THE ASSAULT ON THE PUBLIC'S RIGHT TO KNOW
by Marylaine Block.
I generally try to avoid anything smacking of political opinion in this publication, but in view of a pattern of government actions against the public's right to know, which makes it difficult for librarians to conduct their business, I need to talk about what this administration and this congress is doing.
The most recent instance is the Department of Energy's announcement that it is shutting down PubScience, the government's free indexing/abstracting service for science articles, because it competes with perfectly good commercial products. The fact that those commercial products have a track record of being outrageously expensive and unaffordable to many libraries and colleges is of no interest to the Department of Energy, which houses the product.
Earlier this year DOE and the House of Representatives tried to de-fund PubScience (see my previous article, "Messing with Cash Cows" at http://marylaine.com/exlibris/xlib105.html), though that language apparently has not made it into the final appropriations bill as yet (if there has been a final appropriations bill -- as best I can tell Congress has not yet completed appropriations for a single government agency).
Now, while Congress is out of town, the Department of Energy has staged a sneak attack on its own product. It has announced its intention to close PubScience [http://pubsci.osti.gov/notice.html], pending a measly 30-day comment period.
The message I sent was this:
You state that "Provider systems such as Scirus and Infotrieve have progressively increased the availability of freely searchable citations, and this trend is anticipated to continue." Nonetheless, much of their service is not free, nor do I expect it to remain so once the indexing industry achieves its goal of shutting down PubScience.
In case you're unaware of it, the indexing industry has a track record of pricing products out of the reach of most small libraries and colleges, with prices jumping annually by hundreds, or even thousands of dollars. What's more, the publishers are fully aware of this, because they know how many customers they've lost, as small libraries like the one I worked for, faced with the choice between subscribing to the indexes or to the journals themselves because they're unable to afford both, have canceled expensive index subscriptions over the years.
Your elimination of PubScience is a disservice not just to those libraries, but to science and knowledge itself, which builds on the ideas of those who've gone before. If you want invention to thrive in this country, you don't shove it into a high-priced enclave few can afford to enter.
Furthermore, PubScience is just one juicy target for the indexing industry. If they can shut it down, don't you think their next profit opportunity will be shutting down the venerable MEDLINE and ERIC databases researchers have relied on for forty years, so they can force researchers to use expensive commercial indexes instead?
This action is one more proof, among many, that this administration lacks any interest in serving the general public and the general welfare when it could serve industry instead.
Writer and Internet Trainer, Retired Librarian, Researcher and user of all information products, commercial and con-commercial.
But that's not even the worst of the recent government attacks on public information. In fact, there are so many that it's hard to know where to start.
Early on, the President announced that he would not obey the Presidential Records Act which requires the release of presidential papers after twelve years. He unilaterally claimed that a former or sitting president could block the release of records.
The Vice President has refused to turn over the names of those he consulted with in the framing of the Energy bill.
The Attorney-General on October 12, 2001 authorized federal agencies to stall on Freedom of Information Act requests until a "full and deliberate consideration" of the security implications could be conducted, reversing the previous policy under which agencies were required to justify any refusals.
The Director of the OMB told government agencies that they need no longer use the Government Printing Office and should make their own printing arrangements. Since the GPO is the one agency that insures that federal depository libraries receive copies of government documents, such a directive guarantees that more documents will be issued, in print or electronically, without being made available to the public by way of depository libraries.
the PATRIOT act does many disservices to public information, including allowing federal agents to demand records of what library patrons borrow and what web sites they visit; to add insult to injury, they won't even allow libraries to tell anyone that this has happened. That's not as bad, of course, as what has happened to people under suspicion of terrorist acts, whose names and suspected crimes the government will not disclose, and who may be held in detention indefinitely without legal assistance and without charges being filed.
Congress, of course, not content with yanking works out of the public domain back into copyright protection, is also threatening to restrict our traditional right to do whatever we want with books, recordings, software and videos we have legally purchased.
By walking all over most of the first ten amendments to the Constitution, this congress and this administration have guaranteed virtual lifetime employment to ALA's lawyers, not to mention those of the ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and other organizations dedicated to preserving civil liberties and the public's right to know.
But we can't leave this entirely up to the courts to decide. We need to speak up to our legislators individually, and let them know that we will fight -- and vote -- to defend our rights. The Government Documents Rountable Legislation Committee web site http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/GODORT/legislation/#eo13233 will keep you updated on these and other government actions and show you how to register your opinion.
I want my country back. How about you?
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The point of a library's existence is not persuasion or evangelism, but knowledge. It is irrelevant to the good library whether, as an institution, it shares or promotes your core values or mine, or the Attorney General's or Saddam Hussein's. The library is always an instrument of choice, and the choice is always yours, not your elected or designated leaders.
Robert Hughes. "Free Libraries, Free Society." American Libraries, August, 2002.
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Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 1999-2002.
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