Democracy and Homeland Security: Strategies, Controversies, and Impact
The public library provides the best possible environment for growing a civil society.1 Libraries protect and nurture our societal values of free speech and diversity. Libraries provide services and materials that allow and encourage an individual to deepen and broaden understanding of all types of issues. By providing a place for people to gather and interact, libraries contribute to the development of social capital. Advocacy is what librarians do; we advocate for children learning to read, for adults learning to read, and for those who need technology skills. Librarianship’s most active and most prominent area of advocacy is for the First Amendment rights of all individuals. Libraries provide a unique and established environment for growing a civil society, but there are most certainly threats to that environment. Some of the threats are related to funding, whereas other threats come from competitors; these threats are serious and yet manageable. Other threats, such as restrictions of free speech and invasions of personal privacy, come from changes in the culture and are more threatening to values than they are to bricks and mortar. This essay will emphasize the legal and social pressures on the value of free speech—specifically threats to an individual’s privacy by the USA PATRIOT Act—and the reaction of librarians and libraries to these pressures. These reactions will be examined by looking at the professional and organizational factors that affect the environment of public librarianship.2 The ability of libraries to continue to provide an environment that nurtures civil society is dependent upon the ways in which the profession and library institutions accept responsibility for this environment.
Libraries are a critical access point, and for some it is
the only access point to materials that inform. Because democracy is dependent
upon an informed citizenry, preserving democracy is a daily responsibility
for librarians in the
Privacy protection is a critical feature of free speech
rights, and the defense of free speech is a fundamental tenet of modern American
librarianship. Literally, every time someone checks out a book, uses library
Internet access, or asks a librarian a question, that person’s privacy could
be either carefully protected or left unguarded. Confidentiality of patron
records, such as the titles of books checked out, “assures library patrons
that, in ordinary circumstances, they will not be subject to intrusion, intimidation,
or reprisal for their choice of reading material or research topics.”5 In
all fifty states, there are state laws that protect the confidentiality of
patron records. Librarianship espouses—even demands—that patron privacy be
protected. The leading voice for librarianship in the
Because it is the most prominent voice for librarianship,
the general public, lawmakers, the media, and most librarians think of the
The library community’s reaction to Ashcroft’s comments
was swift and vehement. Groups from both inside and outside of librarianship
came forward to protest the speech, including the Special Librarians Association
(an organization separate from the
Long before Ashcroft’s speech, the
Aside from the materials related to the USA PATRIOT Act,
the defense of First Amendment rights is embedded in many other
The “Library Bill of Rights” is a statement many libraries have posted prominently in their buildings as an expression of the responsibilities library organizations have to their patrons, including the responsibility to provide services that are free from censorship. Each of the eight sections of the “Library Bill of Rights” has something to do with freedom of speech. For example, “materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval. . . . Libraries should challenge censorship. . . . Libraries should cooperate with all persons concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression. . . . A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.”17
The “Code of Ethics of the American Library Association,” a set of principles that are expressed as service quality, objectivity, intellectual freedom, privacy and confidentiality, intellectual property, and the importance of separating personal convictions from professional duties, guides members of the ALA. The “Code of Ethics of the American Library Association” also describes the role of librarians as “in a political system grounded in an informed citizenry, we are members of a profession explicitly committed to intellectual freedom and the freedom of access to information.”18 Librarianship, then, is essential to the development of an informed citizenry; librarians have the responsibility and the highly developed abilities to provide the information necessary for citizens to make political, personal, and civic decisions. As with many codes of ethics, the values of the organization—and by extension the values the members of the organization should uphold—are clearly stated. How one might go about enabling those values is not so clearly stated. The “Code of Ethics of the American Library Association” presents a statement of values rather than a set of imperatives. However, it does serve as a “collective recognition by members of [this] profession of its responsibilities”19 as evidenced by the numerous references to the code in the professional literature and in many standard textbooks for library science education. The field of librarianship is exceptional20 because it addresses the protection of intellectual freedom for not only researchers and research subjects in the field of library science but also library customers/patrons.
Formal statements and codes are one source of guidance for librarians. The professional literature and informal venues of conversation are other sources. The formal statements, the professional literature, and the informal venues serve a variety of purposes; one purpose is to reinforce the paradigms of librarianship. Writings that represent views counter to the paradigms are infrequent.21 A writing that attempts to negate the paradigm is generally considered an oddity, although appreciated for its use as a test of the established values. As in all other disciplines, the oddity may eventually revolutionize the establishment.22 Informal venues, such as weblogs23 and listservs, are not expected to carry the burden of reinforcing prescribed values. Coincidentally and serendipitously, these informal venues may serve that purpose but without sanction or even awareness by the establishment. In both the formal and informal venues, there is very little evidence that librarians en masse are willing, or even tempted, to back away from protecting privacy. There is a small amount of evidence, however, that some librarians have made decisions that reflect a sense of conflict between protecting individual rights and responding to suspicious acts.
An examination of the professional literature of librarianship
offers a more detailed picture of what librarians are saying and doing about
the USA PATRIOT Act. Because of the role that the professional literature
plays in reinforcing values, analyzing this literature for themes and viewpoints
will tell us something about what the overall profession thinks about protecting
privacy over time, and since the terrorist attacks on the
Published research about the USA PATRIOT Act and libraries
is not yet plentiful nor widely dispersed. The most extensive studies24 to date, conducted by the
One of the difficulties in knowing about the effect of the USA PATRIOT Act lies within the Act itself; one is prohibited from reporting any requests for information requested under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. Nevertheless, respondents were asked to report if “authorities (e.g., FBI, police) requested any information about your patrons pursuant to the events of September 11th.”30 More than 11 percent of the libraries that serve communities over fifty thousand indicated that they had received such a request. The percentages for the small and medium-sized communities were much smaller, 3.7 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively. Eleven communities is, however, a considerable number of libraries.
A study of post-9/11 attitudes and actions of reference
librarians in public libraries in
1. Librarians have the responsibility of looking out for the individual patron, not the greater good of society.
2. I believe in a patron’s absolute right to privacy in nearly every situation.
3. I do not worry that terrorists could use the resources of the public library to help them carry out more terrorism.
4. If a patron wanted me to research the inner workings of the water distribution system of my community/city, I would help them find information without question.
The size of the community served, as in the
Librarians have the responsibility of looking out for the individual patron, not the greater good of society.
Size of Community % Who Strongly Agree or Agree
It is important to note that almost 29 percent of librarians in large communities reported that they disagreed with the statement; almost 38 percent of the librarians in the smallest communities disagreed. Very few respondents in any of the categories strongly disagreed.
Statement 4, about the water distribution system, elicited
the most varied dispersal of responses. Across all community size categories,
almost 55 percent of the librarians said they either disagreed or strongly
disagreed with the statement. It is possible the results were affected by
a similar incident that actually occurred in a public library in
Almost two hundred articles in library science publications have been published about the USA PATRIOT Act and its affect on libraries. Eighty-four percent32 are expressions of either concern or distress about the PATRIOT Act or are suggestions of how libraries may better protect patron privacy through electronic records management measures. Some of the phrasing used in these articles is quite powerful and passionate. One author, who briefly addresses the conflict librarians may feel about the conflict between individual rights and national security, gives the advice to “Weed your Inner Ashcroft”33 as an approach to putting individual rights ahead of national security. Terms and phrases such as “monstrous,”34 “fascist police state,”35 “all is not lost—yet”36 are found throughout the literature. Clearly, then, it is not a stretch to state that librarianship has some very deeply felt concerns about the USA PATRIOT Act. In addition to the calls for attention to the USA PATRIOT Act and its possible impact on library patrons, there are also those who view librarians as the group best suited to help American society find the balance between civil liberties and national security.37
It is not especially easy to discover librarians who are
equally passionate in support of the USA PATRIOT Act and who have written
about their views. One source for this perspective is the weblog SHUSH.38 Its purpose is to provide “a conservative home for librarians.”39 Conservativelib
is a Yahoo! group40 that presently has 57 members. Conservativelib is a “space
for conservative librarians to share thoughts and ideas.”41 Those who speak counter to the
The USA PATRIOT Act is a relatively new entity. Intellectual
freedom, however, is not. For the first hundred or so years of American librarianship,
selection of materials in libraries followed the Melvil Dewey42 view that “only the best books on the best subjects” were
to be collected.43 For many years, librarians
were somewhat ambivalent about censorship44 and
considered it to be outside of their purview. There is evidence that librarians
even cooperated with the efforts of Eugene McCarthy.45 The
Those who have studied the social aspects of professionalism
by looking for certain traits such as autonomy, rigorous standards for admission
and practice, and a highly developed system of internal control typically
put librarianship in the category of “semi-profession.”47 Other
scholars of professionalism take an approach of studying an occupation’s
power base;48 librarianship is generally viewed
as weak in this area. Regardless of which approach one takes, the profession
is missing a few critical features. One of those features is the lack of
Since the early 1980s, managerial competencies have been
developed in many organizational settings. One mechanism for ensuring the
provision of a certain level of service consistency is through the use of
occupational competency statements, and the
Only three of the eleven divisions of the ALA have developed
competency statements; these divisions are the Reference and User Services
Association (RUSA),49 the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC),50 and
the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).51 The ALSC
and the YALSA competency statements include intellectual freedom as one of
the concepts; RUSA’s does not. All three of the statements emphasize administration,
communication, and knowledge of client group skills. These competencies address
a significant but still limited portion of library job settings. Examining
these competency areas further and using a framework suggested by Virtanen,52 the
extant competencies of librarians place an emphasis on tasks, subject areas,
and administration. Little or no emphasis is placed on political or ethical
competence; “conforming to moral values and moral norms that prevail in a
culture”53 is the essence of ethical competence.
Many public organizations, including libraries, use competency statements
to evaluate employee effectiveness. The value of intellectual freedom is
certainly an important part of the language and culture of American librarianship.
However, a librarian’s commitment to the value of intellectual freedom may
be weakened because the
The reasons for librarianship’s lack of professional power
have been examined several times.54 One explanation
for the lack of power is that a librarian has professional standing because
of the organization—the library. Very few librarians work outside of an institution.
Libraries don’t belong to the librarians; libraries belong to the communities
they serve, whether those communities are cities, colleges, or schools. The
effect of the community’s values on the librarian’s job-related decisions
can be quite pronounced, as we saw with the results of the
Another occupation that serves in situations similar to librarianship is teaching. In addition to the organizational structure similarities between librarians and teachers, the advocacy role is also evident in the teaching profession. The increasingly critical role of teachers as advocates, lobbying for educational reform and equitable funding, is a theme of many writings.56 For example, the role of teachers at the college level as advocates has been recently addressed.57 There are some significant differences between librarianship and teaching. For most communities, the role of teacher and the role of the educational institution in their most basic forms are widely accepted—unlike librarians and libraries. Teachers and schools function in a highly regulated environment, also unlike librarians.
Public libraries do not operate under any set of national standards. At the state level, forty states have developed public library standards, many of which are voluntary (22).58 A few states59 have mandated compliance with state public-library standards, and compliance is tied to state funding formulas. Many of the state standards address quantitative elements such as circulation counts, staffing ratios, collection size, facility size, and operating budgets. These quantitative elements are relatively easy to communicate to the public—circulating 500,000 titles a year is “better” than circulating 400,000 titles. However, there is no connection made between quantitative elements and the effectiveness of the public library. Hamilton-Pennell’s60 analysis of state public-library standards concludes that the body of standards reflects very simplistic and inadequate measures of performance. There is little emphasis on the local planning approach that is quite pronounced in the professional literature.
In librarianship, as in other nonprofit settings, many recent publications that have had a considerable impact on national discussions emphasize the importance of creating commercial revenue sources, marketing the library, fighting competition, and serving the immediate desires of the community.61 In short, the library is being pushed into the private market model.62 Since the early 1990s, hundreds of books and articles have been written that describe “high tech/high touch” library services, how to ensure that the library has a place at the community’s table, and how to build coalitions, improve customer service, and conduct needs analyses. Public libraries have had the mission of serving their communities for many years, but the emphasis on the community is more recent.
Instead of serving individual needs and wants, the library serves collective needs and wants. Instead of creating collections and services that reflect national or global values and interests, the library creates collections and services that reflect local values and interests. The librarian’s skills are used to interpret and activate programs and services that will meet the needs of the community. The result of this shift in emphasis is that community involvement in establishing the mission, values, and goals of the library is extremely important. Achieving widespread and representative community involvement in the process of establishing the library’s mission and values is also extremely difficult. The public service orientation63 seems like the right thing to do; after all, public agencies should listen to their customers. However, emphasizing customer service over values means that only the current customers who are willing to speak are the ones who are heard; this approach leaves out a considerable number of people and range of perspectives. Further, this approach is very much in the moment and may result in organizational goals that reflect interests that are short-lived and mutable.
There have been very few large-scale studies of public opinion about the importance and roles of libraries. In the aggregate, most people think libraries improve a community’s quality of life and its property values, and that “the library supports and contributes to the prosperity of the local community.”64 The library as a gathering place is also important to many people,65 and the traditional service of providing print and electronic materials is typically ranked highly.66 Interestingly, no large-scale, recent study includes public opinion regarding the library’s role as protector of free speech. The role of the library in providing materials and services to support lifelong learning is overwhelmingly supported.67
Ninety-one percent of the operating income of public libraries comes from local, state, or federal sources;68 77 percent of the $8.2 billion in public monies comes from local sources, such as property value–based levies that must be approved by voters. In order for the library to survive fiscally and culturally with the support of its community, the librarian who has been thoroughly trained in the principles of individual rights must decide how to balance those rights with the values of the collective. The question of what has to come first is probably the most difficult to answer for any librarian.
Libraries are part of the public sector and are most certainly responding to the trends of public sector management philosophies and styles. It appears that libraries give a nod to the protection of intellectual freedom through mission statements. However, structural support through competencies, planning that relies on more than a time-bound community needs assessment, and institutional values that include ethics are simply not evident.
As public institutions and in these times, libraries are
wise to listen and respond to their community’s desires; by listening, libraries
may survive. Taking this market-driven model to an extreme and considering
the range of communities and values in
4. Professional librarians are those who have a master’s degree in library and information science. The general public typically is not aware of this distinction and usually refers to anyone working in a library as a “librarian.”
5. “Library Community Statement on Proposed Anti-terrorism Measures,” American Library Association, American Association of Law Libraries, Association of Research Libraries, Medical Library Association, 2001, http://www.ala.org/ala/washoff/WOissues/civilliberties/theusapatriotact/terrorism.pdf.
8. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, “The
Proven Tactics in the Fight against Crime,” National Restaurant Association,
10. Eric Lichtblau, “Ashcroft Mocks
Librarians and Others Who Oppose Parts of Counterterrorism Laws,”
12. “Guidelines for Librarians
on the U.S.A. Patriot Act: What to do before, during and after a ‘knock
at the door?’” American Library Association,
13. Herbert Foerestal, Surveillance
in the Stacks (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood
Press, 1991), http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/GODORT/resolutions/880713774.html.
The FBI Library Awareness Program was an attempt at foreign counterintelligence
aimed at people from
14. Some of these statements are “Intellectual Freedom Principles for Academic Libraries”; “Access for Children and Young People to Videotapes and Other Nonprint Formats”; “Free Access to Libraries for Minors”; “Resolution on Access to the Use of Libraries and Information by Individuals with Physical or Mental Impairment”; “The Freedom to Read Statement”; “Freedom to View Statement”; “The Universal Right to Free Expression”; and “Challenged Materials,” http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/statementspols/statementspolicies.htm.
19. Charles E. Harris, Jr., Michael S. Pritchard, and Michael J. Rabins, Engineering Ethics: Concepts and Cases (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Publishing, 1995), 35.
21. Blaise Cronin and Elisabeth Davenport, Post-Professionalism in the Information Heartland (Chicago: American Library Association, 1988); Walt Crawford and Michael Gorman, Future Libraries, Dreams, Madness & Reality (Chicago: American Library Association, 1995).
22. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962); Bruno LaTour, Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987).
24. Leigh Estabrook, “The Response
of Public Libraries to the Events of
31. Michael D. Hibben, “Privacy and Terrorism Concerns in the Post-9/11 Library: A Survey of Reference Staff in Ohio Public Libraries” (master’s research paper, School of Library and Information Science, Kent State University, 2004).
32. A total of 119 articles were
identified through the primary index of librarianship, Library Literature,
as having been published since
33. Karen G. Schneider, “The Patriot Act: Last Refuge of a Scoundrel,” American Libraries Online, March 2002, http://www.ala.org/al_onlineTemplate.cfm?Section=2002columns1&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=12585.
35. John N. Berry, “Talking Freedom
37. Lee S. Strickland, “Civil Liberties
vs. Intelligence Collection: The Secret Foreign
43. Richard Rubin, Foundations
of Library and Information Science (
45. Michael H. Harris and Stan Hannah, “Why Do We Study the History of Libraries? A Meditation on the Perils of Ahistoricism in the Information Era,” Library & Information Science Research 14 (1992): 123–30.
49. “Reference Guidelines” page, Reference and User Services Association, Division of the American Library Association, RUSA “Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers” (2004), http://www.ala.org/ala/rusa/rusaprotools/referenceguide/referenceguidelines.htm.
50. “ALSC Competencies” page, Association for Library Service to Children, Division of the American Library Association, http://www.ala.org/ala/alsc/alscresources/forlibrarians/professionaldev/competencies.htm.
56. Frederick M. Hess and David L. Leal, “Technocracies,
Bureaucracies, or Responsive Polities? Urban School Systems and the Politics
of School Violence Prevention,” Social Science Quarterly 84, no.
3 (2003): 526–42; Margaret Placier, Michael Walker, and Bill Foster, “Writing
the ‘Show-Me’ Standards: Teacher Professionalism and Political Control
in U.S. State Curriculum Policy,” Curriculum Inquiry 32, no. 3 (2002):
57. Jon Nixon, “‘Not without Dust and Heat’: The Moral Bases of the ‘New’ Academic Professionalism,” British Journal of Educational Studies 49, no. 2 (2001): 173–86; John B. Bennett, Collegial Professionalism: The Academy, Individualism, and the Common Good (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997).
58. Christine Hamilton-Pennell, Public
Library Standards: A Review of Standards and Guidelines From the 50 States
59. These states are
64. Bruce T. Fraser, Timothy W.
Nelson, and Charles R. McClure, “Describing the Economic Impacts and Benefits