Creators to control the use of their words, music, software, and images
No wonder there were such fierce challenges to libraries that allowed unfettered access to the internet, where any number can play, all voices can be heard, and plodding complex truths may be overcome by gaudy easy falsehoods.
The internet undermined our authority as librarians, too. We can no longer select all the content of our libraries, no longer guarantee and defend the value of each item. Our power to define good information and dole it out is threatened. When it was rare and expensive, we were its gatekeepers, but since information became a cheap abundant commodity, some politicians and taxpayers question whether they need libraries and librarians at all.
Which brings us to the awkward political situation we find ourselves in. It turns out that the American Library Association, the ACLU, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are pretty much the only people who believe that when our founding fathers said government shall make no laws affecting freedom of speech, press, religion, and the right of the people to peacefully assemble, they meant NO laws (other than copyright). Zero. Zip. Zilch.
The press, which should be on the side of the first amendment, won't defend us because the net makes them pretty nervous, too, and porn in the library is a great story. Politicians won't defend us -- they're the ones who've passed CIPA and COPA to force librarians to become internet police. Corporations won't defend us because we might reduce their profits by lending materials to all comers.
The saddest thing is that parents won't defend us either. You'd think they'd understand that the nice librarians who read to their kids, invite them to meet Santa, and help them with their homework WILL NOT LET their kids be harmed at our internet terminals.
But when we say "First amendment," parents don't ask how we'll go about keeping their children safe when they venture onto the internet. They assume we won't even try because we're busy defending the rights of sniggling schoolboys and dirty old men to view X-rated material, in what used to be one of the safest, stodgiest places in town.
Parents and politicians want to write librarians out of the selection loop entirely, demanding that we turn control of the Internet over to mechanical filters that are both incapable of rational judgment and unaccountable, since their authors won't divulge their selection policies or list of proscribed sites. And since we're no longer the exclusive gatekeepers of information, we lack the political clout to fight back, or even to keep from becoming the first victims of government belt-tightening.
The internet got us into this mess. Can it get us out? I'm a firm believer in the idea that crisis is opportunity in disguise. Deep disguise.
Some of the most creative work being done by librarians today is on the internet. We're using it to offer traditional services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Better yet, we're using it to offer services that were never possible before: virtual reference, online tutorials, blogs, e-mail newsletters, digital exhibits of our rarest items, databases of full-text articles and reference books, and more.
We're technology trainers, traveling to schools and senior centers to teach people how to use the net and our online catalogs and databases. We use the net to let users talk back to us and talk among themselves in online reading groups. We're digitizing rare photographs, genealogy collections, historic records, books, and backfiles of important journals. We are the net's gold miners, finding its treasures among all the dross, organizing them, and cataloging them.
Some of you have asked me what my forthcoming book is about. This is it: the challenges to our control posed by the internet, and the ingenious ways librarians have met those challenges.
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Ensuring access implies being able to control the existence, integrity, and location of an item. If someone other than you can move, replace, alter, or remove the copy you want to provide for your users, then you cannot ensure access. The presence today of a document on the web is no guarantee of its presence tomorrow.
Dorothy Warner. "Why Do We Need To Keep This in Print? It's on the Web . . .: a Review of Electronic Archiving Issues and Problems." Progressive Librarian, Issue # 19-20, Spring 2002. http://libr.org/PL/19-20_Warner.html
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Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 1999-2002.
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