Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians

#154, September 13-20, 2002

Or why you might want to hire me for speaking engagements or workshops. To see outlines for previous presentations I've done, click on Handouts

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Order My Book

Click HEREto place a direct order for my book, The Quintessential Searcher: the Wit and Wisdom of Barbara Quint

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What IS Ex Libris?

The purpose and intended scope of this e-zine

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For a combined subscription to Neat New Stuff and ExLibris, please click HERE, complete the form, and click on "subscribe." To unsubscribe, use the same form but click on "unsubscribe." To change addresses for an existing subscription, unsubscribe from that form and return to the page to enter the new address.

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Highlights from Previous Issues:

My Rules of Information

  1. Go where it is
  2. The answer depends on the question
  3. Research is a multi-stage process
  4. Ask a Librarian
  5. Information is meaningless until queried by human intelligence
  6. Information can be true and still wrong

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Guru Interviews

  1. Tara Calishain
  2. Jenny Levine, part I
  3. Jenny Levine, Part II
  4. Reva Basch
  5. Sue Feldman
  6. Jessamyn West
  7. Debbie Abilock
  8. Kathy Schrock
  9. Greg Notess
  10. William Hann
  11. Chris Sherman
  12. Gary Price
  13. Barbara Quint
  14. Rory Litwin
  15. John Guscott
  16. Brian Smith
  17. Darlene Fichter
  18. Brenda Bailey-Hainer

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Cool Quotes

The collected quotes from all previous issues are at

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When and How To Search the Net

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Wanna See Your Name in Lights?

Or at least on this page, anyway? I'd like to print here your contributions as well as mine. As you've noticed, articles are brief, somewhere between 200 and 500 words -- something to jog people's minds and get their own good ideas flowing. I'd also be happy to run other people's contributions to the regular features like Favorite Sites on _____. I'll pay you the same rate I pay me: nothing.

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Drop me a Line

Want to comment, ask questions, submit articles, or invite me to speak or do some training? Contact me at: marylaine at

Visit My Other Sites

My page on all things book-related.

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Best Information on the Net
bestinfo/default.htmThe directory I built for O'Keefe Library, St. Ambrose University, still my favorite pit stop on the information highway.

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My Word's Worth
a weekly column on books, words, libraries, American culture, and whatever happens to interest me.

Subject Index to My Word's Worth at

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Book Proposal

Land of Why Not: an Appreciation of America. Proposal for an anthology of some of my best writing. An outline and sample columns are available here.

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My personal page

SUBJECT INDEX to Past Issues

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Neat New Stuff I Found This Week
September 13: children's music, help for mystery writers, crossword help, and more.

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My resume

NOTE: There won't be a new issue of ExLibris for September 20, since I've done nothing for the last several days but polish the book manuscript I just sent my publisher yesterday, but I do have a new My Word's Worth column about those who died on September 11, called "We Don't Need To Be Heroes," at



by Marylaine Block

In the first "oh, wow" years after librarians discovered the web, I don't think we grasped immediately that the net undermined every single established authority and shifted the locus of control. It threatened the power of

  • News media to define the news agenda and acceptable standards of reporting
  • Politicians to define the policy agenda.
  • Government to control secrets and define official truth
  • Corporations to control their secrets and intellectual property
  • Parents to control what their children learn
  • 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.

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    You are welcome to copy and distribute or e-mail any of my own articles for noncommercial purposes (but not those by my guest writers) as long as you retain this copyright statement:

    Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
    Copyright, Marylaine Block, 1999-2002.

    [Publishers may license the content for a reasonable fee.]