There's a group on Facebook called "I'll Bet I Can Find 1,000,000 People Who Think Libraries Are Important." While the comments can be inspiring and heartwarming to hard-working librarians, I was disappointed to see it has only garnered 163,265 members. Why aren't there many millions?! Of course, I'm preaching to the choir here, but I thought that post National Library Week (which was April 11-17, 2010), it would be worth it to look at some of the commendable efforts to celebrate and promote library use, as well as highlight a very important week championed by librarians: Choose Privacy Week (May 2-8).
A 2009 poll conducted for the American Library Association (ALA) found that 96% of respondents agreed that public libraries play an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed because it provides free access to materials and resources. Americans go to school, public, and academic libraries nearly three times more often than they go to the movies. All types of libraries "are resources the American public use to find jobs, support education and lifelong learning, gain access to information and telecommunications services, empower their families, and engage in civic activities." (Much more information and statistics are available in ALA's recently released report, The State of America's Libraries, 2010; the full text is available at http://tinyurl.com/State2010.) And, according to 2008-2009 ALA president Jim Rettig, "The average annual cost to the taxpayer for access to this wide range of resources is about $31, the cost of one hardcover book. In good times or bad, libraries are a great value!"
ALA's Office for Library Advocacy works tirelessly to provide resources and tools to help make the case for libraries during the economic downturn. (See its "Advocating in a Tough Economy Toolkit," www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/advocacy/advocacyuniversity/toolkit/index.cfm.) The office provides a clearinghouse of information, sponsors events, courses, training, and promotes public awareness campaigns.
ALA's Washington Office advocates at the federal level for legislation on behalf of our libraries. If you'd like a good way to keep on top of what's happening with issues of importance to the library community, subscribe to its District Dispatch news by email or RSS (www.wo.ala.org/districtdispatch/?page_id=277).
ALA has also set up the ILoveLibraries.org website, designed to keep Americans informed about what's happening in today's libraries. It offers information, an e-newsletter, ways to get involved and take action, and easy ways to contact legislators. Tell your patrons and friends about this site.
One of the site's latest informational campaigns is called "Choose Privacy Week, May 2-8." I don't think I can describe it any better than did Martin Garnar, chair, ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee, who wrote:
Bottom line: there are a lot of questions about privacy, but answers are few and far between. Before those answers can be found, more people need to be asking questions about privacy and what they can do to take charge of their information. Choose Privacy Week, which takes place May 2-8, 2010, is about bringing those issues out into the open and discussing them-and libraries are the perfect places for those conversations to take place.
What librarians can do is help people understand their options for taking charge of their personal information. Participating in Choose Privacy Week is your chance to start the ball rolling. Talk to your local library about what's going on in your community for Choose Privacy Week and, for more information about the issues and ways to take action, visit www.privacyrevolution.org.
Choose Privacy Week is a new initiative that invites people into a national conversation about privacy rights in a digital age. The campaign gives individuals the resources to think critically and make more informed choices about their privacy. The Privacy Revolution site (www.privacyrevolution.org) is full of helpful resources, including interviews, links, press kits, lesson plans, and a list of events scheduled for the week. There's even a privacy video and a trailer (http://vimeo.com/11399383, http://vimeo.com/10998821). Libraries are encouraged to share the video online and host events to discuss the issues it raises.
Organizations that have joined as allies in the initiative include the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and others. The initiative has more than 500 fans for its Facebook page: www.facebook.com/chooseprivacyweek.
Privacy Week comes at a particularly timely juncture in our Digital Age. New digital technologies and new company policies (such as the recent changes to Facebook) continuously test our privacy rights-just what do corporations and the government know about us and our personal lives? Momentum is now growing to ask questions and get discussions going.
Another group of privacy advocates, major companies, and think tanks have come together to form a coalition called Digital Due Process (www.digitaldueprocess.org). Its logo proclaims "Modernizing Surveillance Laws for the Internet Age." It specifically targets the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which was enacted in 1986 and has not undergone a significant revision. The coalition cited the need to preserve traditional privacy rights in the face of technological change while also ensuring that law enforcement agents can carry out investigations and that industry has the clarity needed to innovate.
Members include ALA, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), EFF, the ACLU, Google, and Microsoft. ARL's statement of support is a strong affirmation of the role of librarians.
The reader's right to privacy and free inquiry has long been a central value for librarians. The Internet has already made reading habits easier to record and trace, and new services like Google Books and devices like the Amazon Kindle and the Apple iPad are sure to move even more information about what we read out of our homes and onto servers in the cloud. ARL believes strongly that the move to new platforms does not change the fundamentally private nature of reading, nor should it abridge the First Amendment right to free inquiry.