume.  Britt also enjoys writing, knitting, salvaging furniture off the street, and road tripping, making Google maps of yarn stores and libraries before all journeys.

Britt writes about her own experiences in the MLIS at Library Moth, and tweets about all kinds of things here.

Britt Foster

———————–

Me:

At my internship the other day, a librarian mentioned to me that she couldn’t believe she didn’t figure out she wanted to be a librarian sooner, but thank goodness she did.  I think a lot of librarians come to the idea of being a librarian with this same feeling– it’s the X on the treasure map after a long journey along a dotted and meandering line.  There’s something about librarianship that brings together so many disparate elements in a meaningful way that can effect real change in the way a person views their abilities.  In library school, I have found validation and a place for my passions and concerns, from the banal (glue sticks, glitter, and the subtle way shelves of books change a space) to the lofty (community advocacy, continuing education, and non-corporate services).  I had such high expectations for becoming a librarian that I was afraid when I started my MLIS there was no way the reality could live up to my hopes.  Not only way I wrong, I underestimated the experience entirely.  Things have only gotten better, more right, a better fit.  The more I learn about librarianship and the development of my career, the more I view it as continuing phases of awesomeness, from my master’s and being a new librarian, to being an experienced librarian, developing professionally and personally all the way.  Librarianship for life.

You:

Library school has also taught me librarianship is not for egotists– the profession is service-oriented and external.  In a guest lecture for one of my courses, a special librarian described her career as being a meta-profession.  Everyday she compiles bibliographies, searches databases, and delivers content towards the professional goals and betterment of others.  I think this is universal to librarianship, and libraries; there are few institutions that benefit so directly from continually promoting and advocating for the welfare of other institutions and individuals.
UCLA requires a course on ethics and diversity for graduation, and in this course our professor often asked us about the role activism plays in the information professions.  It took me awhile to understand the divide between activism as I have viewed it prior to library school, and what activism means in the library and for information professionals.  I have pretty strong personal and political convictions, but in the library most of these have to be checked at the door.

As a librarian, I won’t be campaigning for myself or my beliefs, but for your beliefs, your politics, your lifestyle, your right to read The Anarchist’s Cookbook or Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets.  To be trusted with that responsibility is an amazing thing.

All of Us:

Prior to library school, I never really thought about information as information.  I remember learning about Sunshine laws and thinking, “That’s an idea worth advocating for,” but I never actually named the concept behind it as access to information.  Librarians, of course, are all about naming things, and while I’m still not sold on the idea of a label for everything, I am for information and ways to get to it.  The library (amongst other information institutions) is this way.  What is the value to society in a place where we can go to find just what we’re looking for?  Or when we don’t know what we’re looking for?  Or if we’re not looking for anything at all other than a place to just be?
The first required course in my program is “Information and Society,” and when we were introduced to the public library as the third place the rightness in this idea made my heart race.  Society needs more spaces where status does not affect access.  No money, no job, can’t read, don’t speak English– all barriers to access in other institutions that won’t be found in the library.  We can enter the library and leave changed– or not.  The way we use it is completely up to us, unfettered by any expectations or conditions other than our own.
Los Angeles Public Library’s recent struggles to remain open and provide services have come to concretize all of these elements to me as a resident of California.  I attended a protest earlier this week to mark the first non-holiday Monday the LAPL has been closed to the public.  Protestors were provided with sheets of chants, one of which read, “What do we want? Libraries open six days a week! When do we want it? Now!” The librarian standing next to me pointed out that we don’t want libraries open six days a week– we want them open seven days a week, 24 hours a day.  This commitment to access points to one word, that in my library school experience, has taught me should describe the library, both literally and symbolically — open.  For me, for you, for all of us.