ALA president's program discusses librarians as gatekeepers of the Internet

Contact: Larra Clark/Paige Wasson


ALA News Release

For Immediate Release

December 2001

ALA president's program discusses librarians as gatekeepers of the Internet

Our networked world is one in which people and institutions have unprecedented access to one another, as well as to overwhelming amounts of information. Technology has broken down barriers, offering the promise of previously unimagined cooperation and collaboration in the academic sphere, connections among people with like interests in the private sphere, and new ways of conducting business.

But who is running this vast and expanding enterprise and who should be? - are some of the questions posed at the American Library Association (ALA) President's Program "Gatekeepers of the Internet: Balancing Access and Control in a Networked World." This event will be moderated by ALA President John W. Berry on Sunday, January 20, as part of the ALA's Midwinter Meeting in New Orleans. The program takes place from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Morial Convention Center, Rooms 265-268.

"From its early years, the Internet has been a uniquely open system: Anyone could get on, and anyone could and can create a Web site," Berry said. "Now that it is evolving, we need to carefully and thoughtfully consider the implications of added controls. Librarians and others who are concerned about protecting the values of freedom of speech, unfettered access to information, and privacy must be deeply involved."

Use of new technologies has raised a number of issues that have social, legal and ethical implications. The Napster case, for instance, showed that traditional copyright law wasn't appropriate for a medium in which digital information can be so easily manipulated by just about anyone with access to the Internet. New rules are being proposed that seek to balance the rights of both users and producers of intellectual property.

"I began my presidential term with a conversation with a 'gatekeeper' of the 18th century, Thomas Jefferson," Berry said. "Now we'll continue the conversation with two 21st-century gatekeepers - policy-makers who will discuss how librarians can influence decisions relating not only to information policy, but also to the impact of policy on access to information, privacy and freedom of speech. It is the stuff of 'transformative change.'"

Leading the discussion will be Deborah Hurley, Director of the Harvard Information Infrastructure Project at Harvard University, and James J. O'Donnell, Professor of Classical Studies and Vice Provost for Information Systems and Computing at the University of Pennsylvania. Both speakers have spent much of their professional lives working with new technologies, with responsibility for formulating information technology policy.

Hurley is the founder and executive director of Terra Nova, the global public interest policy center for advanced technologies. She also served as the first Administrator in the Information, Computer and Communications Policy Division of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international organization in Paris and has practiced intellectual property law in the United States.

O'Donnell, author of "Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace" and leader of the study "LC21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress," places information technology and librarianship in a strategic and historical context.