ALA Breaks Attendance Records Despite
ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco,
June 14–20, 2001
Table of Contents
The American Library Association’s return to one of its favorite cities, for the 120th ALA Annual Conference, held June 14–20 in San Francisco, broke attendance records but was marred by controversy over an ongoing labor action involving the headquarters hotel.
A boycott of the San Francisco Marriott was launched last year following the hotel’s ongoing inability to settle a contract with its union workers. ALA chose to honor the contract it signed with the Marriott in 1997, despite calls from local labor and library unions, and local leaders, including Mayor Willie Brown, asking the Association not to utilize the hotel.
As a result, several meetings were moved and program attendance was reduced by conferees’ refusal to cross the picket line outside the Marriott; the Coretta Scott King Awards breakfast was canceled altogether. The Scholarship Bash fundraiser was relocated to the Hilton, but Conference Services Director Deidre Ross said the move was not related to the boycott.
Although the Marriott boycott inconvenienced many attendees and disrupted some programs, it apparently had little effect on registration: The conference drew a record 26,542 people to the City by the Bay, breaking the previous high of 24,884, set in 1998. This year’s total included paid attendees, exhibits-only passes, exhibitors, speakers, and press.
Notable among the missing at the awards ceremony and inauguration of President John W. Berry at the Marriott were President-elect Maurice Freedman and awardees Patricia Glass Schuman, Michael Gorman, and Doris Seal, who chose to join the picket lines outside the hotel instead. (A complete list of ALA award winners is scheduled for the September American Libraries.)
On the bright side, the rolling blackouts that had plagued California earlier in the year, and that some had feared would mar the conference (ALA staff had suggested having a flashlight at the podium during programs), failed to materialize.
To boycott or not
The Marriott controversy consumed nearly the entire morning of ALA Council’s final session June 20. However, a resolution calling for a boycott clause to be added to the strike clause already in ALA hotel and convention-center contracts was simply referred to the Conference Committee. Among the more significant actions taken by Council were passage of a proposal to establish an independent organization for the accreditation of library and information studies programs and adoption of an updated preservation policy.
The ALA Executive Board observed a milestone during its adoption of an FY 2002 budget for the Association—passing the $50-million mark for the first time.
The past 125 years of ALA activities were admirably summed up in a video retrospective that premiered at the Opening General Session. Images of past and current ALA leaders, members, publications, and posters flashed by on the huge screen while viewers nodded and pointed at famous events and personalities they recognized. As President Nancy Kranich noted, it was a good way to review “how much we have accomplished in our long history.”
Mayor Willie Brown then welcomed ALA to San Francisco, took credit for the perfect weather, underscored how much the city “absolutely loves its libraries,” and mentioned that any citywide office-seeker has to support the public library and “know where every branch is and every language spoken there.” Brown apparently likes librarians too, as he joked that “Any mayor in this country would love to get 20,000 librarians with credit cards in his or her city.”
Opening speaker Robert Reich, secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, offered his observations on the future of work and the family. Reich noted the increasing stress on workers in the new economy, where incomes are insecure and erratic, and lamented the increasing disparity between rich and poor.
Arnulfo D. Trejo was on hand to receive honorary ALA membership for his influence on Latino librarianship and his role in founding Reforma, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking, in 1971. Trejo credited the late Lawrence Clark Powell for acting as his mentor and urged others, as Powell had urged him, “Just keep the chain going—the invisible chain empowered with faith, love, and hope.”
Robert D. Putnam, author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, called the more than 600 attending the President’s Program “the most civic-minded group of people in America.” The program, a culmination of Kranich’s year-long effort to promote libraries as the cornerstone of democracy, focused on Putnam’s views on America’s declining social capital.
Conference-goers packed the ballroom at the Closing Session to hear Cree educator and singer Buffy Sainte-Marie describe her Cradleboard Teaching Project, a curriculum for K–12 students of all races that examines topics from a Native American point of view. Indian children “have holes where their self-esteem ought to be,” she said as she demonstrated a software package that teaches science using the imagery of Native American music, transportation, and housing. Sainte-Marie also reminded the audience that it was the Iroquois who gave Benjamin Franklin the ideas for a confederation of nations, a quorum, and impeachment.
Although ’70s rock group Three Dog Night sang their hearts out at the ProQuest-sponsored Scholarship Bash, the turnout was disappointing. Former ALA president Ann Symons, one of the masterminds behind the fundraiser, said she was “puzzled at both low ticket sales and turnout, which means fewer ALA scholarships this year. Too much to do in San Francisco on a Saturday night?” The Executive Board agreed that the future of the bash must be questioned.
The turnout was surprisingly high, however, at the second of the conference’s two Membership Meetings, where for the first time since 1994 enough members showed up to establish a quorum. A total of 676 came to hear an update on ALA’s challenge to the Children’s Internet Protection Act; attendance may have been boosted by the fact that it counted toward the Federal Communication Commission’s requirement to undertake initial compliance with the law (such as attending training sessions) in order to receive year-four e-rate funds.
There was much grumbling and moaning over the confusing new design of the conference program book, which lacked a chronological listing of program descriptions. The groupings by “tracks”—leadership, information services, digital library, information access, children and youth, issues and updates, advocacy—prompted some attendees to throw the book aside and rely on Cognotes, the conference newspaper.
Several hundred conference-goers flocked to the Hilton to hear author and library activist Nicholson Baker take libraries to task for not preserving original copies of the nation’s newspapers. The controversial author of Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper told the not-entirely-sympathetic audience that the time has long passed for libraries to adopt a national last-copy preservation policy.
About 400 people participated in three separate advocacy trainings that focused on the “@ your library” Campaign for America’s Libraries and were designed to help educate librarians. Those new to the campaign were provided information on the project’s goals, key messages, and target audiences. Those who attended the Train the Trainers Advocacy Workshop received tips and tools for taking the campaign’s message to local communities. The Library and the Internet Filtering Advocacy Training provided an update on CIPA and helped participants build skills on the best way to discuss this hot topic with the media and legislators.
Buildliteracy.org, an interactive how-to Web site designed to build and sustain literacy coalitions, was launched during the conference. Funded by a $250,000 grant from Verizon Communications and administered by the Office for Literacy and Outreach Services, the site is a collaborative effort of ALA, the National Center for Family Literacy, the National Institute for Literacy, and Reading Is Fundamental. “The Web site was built to address an identified need and a gap that we perceived in the field,” said ALA Literacy Officer Dale Lipschultz. “The design is based on a field-driven and field-tested model, and meets users where they are.”
The traffic at ALA’s first Accessibility Pavilion was steady and busy at times with demonstrations at the “Access for All @ Your Library” workstations located in the heart of the pavilion. Visitors picked up literature and chatted with those staffing the information counters.
At the fourth annual Diversity Fair, libraries from California and across the country exhibited programs they have developed to meet the needs of underserved populations.
The American Indian Library Association, an ALA affiliate, was one of the first groups to reschedule its commemorative service and social event away from the Marriott. Luckily, AILA Past President John D. Berry was able to reserve a room in the prison basement on Alcatraz Island. It was a culturally significant location, because in November 1969 the American Indian Movement officially began here with an occupation that lasted for more than a year. Jean Whitehorse, librarian of the New Mexico State Library’s Crownpoint Resource Center, stayed on the island during the occupation, and she reminisced about the experience for the group of about 50 adults and children who attended.
Reforma celebrated its 30th anniversary as an ALA affiliate with a fundraiser at the Mission branch of the San Francisco Public Library. The event featured Colombian storyteller Jaime Riascos and Dr. Loco’s Rockin’ Jalapeño Band.
Marriott Woes Place Members in Dilemma
Conference-goers found themselves in a moral dilemma at the Marriott over whether to cross picket lines organized by the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union Local 2. “We are sensitive to the fact that some ALA members may be uncomfortable,” President Nancy Kranich said in a June 14 letter to members explaining the Executive Board’s decision to honor ALA’s contract with the hotel. “This arrangement has become a difficult challenge for everyone.”
The annual Scholarship Bash, featuring recording artists Three Dog Night, was relocated from the Marriott to the Hilton Hotel. Among the meetings that were moved at the request of members was the American Libraries Advisory Committee meeting, which was held at the San Francisco Public Library.
Fearing that the event was “becoming a pawn in a larger, more complex political agenda,” Coretta Scott King Task Force Chair Carole McCullough announced that the 33rd Coretta Scott King Awards Breakfast, scheduled for the Marriott, was canceled. In a June 1 letter to Kranich, King wrote that she thought a boycott of the Marriott by union workers was justified and asked that the event be moved to another site because award recipients and attendees might have to cross picket lines. “Because of the fact that the award is named after a living person, and that the person is Mrs. Martin Luther King Jr., we feel honor-bound to seriously consider her wishes,” McCullough noted.
McCullough said she never talked to Mayor Brown or anyone from his staff about moving the breakfast to city hall as published reports indicated. “The decision to not hold an alternative event, finding the mayor to see how authentic this offer was, or looking for other alternatives were discarded as options because we realized that there were several agendas out there,” she explained. “We couldn’t keep everybody happy and even though it was the harshest decision or option, it really was the safest one.”
She said the decision was made after consultation with task-force leadership and staff liaison Satia Marshall Orange as well as conference planning staff, attorneys, and Executive Director William Gordon. “They certainly outlined for us all the options, consequences, and problems,” McCullough explained.
The King Award recipients did attend the conference for scheduled book signings. McCullough said they were disappointed in the cancellation, especially those being honored for the first time. “They are, of course, the real losers,” she said.
Budget Analysis and Review Committee Chair JoAnn Mondowney reported to Council that one of the strategies adopted to minimize the fiscal impact of the cancelation was asking people to donate the cost of the tickets and not ask for a refund. McCullough said many people have donated their ticket money, including several publishers.
2001–2002 ALA President-elect Maurice J. Freedman issued a statement to members indicating his support for the boycott. He explained that he would not cross the picket line to attend the Inaugural Banquet for incoming President John W. Berry and the accompanying ALA Awards ceremony, or his first official Executive Board meeting scheduled at the hotel. Freedman, along with award recipients Patricia Glass Schuman, Michael Gorman, and Doris M. Seal, joined the picket line in front of the Marriott during the Inaugural Banquet and refused to enter to accept their awards. Members of the Local 790 Librarians’ Caucus picketed inside the hotel during the awards ceremony.
Meanwhile, a Council resolution on Hotel Contracts for ALA Meetings was referred to the Conference Committee and the Social Responsibilities Round Table passed a resolution supporting the boycott.
SRO Crowd Explores Social Capital
Robert D. Putnam, Harvard University professor and author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, expressed amazement when a majority of the overflow crowd at the President’s Program said they had attended a public meeting or participated in an organization within the last six months.
Putnam focused on the decline of U.S. social capital and explored its effects on American society and democracy. “Over the course of the last quarter of the 20th century, about half of all the civic infrastructure in American communities nationwide—about half of the ways in which communities connect—simply evaporated,” he said. This includes lowered attendance at club meetings and churches, fewer home dinner parties, decreased card-playing, a dwindling number of family dinners, and an increase in dining alone. Putnam said Americans are also less trusting and have cut back on charitable donations.
According to Putnam, the causes for this decline include increased television viewing, the greater number of women in the workforce, and expanded suburban living and associated commuting. He ruled out other likely causes such as the computer and the Internet. “These declines were well on their way 20 years before anybody even thought of the Internet,” Putnam explained. “Bill Gates was in diapers when this problem started.”
Television plays the largest role in the dilemma, according to Putnam, with many Americans watching four hours each day. “Most of us watch Friends instead of having friends,” he quipped.
“It matters to your physical health whether you’re connected or not,” Putnam told the crowd. “Going to meetings is good for your stress level. America is in the midst of a depression epidemic, which is the third most costly disease in America after heart disease and cancer, and is concentrated among young people.”
Putnam said that all these findings are directly related to libraries and the use of libraries: “Those who are civically engaged use libraries.” He said libraries are a crucial ingredient in solving the problem of declining social capital.
Reich Examines the Price of Success
Opening Session speaker Robert Reich claimed that he spent so much time at the local public library as a young boy that his father warned him it would stunt his growth. “I showed him,” joked Reich, who stands 4 feet, 10 inches tall.
Reich resigned as President Clinton’s secretary of labor when he realized the job’s long hours were preventing him from spending time with his family. That decision ultimately led him to write his book The Future of Success, which bemoans recent changes in the work lives of Americans.
Reich noted reasons Americans are feeling greater pressure to increase their work hours:
- In the new economy, incomes are erratic, so people feel compelled to accept as much work as possible whenever it is available.
- The new economy only offers two tracks—the fast track and the slow track. In the former you’re constantly on call and obligated to keep up with technological changes.
- The widening income gap between rich and poor means that people at the top work harder because every decision not to accept more work reflects a greater sacrifice, and people at the bottom work harder to keep their incomes from dropping even further.
Reich called librarians his heroes because they understand “the importance of knowledge as it’s translated into self-knowledge and wisdom—and you can’t get that off the Internet,” which he called “an unfiltered, unmediated, anything-goes vanity press.” He concluded by telling his audience that “as custodians of lifelong learning in your communities, you are among the most important people there.”
New ALA President Chats
with Thomas Jefferson
John W. Berry (executive director of NILRC: A Consortium of Community Colleges, Colleges, and Universities, located in Sugar Grove, Illinois) took office as ALA president at the Tuesday evening inaugural banquet, where incoming division presidents and Executive Board members were also in the spotlight. The ceremony generally ends with a speech by the incoming president, but when Nancy Kranich passed the presidency to Berry, he told the crowd he would forego a speech to engage in a dialogue with the third president of the United States.
Enter Thomas Jefferson, as portrayed in costume by Chicago actor Paul Slade Smith, whom Berry welcomed after his long land journey from Virginia and informed that “we’ve arranged for you to return on a machine that flies like a bird; and you’ll be back at Monticello in just a few hours rather than several months—a great achievement of modern science and technology.”
Settled into facing chairs on stage, President Berry and President Jefferson chatted about the progress of libraries since the founding of the first free public library for the children of Salisbury, Connecticut, in 1803. Berry explained that “among our continuing challenges is ensuring equitable access to information for all—a particular challenge in a global village linked by powerful and ubiquitous information networks; but our central purpose as librarians remains constant: connecting people to ideas to provide the broadest access to recorded knowledge at the lowest cost to everyone.”
“This last, giving information to the people, is the most certain and most legitimate engine of government,” Jefferson replied. “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people.”
Berry explained, “Three months ago, our Association . . . filed suit in Philadelphia against our federal government over the issue of censorship of free and unrestricted access to information, the third such attempt by the federal government in the last five years.”
“A courageous stand,” Jefferson replied, asking what prompts the government to behave censoriously.
“At issue is the technological medium I've referred to, which we call the Internet, a global network of amazing breadth and depth,” Berry answered. “Congress decreed that public-access computers in all public libraries receiving federal funds install shields, what we call ‘filters,’ to screen out certain visual depictions from children and adults alike. The problem is, these filters, in addition to not reliably screening what they’re supposed to, also screen much of speech of a medical, scientific, political, and social nature so wisely protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.”
“Congress seems misguided,” Jefferson quipped, to applause and laughter from the audience.
Jefferson wanted to know what had become of his personal library, and Berry called on Winston Tabb, associate librarian for library services at the Library of Congress. From the audience, Tabb explained that much of the president’s collection was lost in a fire in 1851, but that to celebrate its bicentennial in 2000, LC reconstructed much of the original collection and put it on exhibit.
“I fear you may be growing tired after your long and taxing journey,” Berry concluded. “Do you have any last questions or thoughts for us?”
“Yes, I do,” replied Jefferson. “I have long wondered what became of the Hemings family of Monticello.”
When the laughter had died down, the two men discussed the history of race relations in the United States, with Jefferson apologizing for his ownership of slaves.
“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past,” Jefferson concluded.
Berry’s inaugural playlet was presented to inaugural-goers as a handsomely printed souvenir pamphlet. The full text is also available on the ALA Web site.
Buffy Sainte-Marie Puts Teaching First
“I was a teacher before I was a singer,” said Buffy Sainte-Marie, “but I could never get Rolling Stone to say so in print.” The Native American singer, songwriter, artist, and teacher presented two programs—one the closing session, which attracted some 700 people, and the other a gathering of around 50 to promote her Cradleboard Teaching Project for libraries and schools.
Although Sainte-Marie won the best-song Oscar in 1981 for “Up Where We Belong” from the movie An Officer and a Gentleman, “the darn thing has never been as useful to me as a library card.”
The Cradleboard Teaching Project is one of five ongoing programs of the Nihewan Foundation, established by Sainte-Marie in 1969 to help Native American students get an education and to promote an accurate understanding of the roles of native peoples in their communities and in the world.
The simple message she tried to convey as a regular on TV’s Sesame Street in the 1970s, Sainte-Marie said, was, “Indians exist. We are alive.” In the same way, “Cradleboard is not about technology, it’s about helping children” and giving them a new way to “learn about themselves and others through this computer-based curriculum.”
Controlling the demonstration from her Macintosh on the podium, Sainte-Marie showed several parts of Cradleboard’s Science through Native American Eyes CD-ROM, emphasizing that “it doesn’t cost any more to be accurate and to be fun. We can change the world forever by getting to know one another.”
One objective of the Cradleboard Teaching Project is to partner non-Indian classes with Native American classes whose members are studying their own culture. The partners exchange self-identity videos, goody boxes of local information, e-mail, phone calls, and live chat.
“My name is Buffy, and I’m a biblioholic,” Sainte-Marie joked, assuring the audience that “we’re not trying to replace books, we’re trying to supplement them.” Referring to her CD software as “medicine” in the Indian sense, she said that “libraries are a much-needed system for this medicine to be dispensed.”
Following the first program, Sainte-Marie talked with American Libraries about her commitment to books, education, and making them come alive for children through technology (see AL, August, p. 76–77).
CIPA Draws Membership Quorum
Ever since 1994, when the quorum for ALA Membership Meetings was set at 1% of the previous year’s personal membership, that magic minimum has proven to be elusive. In an effort to entice members to break away from their busy conference schedules to attend Membership Meeting I, organizers offered bribes ranging from a drawing for free 2002 Annual Conference registration to handouts of Häagen-Dazs ice cream bars.
Nonetheless, the attendance count of 409 fell short of this year’s requirement of 545, so the meeting was limited to an “unofficial” discussion of ALA’s proposed Institute for Professional Practice, offering post-master’s certification for librarians. Members’ interest in the certification proposal was so strong that the meeting’s allotted hour ran out before reaching the second agenda item, pay equity and the status of librarians.
The key to achieving a quorum was finally revealed at Membership Meeting II, where a crucial and controversial topic drew a whopping 676 members. The meeting’s well-publicized subject was the Children’s Internet Protection Act; as an added incentive, attendance counted toward the Federal Communication Commission’s requirement to undertake compliance with the law (such as attending training sessions) in order to receive year-four e-rate funds.
Clarifying CIPA for the quorum-shattering crowd was Daniel Mack, a member of the Jenner and Block legal team representing ALA in its challenge to the legislation. Mack expressed certainty that the court will rule on the measure before any library is forced to install filters so it can receive federal funds. Explaining why CIPA’s opponents feel the law is unconstitutional, Mack concluded, “If CIPA is allowed to stand, it would change the traditional function of libraries . . . to places of censorship of content and control.”
Freedom to Read Foundation President Candace Morgan spoke briefly on CIPA’s companion measure, the Neighborhood Children’s Internet Protection Act, and Judith Krug, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, closed the program with a call for donations to help fund the Association’s legal battle against CIPA.
Ironically, although numerous members had bemoaned their inability to conduct official business—particularly the introduction of resolutions—over the past six years due to what they deemed a too-stringent quorum requirement, no one took the opportunity to bring any actions to the floor at Membership II.
Information Session Tackles Accreditation
The annual Council/Executive Board/Membership information session, held prior to the three meetings of Council, included a 60-minute facilitated discussion of external accreditation. The decision facing the Association is whether to join with other library associations in creating a separate organization for the accreditation of library and information studies programs. Currently, accreditation is handled by ALA, through the Committee on Accreditation and the supporting Office for Accreditation.
Before the assembly broke into small discussion groups, Susan K. Martin, chair of the ad hoc Task Force on External Accreditation, which has been grappling with the priorities identified during the Congress on Professional Education held in 1999, gave a progress report.
“We have met with representatives of other professions to examine our accrediting models,” Martin said, “and we have secured letters of intent to participate and to contribute financially from seven fellow associations.”
Martin presented a draft proposal for how the process will move forward; attendees then gathered at discussion tables to consider the plan. The task force intends to present a final proposal to Council at the 2002 Annual Conference in Atlanta.
Also at the session, Senior Endowment Trustee Bernard Margolis introduced his successor, OCLC Treasurer Rick Schwieterman, who said the endowment’s investment policy will “do a good job of balancing market risk with market return, with the objective of not only maintaining the endowment but also building it over the long term and also meeting the needs of the Association.”
In recognition of 11 years of service to the endowment and helping to increase it from $3.7 million to $14.2 million, President Nancy Kranich presented Margolis with a plaque.
JoAnn Mondowney, chair of the Budget Analysis and Review Committee, reported that the Association’s FY 2001 revenues as of April were $23.7 million, which was 2% more than budgeted, and expenses of $25.8 million were $1.1 million, or 4%, less than budgeted.
Assembly Takes a Look at Publishing
The Planning and Budget Assembly is an annual opportunity for ALA members to get involved in the business of running the Association. This year’s assembly drew some 80 people for discussion of three business plans: publishing, membership, and technology. BARC chair JoAnn Mondowney introduced the session, with ALA Treasurer Liz Bishoff as emcee.
The largest part of the program was devoted to breakout groups directed to examine various aspects of ALA Publishing Services, among them: What are the most important trends in librarianship that should affect the content of ALA products?
One group talked about what competing or commercial publishers do well and what ALA does well. The group concluded that, among other things, commercial publishers respond to professional issues more quickly, have better brand identity, market more effectively, and pay authors better.
The results of the publishing discussion will be compiled and used in the preparation of Publishing Services’ three-year business plan.
The membership stands at 63,000, said Gerald Hodges, acting director of ALA Communications and Marketing; the goal is 75,000 by 2005, and a second goal is to raise the current 88% retention rate to 92%. Hodges noted that Membership is trying a new recruitment approach that emphasizes services and offers ALA membership as part of a larger package. Organizational memberships have doubled in the last four years, he said.
Sherri Vanyek, director of ALA Information and Telecommunications Services, and assistant Tim Smith presented a PowerPoint demonstration of ALA’s first Web-based continuing-education program. Vanyek said ITTS is also experimenting with other methods for electronic participation in meetings, including those of the Executive Board.
Barriers Remain to Info Access
At the ALA Washington Office’s legislative briefing program, former congressional staffer and political consultant Tom Susman sorted out “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” of access to information:
The Good: Thirty-five years after its inception, the Freedom of Information Act still tops the list of weapons to protect open access. “We can’t take the concepts of the public’s right to know and freedom of information for granted,” said Susman, who pointed out that they’re not embedded in the Constitution but are a modern idea.
The Bad: Recent obstacles to access include:
- The official secrets act legislation passed by Congress last year, which President Clinton vetoed last November. “But don’t believe it won’t be back,” warned Susman.
- The digital divide, in which racial minorities and rural and poor people “tend to be on the far side of the chasm” of electronic access.
- Inadequate resources, resulting from the belief that the transition to electronic information means that budgets can be cut, as has happened with the National Technical Information Service and the Superintendent of Documents office (Susman joked that in this case the appropriate spaghetti western might be For a Few Dollars More).
- The profit motive. “User fees can be the kiss of death for public access,” said Susman, who noted that privatization is a favorite idea of Republican administrations.
The Ugly: Even worse are what Susman called “the tensions and competing interests that weaken open access,” including privacy concerns, increasingly poor data quality, and information overload (as demonstrated by the FBI’s mishandling of the Timothy McVeigh documents).
Also on the program were Washington Office Legislative Counsel Miriam Nisbet and Prudence Adler of the Association of Research Libraries, who tackled the myriad copyright issues confronting libraries. Their list included the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, particularly its anticircumvention provisions; a court ruling that prevents people from posting a program that can crack the computer code protecting copyrighted DVDs (ALA has filed an amicus brief urging reversal of the ruling); the New York Times Company v. Tasini; the Uniform Computer Information Technology Act (see p. 9); the distance-education provisions of the Copyright Act; and database-protection legislation currently being negotiated by stakeholders.
Libraries and Literacy:
“Reading is our reason for being,” Gary E. Strong, director of the Queens Borough (N.Y.) Public Library, told the librarians attending the second annual Jean E. Coleman Library Outreach Lecture, sponsored by the Office for Literacy and Outreach Services Advisory Committee. “It’s hard to imagine someone whose life is void of something that is second nature to most of us.”
Strong, who directs the largest circulating library system in the country, titled his lecture, honoring the first OLOS (then the Office for Library Outreach) director, “Reading . . . Still Cool? Libraries, Literacy and Leadership.”
He talked about the Queens Borough PL’s reading initiative, “2,000 Reasons to Read,” that started a year ago to get children throughout New York City to give one reason reading was important. The submissions included: “A reason to read is to learn intelligent words, so that you can confuse your parents,” “I read because I want to be smart,” and “I like to read in bed with gummi bears in a bowl.”
“Public libraries are indeed the people’s university and a place to champion literacy throughout the country,” Strong said. He reported that more than 3,000 residents comprising people from 85 countries and speaking 45 different languages come to the library’s adult learning centers each year to learn to read.
“Libraries must be aware of literacy offerings in their communities,” he explained. Reference and children’s librarians, as well as reader’s advisers, are key referral agents. Collections should include teacher’s manuals and tutoring guides. Strong said libraries could also provide meeting rooms for tutoring instruction and participate in literacy community coalitions.
“The lack of money is no longer the excuse a library director can use for not making a commitment to adult learning,” he said. “I can’t stress to you enough the notion of innovation, of looking beyond the obvious, of being real play makers.”
“What can be more important than knowing in some small way that you brought a light into someone’s eye who has been denied the joy of reading, and now that person can have a better life, move on to bigger things, and provide, in a more full and rewarding way, for their families?” Strong concluded.
Nicholson Baker’s Preservation Plea
“I don’t think of myself as obsessive, I just think of myself as thorough,” said Nicholson Baker, author of Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper. At the invitation of the Progressive Librarians Guild, he explained and at times defended, for an audience of about 500, accusations he makes in the book that libraries are not fulfilling their preservation role.
Melissa Riley of the San Francisco Public Library, who called herself “a longtime Nicholson Baker informant,” introduced Baker and said he had agreed to appear for the price of his airline ticket, which was paid for by the SFPL union.
Baker said he is frequently accused of being anti-librarian but denied it and praised Riley and the other SFPL staffers who brought to his attention some of the practices that led to the book. Their “reverence for the institution and for the collection was what moved them to criticize a particular set of policies” they could not abide. “I guess you could say they turned me into this monster that you have before you: a library activist,” he joked.
“We need a national library committed to the ordered storage of what people have read,” said Baker—the actual object, not a copy. “Not one library is keeping the New York Times on paper, even though that is what people are reading.”
Baker called for a systematic national effort to retain last copies in libraries. That does not mean keeping everything, he emphasized, but rather “one five-hundred-thousandth of everything.”
How is it, he asked, that the Library of Congress can afford $10 million for a Russian Leadership Program and $94 million for digital projects at the expense of core functions like reference, cataloging, and book storage? “If we set up things so that we tithe 10% into a paper conservancy fund as we digitize to provide for the safekeeping of the originals afterwards, we’ll be just fine. In fact, at the beginning of a scanned or microfilmed document, it might be nice to read, ‘No originals were harmed in the making of this copy.’”
Baker argued that the “brittle books crisis” of the late 1980s was a false alarm. Many of the paper items thought endangered survive to this day. Furthermore, he said, the practice of microfilming material and then discarding it was shortsighted because then-unknown scanning technology now permits the creation of far superior copies that are all the better when made from originals.
Showing slides (made by digital scanning) of some of the newspapers he purchased and stored in his American Newspaper Repository in New Hampshire, Baker compared them to copies on microfilm, showing how color, shading, and in some instances text were lost in the copying. “We are down to one original of the New York World,” he said—the one he rescued from sale to a dealer by the British Library. “We can’t keep calling copying preservation.”
Baker took written, anonymous questions from the audience, a number of them hostile and many bemoaning libraries’ lack of money for storage and preservation. One questioner asked if Baker thought his book would be of any help in getting preservation dollars for libraries. Maybe, said Baker, if it gets it into the public consciousness.
I Want My MP3 for Fair Use
Now that online music-swapping service Napster has succumbed to the legal barrage of the recording industry and joined hands with major record labels in providing only licensed tunes, it’s time to ask what this means for fair use and file-sharing in libraries. To explore some of these issues, the ALA Washington Office and the Association of College and Research Libraries’ Copyright Committee brought together a panel of analysts who looked into the challenges that the Napster phenomenon presents for libraries.
The session began, appropriately enough, with Napster CEO Hank Berry, who is frantically dreaming up new ways to re-engineer his company along more moderate lines. “ALA has done a wonderful job of going into battle against the copyright absolutists, or the Copyright Cabal, as I call them,” he said. “These people want to extend copyright terms to infinity.” Berry was optimistic about the opportunity to build a new worldwide music library that respects the rights of copyright holders and generates royalties. “But it will be a big fight even to maintain a moderate position,” he predicted, “and it will last at least 10 years.”
UCLA Information Studies Professor Howard Besser enumerated the reasons why librarians need to pay attention to the copyright issues that the Napster case brought into public scrutiny.
First, the content industry has launched an assault on the first-sale doctrine: “The right to dispose of what you buy as you see fit is under threat,” he said. “This is bad news for libraries, and used book and record stores.”
Second, there’s an effort afoot to outlaw reformatting: “The industry doesn’t really want you to make cassettes from those old eight-tracks,” he warned.
Finally, Besser said the “scariest copyright grab” is the move to control downstream use: “New legislation like UCITA and the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, lawsuits like the recent Wind Done Gone case, copy-protection devices embedded in commercial databases, and the usurpation of fair use by contract law”—these are the real lessons for libraries in the Napster fallout, he said.
Adam Eisgrau, former counsel on intellectual property to ALA’s Washington Office, agreed that UCITA was a major concern. “If all information is subject to licensing terms, libraries are stuck in an untenable position,” he said. “The license can spell out ‘no fair use,’ and that will trump copyright law.”
Making Libraries Virtuously Virtual
The much-cited concept of a “library without walls” sends a mixed message, according to speakers at the Association of College and Research Libraries’ College Libraries Section program. “To the college administration, ‘virtual’ could mean ‘invisible or unnecessary,’” said Salem (Mass.) State College Vice-president for Academic Affairs Laverna Saunders. “The college library must become as essential to the campus mission as the campus police.”
In practical terms, Saunders advised, this means collaborating (not competing) with the campus information-technology departments, helping to develop college portals, and establishing a digital reference service. “One study found that students would e-mail reference questions even when they were sitting in full view of the reference desk,” she said. “We have to be a part of this in order not to be left out.”
Stephanie Bangert, assistant director of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, observed that libraries must provide a quality physical space as well as virtual access in order to fulfill the learning mission of the college. “The library provides a virtuous environment,” she said, “that encourages reflection and connects different learning experiences.” In fact, Bangert revealed that WASC accreditation teams consider it “an essential element in new design proposals whether library spaces are aligned with institutional purposes.”
What are some of the elements of a virtuous library environment? Sam Demas, librarian of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, characterized academic libraries as “places of serious purpose.” Traditional measures of library use fail to take into consideration many learning experiences, he said, among them student activities, special events, even the “smell and feel” of libraries. “In one study that examined former students’ memories about the library,” Demas said, “a surprising number said they fell in love at the library, and married the person they shared their study space with.”
At Carleton, Demas has been able to show students and faculty that the library is much more than a place to check out books or get an Internet connection. Some projects have included:
- Designing an “elegant reading room and event space” called the Athenaeum that is used for scores of different lectures, readings, discussions, and seminars annually, all of them cosponsored with an academic department and open to the public.
- Hosting such student events as a Robert Burns night procession, a 13-hour Classics Department marathon reading of the Odyssey, amateur a cappella singing the day before finals, and story hours during finals week.
- Internet classes for senior citizens offered by the library Friends group.
- Ice-cream cones provided by the reference staff on the first day of classes.
Demas recommends allocating 1% of the library’s budget for such projects and making one enhancement per year.
Digital Rights May Lead to Wrongs
Without the use of digital rights management (DRM) systems to control access to and usage of online material, efforts to publish commercially valuable material are likely to fail, claimed Northwestern University’s Lloyd Davidson as he opened a session sponsored by the Library and Information Technology Association’s Electronic Publishing/Electronic Journals Interest Group. While Davidson noted that librarians and users may find the systems onerous, the systems only reflect the will of the publishers who, however, have yet to demonstrate that they can overcome the will of a skeptical public.
Clifford Lynch, executive director of the Coalition for Networked Information, noted that although DRM systems today are used mostly by publishers and content distributors, they may come to be utilized by libraries in areas such as electronic reserves and distance education. “We have to recognize that these technological problems aren’t going to be just for publishers anymore.”
Lynch observed that it would be acceptable if publishers used DRM systems to move the first-sale concept to the Web, allowing a single copy to be transferred freely. However, some are using the technology to develop such new models as books that charge by the page or materials that will self-destruct in two days. “That’s a very scary world,” he said.
DRM systems are “a technology that can be used in beneficial ways and can also be used for some very, very bad stuff,” Lynch warned. Our discussion should focus less on the technology and more on policy, he concluded, stressing that the systems “are not appropriate for every use of digital content on the Net.”
Mark Stefik, a pioneer in the development of DRM systems, agreed that the technology affects such fundamental issues as first sale and fair use. “It’s our opportunity to reconceptualize all these things,” noted Stefik, a research fellow at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, “but it’s an opportunity that will result in a great deal of social change.” As we go forward, he concluded, we need to remember what’s important, such as the necessity of being able to access our past.
Libraries are in a unique position in regard to DRM systems because they need to authenticate patrons, said Dennis McNannay. “When you think about it, what we’ve done is redefine the library card.” McNannay, until recently vice-president of publishing at InterTrust Technologies, maintained that DRM technology can enable libraries to expand their offerings and even gain revenue by allowing nonpatrons to purchase “superdistributed” materials. He advised libraries to approach the problems of DRM systems as consortia: “Learn together, then employ separately if you need to.”
Focusing on “the business side of things,” Prasad Ram, chairman and CEO of the software firm Savantech, maintained that adopting DRM systems will benefit consumers. Joking that the ideas of “pay by chapter” and “pay by letter” are absurd, he predicted that the technology will follow such existing models as subscription and pay-per-view. Ram observed that Internet concepts are moving away from offering content to offering a service, where users don’t purchase an actual work. He concluded that the priorities for DRM developers are to seek incremental revenues for content providers while meeting customer demand for timeliness and convenience.
Offering the library perspective, James Neal, dean of libraries at Johns Hopkins University, said that “we need to accept a certain philosophical shift that DRM systems have brought about” : Our historic role of brokering information is moving toward information creation, publishing, and aggregation.
Citing such developments as SPARC and JSTOR, Neal noted that scholarly publishing is moving beyond the traditional commercial-publishing model to take publishing responsibility on its own. “Can DRM systems be sensitive to this diversity that’s taking place across the scholarly community?” he wondered.
Comparing trends in DRM to recent developments in copyright law, where commercial interests are attempting to drive the policy, Neal concluded, “In the same way we sought balance in the application of copyright law, we need to seek balance in the application of digital rights management systems.”
Seeking IF Allies in the Legislature, Media
At “Allies in Intellectual Freedom,” sponsored by the American Library Trustee Association, representatives from the library community, legislatures, and the media discussed ways to work together to protect open access to information.
Library Hotline editor Susan DiMattia said she can distill the library profession’s principles to a brief sound bite: Library services should be available, affordable, and accessible. “We’re often painted in the media as those folks who want to give pornography to children,” she lamented.
DiMattia urged librarians to collaborate and cooperate with other groups. “The first thing we have to do is look for areas of common concern and common values,” she said. Each of these groups has its own ideas about intellectual freedom, she noted, so we have to be flexible in order to work together.
Kirsten Boyd, a staffer for California State Assemblywoman Carole Migden, offered lobbying tips. “We are open to building alliances with everybody; that’s what we do.” Boyd voiced particular concern over the Internet filtering issue, since Migden is openly gay. Children need access to gay resources, said Boyd, “so we actually count on libraries and the media to be responsible for the education of our youth.”
Shortly after Bruce Brugmann founded the alternative weekly San Francisco Bay Guardian newspaper in 1966, he found it took more than an editorial or a news story to change things. Brugmann said he learned “there were a lot of battles an individual paper cannot fight on its own.”
Brugmann said the Guardian has been supportive of the San Francisco Public Library (although he added that the paper has been critical of its Friends group), but he couldn’t recall anyone from libraries coming to him to suggest an editorial or a story. For example, he said he had just learned in DiMattia’s publication about a pending California library-aid bill; libraries should have been urging the media to support it, he said.
Rachel Boehm, an attorney who focuses on media issues, said her clients often want access to government records, as do libraries. The fact that these sources are becoming more available electronically, said Boehm, “demonstrates the great need to provide Internet access at your libraries.” She added that a common challenge facing libraries and the media is making sure the laws providing access to government information are complied with.
Providing a trustee’s point of view, Francis Picart of the Suffolk County (N.Y.) Library System said each of these three components—libraries, the press, and legislators—are different animals, “with often-conflicting interests, often-contradictory points of view.” Citing the Children’s Internet Protection Act, Picart observed, “There’s a fundamental collision between the need to protect children and the right of people to gain unfettered access.” He said this conflict posed the “question of refining the definition of intellectual freedom.”
Fundamental Talk about Access
At a Public Library Association program titled “Intellectual Freedom and the Fundamentalist Christian,” Michael Wessels, director of the Hoquiam (Wash.) branch of the Timberland Regional Library, admitted to having two personalities: He is both a fundamentalist Christian preacher and a staunch advocate of IF in public libraries. “When I walk up to people in the street, I’m always torn,” he joked. “Do I ask them if they accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior, or do I ask them if they truly understand the principles of intellectual freedom?”
Christians are part of the public, Wessels emphasized, and in order to serve their information needs, librarians must understand what makes them tick. There are vast differences in belief systems, he said, but in general, “a fundamentalist Christian is someone for whom conservative, traditional Christianity forms the basis of self-definition and the bedrock of decision making.”
“In the thought-world of the fundamentalist Christian,” Wessels said, “libraries are supposed to be noncombatants in the culture wars, not the ammunition dumps.” But because they provide access to all ideas, libraries are perceived as promoting and spreading evil.
“It’s a mentality of defense,” he explained. “The analogy is a wagon train moving west, carrying the truth. When wild enemies come after you, the impulse is to circle the wagons for mutual support and let the wagonmaster conduct the defense.” The wagonmaster is often a group like the conservative Focus on the Family, “which is why you often get many letters of complaint worded in the same way.”
Wessels outlined several things that public libraries can do to ensure a healthy relationship with fundamentalist Christians:
- Defend both neutrality and the open shelf by promising “equal-opportunity protection” and resisting attempts to have the Bible or other religious materials removed.
- Take positive and proactive steps to serve the Christian community.
- Ask for help in selecting Christian materials. Being seen serving the public will pay dividends if a censorship issue erupts.
- Avoid being defensive if someone complains about a book. Find common ground, make negatives positives, and explain the library’s position.