As you read this, I’m probably wending my way to New Orleans, soon to be miserable in the tropical heat and French Quarter filth. Why, oh why, does ALA ever have to be in places like New Orleans in June?
If you’re going to be in the NOLA, you’ll definitely want to drop by the ALA Membership Meetings for discussions of four hot resolutions being proposed. Three of them no less are about Wikileaks, and the fourth is on an even more controversial topic: self serve hold practices!
One of the resolutions “Supports the rights of WikiLeaks to publish leaked government documents.” This is partly backed by a clause from the Library Bill of rights stating that “Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.”
Is there any right to publish leaked government documents? What rights are these? Where are they located? If there are no such rights, what exactly would the ALA be supporting?
If there is a right to publish leaked government documents, wouldn’t that right count for all such documents? So if Wikileaks got hold of a NOC list or the locations of witnesses under protective custody, would they have a right to publish that?
The resolution also “Commends the efforts of WikiLeaks to expunge from documents names and other material deemed potentially harmful to innocent people,” but that still begs the question. Who’s doing the “deeming”? Why should anyone always trust Julian Assange is the right person to decide what will and will not harm innocent people?
Or for that matter, why trust him to decide who counts as innocent?
The Library Bill of Rights passage isn’t a great support, either. Classifying government documents isn’t the same thing as abridging free expression and the free access to ideas. If everyone had free access to all government information, we’d all be considerably less safe. You don’t have to trust the government much to acknowledge that.
Another resolution calls for the government “to release Pfc. Bradley Manning from pre-trial confinement and drop the charges against him.”
This one seems slightly more sensible, if you consider Manning as a whistleblower rather than a traitor. The comparison usually made is with Daniel Ellsberg. I wonder if it makes a difference that Ellsberg was an analyst at the Rand Corporation, whereas Manning is a U.S. soldier.
I’d bet removing those documents involved some sort of court martial offense, even if it wasn’t a criminal offense as such. Dropping all the charges seems unlikely, and perhaps unjust.
But the really controversial resolution to be discussed is about self serve holds. Who’d have thunk it!
RESOLVED, That the American Library Association
1. Urges all libraries to reject library practices and procedures for self-pickup holds that place information or requested materials in public view using patron names and/or other personally identifiable information.
2. Urges all libraries to protect patron identity by adopting the following practices:
· Provide patron privacy through the use of pseudonyms, codes, numbers, or other means that do not require personally identifiable information
· Obscure the identity of patron requests and its content through the practice of packaging items with a full sheet of paper, using an envelope or reusable bag to hold the item, or an equivalent option.
Number 2 is the most specific resolution I’ve ever seen. Number 1 should cover it. We get the idea. This is a product of the Intellectual Freedom Committee, who apparently is hard up for things to get annoyed about.
Those library patrons who pick up their self service holds don’t seem to mind, so why should the IFC?
ALA Council resolutions about non-library subjects are always ignored, as we know. If the Council passes a resolution urging Bradley Manning’s release, he’ll probably end up in a Gulag somewhere. If the Council passes a resolution supporting Wikileaks, it will probably fold the next day.
But you know it’s bad when even librarians ignore resolutions. It’s a worse sign when Councilors announce in advance that even if the resolution is passed, their library will never change its policies.
So it should be fun watching the discussions about all these pointless resolutions. Maybe none of them will make it up for a vote. That way the Council doesn’t have to embarrass librarians again by passing resolutions no one will pay attention to.