President's Program

Thomas S. Blanton: President's Program Speaker at the 2009 Annual Conference in Chicago--Sunday, July 12, 2009

During the past eight years, but especially since the 9-11 attacks, we have seen the federal government's perpetual penchant for secrecy grow beyond justification. Librarians in Connecticut received a National Security Letter and couldn't even tell their spouses. Vice-president Cheney refused to disclose the roster of his 2001 energy task force. Documents long available to the public in the National Archives have been reclassified and are no longer available to researchers. The White House "misplaced" thousands and thousands of emails. And on and on...

My President's Program at the 2009 Annual Conference in Chicago featured Tom Blanton, an expert on openness and secrecy in government.  Mr. Blanton is director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University. I have asked him to recap the growth of secrecy and limits imposed on access to government information in recent years and to offer a prescription for restoring open access to government information that has unreasonably been withheld from the people that government should serve.  That prescription will offer the Obama administration guidance to right the wrongs of the recent past.

Dr. Muhammad Yunus: President's Program Speaker at the 2009 Midwinter Meeting in Denver--Sunday, January 25, 2009

In 2006 the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to "Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank for their efforts to create economic and social development from below." During ALA's 2009 Midwinter Meeting in Denver Dr. Yunus spoke at the President's Program on Sunday afternoon, January 25. Dr. Yunus founded Grameen Bank in Jobra, Bangladesh in 1983. It makes very small loans to impoverished women who got by but could never get ahead building stools, weaving, or practicing other traditional crafts and tasks. Those loans-animated by their borrowers' talent, ingenuity, and determination-allowed them to break the cycle of buying raw materials, selling their products, and then spending nearly all of their sales revenue on more raw materials, ever beholden to suppliers. Microloans have helped millions of women around the world lift themselves and their families out of poverty. The Nobel Committee noted that microlending also "serves to advance democracy and human rights."

It is easy to see strong similarities in the work of Grameen Bank and the work we do through our libraries. Microloans help people transform their lives, improve their wellbeing, and literally develop their local economies. We make microloans-gifts actually-of knowledge. These help people transform their lives, improve their wellbeing, and contribute to our knowledge-based economy. Both Grameen Bank and libraries make collateral-free loans; both trust those they serve to make decisions for themselves; and both support Dr. Yunus's vision "to see that all information be available to all people (including the poorest, the most ignorant, and the most powerless) at all times, almost cost-free, irrespective of distance." A transcript of the program is available.