Director, Library Freedom Project, Boston
MLIS, Drexel University, Philadelphia, 2009
Radical Reference Collective’s zine We Are All Suspects
Photo by Bob Stefko
Armed with a passion for privacy and knowledge of surveillance technologies, Alison Macrina helps fellow librarians prevent prying eyes from spying on their patrons’ online movements.
Her work with privacy issues kicked into high gear in early 2014 after news broke that the National Security Agency was tracking en masse Americans’ online and phone activities. “Our current state of pervasive surveillance is chilling to intellectual freedom and free speech—surveillance is not only counter to the ideals of a democratic society, it’s detrimental to the future of libraries,” says Macrina, director of the newly formed Library Freedom Project.
Macrina started teaching computer privacy classes when she was working at the Watertown Free Public Library, MA, as the technology librarian/IT manager. In April 2014, she cowrote the popular Radical Reference Collective’s We Are All Suspects, giving advice and tools for preventing surveillance.
Next, Macrina partnered with the Massachusetts American Civil Liberties Union to develop workshops to improve librarians’ understanding of digital surveillance issues, reaching 750 people in 2014 at 15 library workshops in three states. The workshops include an online privacy software toolkit that can be installed on library computers. “Her online privacy workshop has been a real eye-opener for both librarians and members of the general public,” says nominator Kevin O’Kelly, reference and community languages librarian at Somerville Public Library, MA, where the first workshop was held. Besides the ACLU, other institutional partners include the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Tor Project.
As demand increased, Macrina says she realized her advocacy could transform into full-time work. She applied for, and won (in February 2015), a $244,700 two-year grant from the Knight Foundation’s News Challenge: Libraries, which will enable Macrina to take her work to libraries nationwide. Even before receiving the grant, she had already planned to give workshops at libraries in five more Northeastern states and the District of Columbia. “Libraries are among our most democratic institutions, so we are perfectly positioned to lead the fight in protecting these essential civil liberties,” she says.