Libraries and national security
First Monday

Libraries and national security: An historical review


Abstract The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks launched the United States into a new era of defensive preparedness. The U.S. federal government’s first legislative action in October 2001 was the passage of the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (USA PATRIOT Act). The USA PATRIOT Act introduced a greatly heightened level of government intrusion into many aspects of ordinary life, including library use. When, in the past, authorities called upon the library profession to serve national security interests in these ways, individual librarians and the profession as a whole have experienced an evolving tension between their roles as guardians of public well–being and as protectors of intellectual freedom. This is a fundamental issue, one that reflects upon the profession’s view of itself and of its place in American life. Librarians once again face this challenge. An inquiry into the similarities and differences with the past may aid in suggesting a response that is both professionally sound and individually appropriate.

Contents

An historical review
The war on terrorism and the USA PATRIOT Act
Learning from the past
A rationale for action

 


 

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An historical review

The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks launched the United States into a new era of defensive preparedness. The U.S. federal government’s first legislative action in October, was the passage of the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (USA PATRIOT Act). The USA PATRIOT Act introduced a greatly heightened level of government intrusion into many aspects of ordinary life, including library use (Pinnell–Stevens, 2003). There is historical precedence for this type of governmental response. In previous times of crisis, American authorities have used two security–related strategies that directly involve libraries and librarians: restrictive information management and domestic information gathering. Techniques for the former have taken the form of broader criteria for security classification, removal of information from repositories (and now Web sites), and tighter security clearance and non–disclosure requirements (Edwards, 2004), as well as requirements for, or promotion of, collection alteration by item removal, labeling, or segregation (Nerboso, 1954). Programs in the latter category included recruiting librarians as informants, placement of wiretaps and tracing mechanisms in the library, and requests for circulation records and other information ("FBI Asks Libraries," 1987). The U.S. federal government’s first legislative action, in October, was the passage of the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (USA PATRIOT Act).

When, in the past, authorities called upon the library profession to serve national security interests in these ways, individual librarians and the profession as a whole have experienced an evolving tension between their roles as guardians of public well–being and as protectors of intellectual freedom. This is a fundamental issue, one that reflects upon the profession’s view of itself and of its place in American life. Librarians once again face this challenge. An inquiry into the similarities and differences with the past may aid in suggesting a response that is both professionally sound and individually appropriate.

National security defined

This inquiry must begin with an understanding of the national security concept. The term national security or national safety has been in use by American political writers since the founding of this country, but it began appearing in laws during World War I, albeit without definition (Relyea, 2002). Statutory vagueness has allowed the widest possible latitude to federal, state, and local authorities assigned to enforce security–related procedures. At the most basic level, the term refers to safety from a perceived danger that has an external, or foreign, component. From this perspective, four clear parallels are to World War I (1914 to 1919), World War II (1939 to 1945), the Early Cold War and McCarthyism (1946 to 1955), and the Late Cold War (the 1970s and 1980s).

World War I

At the outset of World War I in Europe, American librarians had only recently established a national professional organization. The American Library Association (ALA), founded in 1876, aimed its early efforts at providing standards for library management and professional activities, such as collection development. Wayne Wiegand (1989) described the American library of this period as "a politically marginal institution dependent on voluntary patronage by a relatively indifferent group." [1]. Understandably, library professionals were deeply concerned with the identification of a culturally significant purpose for librarianship.

Statutory vagueness has allowed the widest possible latitude to federal, state, and local authorities assigned to enforce security–related procedures. At the most basic level, the term refers to safety from a perceived danger that has an external, or foreign, component.

The War, then, presented a real opportunity for librarians: they could enhance the profession’s stature by transforming their institutions into community war support centers. Soon after the declaration of war, the ALA established a Library War Services Committee, headed by Herbert Putnam. Putnam, the Librarian of Congress and a past president of the ALA, used his influence to ensure that the ALA was "one of the ‘Seven Sisters,’ a group of quasi–official agencies that the government turned to for social services for servicemen" [2]. At the local level, this translated into book drives for servicemen, bond sales, and food conservation campaigns (Wiegand, 1989). The book drives alone resulted in the distribution of approximately ten million books and magazines to 5,000 locations, including 36 newly constructed camp libraries (Young, 2002).

In contrast to this bright story of patriotism and professional significance — what Young (2002) called ALA’s "finest hour" [3] — the war also brought with it increasingly restrictive information controls and a nearly complete stifling of dissent. Beginning in 1917, Congress passed several pieces of legislation designed to regulate information content and transmission. The Espionage Act, passed on 15 June 1917, gave broad powers to the U.S. Postmaster General by declaring that any materials containing treasonous or revolutionary content would not be allowed in the mail [4].

In the fall of 1917, Congress passed the Trading–with–the–Enemy Act, authorizing the establishment of an official censorship board (Wiegand, 1989). Members included military and War Board representatives, the Postmaster, and George Creel, the Chairman of the Committee on Public Information. Creel’s organization was instrumental in aggressively promoting public support for the Wilson Administration’s agenda, specifically in mobilizing support for the war as well as discouraging dissent (Wells, 2002). In practice, the Act simply increased the Postmaster’s censorship powers. In January of 1918, Congress passed the Sedition Act, substantially limiting free speech by making it illegal to speak, write, print, or publish anything critical of the U.S. government [5]. Penalties for breaking this law included steep fines and incarceration. Throughout this period, the library community voiced no public or private objections (Wiegand, 1989).

In addition to information restriction, military authorities also requested librarians’ assistance in patron surveillance. In the spring of 1918, military intelligence issued an order to remove from libraries any materials on explosives, as well as to report the names of requestors to the Army [6]. Libraries readily complied, some developing innovative methods for reducing and monitoring access to the materials.

In the spring of 1918, military intelligence issued an order to remove from libraries any materials on explosives, as well as to report the names of requestors to the Army. Libraries readily complied, some developing innovative methods for reducing and monitoring access to the materials.

Indeed, librarians responded with extreme initiative, complying with both the letter and spirit of these laws and regulations. Library boards endorsed the removal or segregation of German–language books (Wiegand, 1999), with more than one librarian actually burning German materials (Wiegand, 1989). When the U.S. Army published its Army Index of books allowed at camp libraries, librarians eagerly adopted these lists as "a deselection list for public libraries across the country" [7]. In a public environment that legitimized fear, hysteria, and xenophobia, most librarians were anxious to avoid confrontations with state councils of defense and other zealous citizen groups that threatened funding and⁄or employment loss (Wells, 2002). The pressure to conform suppressed nearly all dissent. The library community completely abandoned the very few librarians brave enough to hold opposing views [8].

World War II

Between the wars, the American library profession experienced a reawakening of debate regarding freedom of access. Traditionalists advocated the guardianship of community values by restrictive collection policies, and progressives favored collection development that was once again neutral and actively representative of all points of view (Lincove, 1994). The library profession, like the public, included both pacifists and supporters of the Allied forces. In 1938, Bernard Berelson famously challenged librarians to abandon the pretense of impartiality and promote democracy, in contrast to the infamous Nazi book–burners:

"Librarianship must stand firmly against social and political and economic censorship of book collections; it must be so organized that it can present effective opposition to this censorship and it must protect librarians who are threatened by it." [9].

By 1939, the leadership of the profession was unapologetically in favor of Allied support. The Librarian of Congress, Archibald MacLeish, saw the coming war as both a civic duty and a professional opportunity to promote librarianship’s importance to society (MacLeish, 1940). MacLeish, as well as the ALA Executive Director, Carl Milam, both engaged in extensive pre–war planning based on World War I experiences [10]. On 31 May 1940, MacLeish spoke at the ALA’s general meeting in Cincinnati, demanding that librarians "accept a responsibility for the survival of democracy" [11]. Milam and the ALA took a similar approach. Five days after the Pearl Harbor attacks, the ALA issued a declaration calling for every library to become "a war information center" [12].

Into this context, then, came the 1942 War Department order for libraries to remove materials on munitions and cryptology, as well as to report to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) the names of individuals requesting the materials (Becker, 2003). The Secretary of War disseminated the order via the ALA, which readily forwarded it to 187 libraries "thought most likely to contain such material" [13]. Compliance was common; librarians who questioned the order did so on practical rather than ethical grounds. Indeed, librarians who did not receive the order complained that authorities had left them out [14].

In addition, the Office of Facts and Figures (OFF), an early World War II propaganda agency, asked individual libraries to collect intelligence on public perceptions. Librarians were eager to participate [15]. MacLeish himself was head of the OFF, as well as its successor, the Office of War Information, providing an "entrance of American librarians into the world of trenchcoats and the coeval emergence of information science and military intelligence in the United States" [16].

The Office of Facts and Figures (OFF), an early World War II propaganda agency, asked individual libraries to collect intelligence on public perceptions. Librarians were eager to participate.

The enthusiastic response of librarians to government–ordered actions, as well as the many voluntary suppressions of information and contributions of intelligence, suggest that the rank and file did not readily accept the emerging notion of intellectual freedom, even as lauded by professional leaders. Moreover, although the 1939 ALA Code of Ethics stated, "It is the librarian’s obligation to treat as confidential any private information obtained through contact with library patrons" [17], librarians apparently considered privacy a peacetime luxury, and one that would return with victory and peace. One prescient public librarian warned at the 1940 ALA Midwinter meeting that civil liberties, once lost, might be hard to restore [18].

The Early Cold War and McCarthyism

In the aftermath of World War II, America’s wartime alliance with the Soviet Union collapsed. In late 1946, a Soviet defector to Canada hinted that Soviet–linked spy rings might be operating in the United States (Robbins, 1994). Soon, President Truman ordered loyalty checks of all federal agency employees, and the House Un–American Activities Committee "accused the Library of Congress of harboring ‘aliens and foreign–minded Americans’" [19].

This was the beginning of an intensely charged period of suspicion, innuendo, accusation, and retribution now known as McCarthyism, after Senator Joseph McCarthy, a virulent anti–Communist, and Chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. During this time, federal, state, and local authorities took official actions that effectively created a momentum of fear and an unprecedented pressure to conform, under the guise of ensuring national security. Threats of funding or employment loss intimidated librarians and other public servants (Richards, 2001; Robbins, 1994). What began as strictly an anti–Soviet book purge soon spread to any materials viewed as anti–American. Working librarians had to decide how best to respond to powerful citizen groups, and they debated the merits of book removal, reshelving, and labeling (Bixler, 1951; Dix, 1952; Taylor, 1951).

The ALA Council issued two groundbreaking resolutions during this time that provided the profession’s first substantial national support for intellectual freedom. In 1948, the Council adopted a newly strengthened Library Bill of Rights. At the 1948 annual conference, intellectual freedom was a major topic, and "general sessions exhorted librarians to uphold democratic values of free inquiry and to combat censorship" [20]. The Council adopted the new Bill of Rights, asserting, "Censorship of books … must be challenged by libraries in maintenance of their responsibility to provide public information and enlightenment" [21]. The Rights also included an exhortation to "enlist the cooperation of allied groups in the fields of science, of education, and of book publishing in resisting all abridgement of the free access to ideas" [22].

The second major document to come from the ALA was the 1953 Freedom to Read statement (American Library Association and American Book Publishers Council [ALA and ABPC], 1953), a product of a large coalition of librarians, publishers, and educators. The statement asserted the value of "diversity of views and expressions," as well as denounced the practice of selecting books based on "the personal history or political affiliations of the author" [23]. In addition, it argued against collection labeling and any other mechanism for restricting access, and clearly articulated the professional responsibility of librarians and publishers to defend intellectual freedom. The ALA Committee on Intellectual Freedom (IFC) made reprints of the statement freely available to librarians in an effort to assist working librarians in defending their libraries against calls for censorship (Robbins, 1996).

President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave the commencement address at Dartmouth College, urging, "Don’t join the book burners … Don’t be afraid to go to your local library and read every book as long as any document does not offend our own ideas of decency."

Before the IFC could publicize the statement, President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953) gave the commencement address at Dartmouth College, urging, "Don’t join the book burners … Don’t be afraid to go to your local library and read every book as long as any document does not offend our own ideas of decency" [24]. His comments were widely assumed to be a response McCarthy’s attack on the contents of Department of State’s Overseas Libraries, some of which had actually been locations of book–burnings [25]. The 1953 ALA National Conference followed with a focus on intellectual freedom and the new Freedom to Read statement. The ALA planned and executed a successful publicity campaign, marking its first significant confrontation with McCarthy, and giving librarians "a high profile as defenders of an essential democratic freedom, the freedom to read" [26].

The Late Cold War and the Library Awareness Program

On 4 June 1987, two FBI agents entered Columbia University’s Mathematics and Science Library and asked a clerk about foreign library users (Schmidt, 1989b). Fortunately, the reference librarian overhead the request and referred the agents to the Acting University Librarian, Paula Kaufman, who refused to cooperate with the FBI. Instead, she reported the incident to the IFC ("IFC Makes Vigorous Response," 1987), triggering letters to the FBI and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests [27].

The story of this encounter broke in the national media with a front–page article in the New York Times on 18 September 1987 (McFadden, 1987). The Times described the FBI as requesting library staff members to "watch for an report on library users who might be diplomats of hostile powers recruiting intelligence agents or gathering information potential harmful to United States security" [28]. The national media picked up the story, and it spread to "all parts of the country and abroad" [29].

On 4 June 1987, two FBI agents entered Columbia University’s Mathematics and Science Library and asked a clerk about foreign library users.

The IFC Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom called for librarians to report related incidents and then provided a summary describing FBI probes on a broad range of activities that the FBI considered suspicious, for example "swapping documents with other library patrons, speaking a foreign language, or requesting texts on ‘underground tunneling, military installations, or technological breakthroughs’" [30]. Later inquiries into the FBI’s library surveillance programs found that the programs had actually operated during a three–year period beginning in 1973, and then again in 1985 [31]. Further, although the FBI claimed that the program was restricted to the New York area, the IFC’s informal poll, as well as Foerstel’s extensive research, made clear that the surveillance and recruitment efforts were widespread, with multiple incidents reported from Maryland, Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Utah, Texas, and California [32].

In October, the IFC issued an advisory statement "alerting librarians to the ‘unwarranted government intrusions upon personal privacy’ that threaten ‘the First Amendment right to receive information’" [33]. The advisory pointed to the "ALA’s 1970 policy statement on ‘Confidentiality of Library Records,’ and of the provision in ALA’s 1981 ‘Statement on Professional Ethics’ for librarians that protects library users’ privacy" [34]. Throughout the rest of the fall, the IFC went back with expanded FOIA requests, with the response that the FBI’s New York office had located related records and would forward them to FBI headquarters. By February of 1988, the FBI had still not released the records [35].

Eventually, in May of 1988, Congress scheduled hearings. On 20 June, IFC Chairman C. James Schmidt testified. Like the IFC alert that preceded it, Schmidt’s testimony referred to the Statement of Professional Ethics (ALA, 1995) and Policy on Confidentiality of Library Records (ALA, 1986), as well as to the Library Bill of Rights (ALA, 1996), and identified all three with the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. He also challenged the strategic value of monitoring and⁄or restricting access to unclassified information, concluding that the "Library Awareness Program is a threat to the fundamental freedom of this nation" [36].

The following year, the National Security Archive received a response to an FOIA request that provided the disturbing information that the FBI had conducted over 100 background searches on librarians or their associates, many of whom were presumably "those who had criticized the [Library Awareness] program" [37]. Additionally, although the FBI had announced the closure of the program in December 1987, these newly released documents showed that investigative contacts continued through 1989 (Fields, 1989). American Libraries quoted Judith Krug, ALA’s Director of the Office of Intellectual Freedom, objecting:

"Talk about being led down the garden path. We believed what we were told, but these documents show that librarians have continued to be contacted after 1987, that people who opposed the program have been investigated, and we are not as secure as we thought." [38]

The year ended with ALA filing appeal with the Justice Department for a full disclosure of the FBI program. ALA Executive Director Linda F. Crismond told a Library Journal reporter, "We feel we have been grossly misled about the nature, scope, and continuation of the FBI Library Awareness Program" [39].

 

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The war on terrorism and the USA PATRIOT Act

Several of the many aspects of the USA PATRIOT Act pertain to library and information services. Federal investigators (usually the FBI) can now request broad surveillance powers from a special court, and the standards for approval of these requests are far less stringent than probable cause (Pinnell–Stevens, 2003). These requested powers can include the right to subpoena circulation or other library records, the right to examine any library computer, and the right to monitor patron reading, Internet use, or other activity, typically by using what is called a "roving wiretap" (McCoy, 2003; Minow, 2002). The FBI may also request that a library install Internet tracking software onto library computers (Minow, 2002). Lastly, requests made under this Act are secret. Librarians specifically cannot inform a patron that he or she is under suspicion (McCoy, 2003).

From an intellectual freedom perspective, three distinct controversies have emerged in connection with the USA PATRIOT Act.

  • Conflict with Constitutional protections. Civil libertarians see difficulties in connection with "the First Amendment (free speech), Third Amendment (no military intrusion), Fourth Amendment (unreasonable search and seizure), Fifth Amendment (no self–incrimination), and Sixth Amendment (due process)" [40].
  • Supercession of state laws. Forty–eight states enacted or strengthened laws protecting library patron privacy in the wake of the FBI’s Library Awareness Program. With variations, these laws ensure that investigators must meet the probable cause standard to obtain court–ordered disclosures (Sanchez, 2003; Sommer, 2002).
  • Restriction of intellectual freedom. A basic notion underlying intellectual freedom, as well as the presumption of innocence, is that knowing what someone reads or views is not equivalent to knowing what that individual believes, advocates, or plans to do. Judith Krug has warned that an atmosphere of surveillance can dissuade library patrons from freely selecting reading material, for fear of coming to the FBI’s attention (Caruso, 2003).

The library profession’s response

Perhaps because of the new law’s complexity, a full response by the profession has been evolutionary in nature. By April 2002, the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) had conducted extensive evaluation and assessment of the implications of the USA PATRIOT Act and published The USA Patriot Act in the Library: Analysis of the USA Patriot Act Related to Libraries (American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom [OIF], 2002). This document provided a straightforward explanation of the relevant sections of the Act without making any recommendations as to how librarians should respond if faced with an investigation. Two months later, in June, the ALA Council approved Privacy: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (ALA, 2002), stating,

"In a library (physical or virtual), the right to privacy is the right to open inquiry without having the subject of one’s interest examined or scrutinized by others. Confidentiality exists when a library is in possession of personally identifiable information about users and keeps that information private on their behalf."

By January of 2003, the ALA codified a three–fold response to the Act in its Resolution on the USA Patriot Act and Related Measures That Infringe on the Rights of Library Users. First, the resolution urged education about how to comply with the Act and also about the inherent dangers to intellectual freedom. It further urged that libraries "adopt and implement patron privacy and record retention policies" [41] to collect only information that is necessary for the library’s work. Second, the resolution bound the ALA to work with other like–minded organizations "to protect the rights of inquiry and free expression" [42]. Third, it commited the ALA (2003a) "to obtain and publicize information about the surveillance of libraries and library users by law enforcement agencies."

In fulfillment of these resolutions, the ALA has initiated a number of actions. For library workers and managers, the ALA created a support system focused on challenges that might arise during day–to–day library operations. On its Web site, ALA provides extensive educational materials, both for use in familiarizing staff members and communities about the issues, as well as in developing local policies for record retention and search warrant response, including What to Do If Served with a Search Warrant under USA Patriot Act (OIF, 2004). In addition, the OIF offers legal assistance through the Freedom to Read Foundation to any library served with a warrant and does not have an attorney.

In terms of establishing coalitions, the ALA collaborated with the American Booksellers Association and the PEN American Center to form the Campaign for Reader Privacy, initiating a nationwide campaign to gather signatures in support of legislation to amend Section 215 ("Million Signatures Sought," 2004). Lastly, in an effort to publicize the surveillance that has occurred, the ALA submitted a FOIA request for the number and content of subpoenas issued under Section 215 [43]. When the Justice Department failed to respond, the ALA participated in another collaborative effort — a joint lawsuit with the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, and American Civil Liberties Union, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (Sommer, 2002, Request Denied section). On 20 May 2003, the House Judiciary Committee obtained information from the Justice Department that "FBI agents have contacted about 50 libraries as part of investigations" (Oder, 2003b).

Hayden’s reply was swift and clear, "We are deeply concerned that the Attorney General should be openly contemptuous of those who seek to defend our Constitution."

ALA President Carla Hayden publicly challenged the Justice Department to make available the records sought in the FOIA request. Attorney General John Ashcroft mocked the request, adding offensive remarks deriding the significance of the ALA’s concerns (Goldberg and Foote, 2003). Hayden’s reply was swift and clear, "We are deeply concerned that the Attorney General should be openly contemptuous of those who seek to defend our Constitution" (ALA, 2003a). On September 18, Ashcroft agreed to declassify the report on library visits, but he claimed that the FBI had not used Section 215 powers in any of the contacts. Critics noted that this was an indication that the Justice Department could restore pre–USA PATRIOT Act standards without hampering intelligence efforts (Lichtblau, 2003; Oder, 2003a).

Individual responses of librarians

The popular press has highlighted numerous responses to the USA PATRIOT Act by individual librarians and libraries. These have included destroying Internet access logs on a daily basis, posting privacy–loss warning signs, and offering patron education on the issues (Sanchez, 2003). Leigh Estabrook and her team at the University of Illinois surveyed working librarians, and their data showed a somewhat different picture, one of "a profession divided," as they called it (Estabrook, et al., 2003). Her team studied librarians in the months after the terrorist attacks and then again a year later. Slightly more than half of the respondents said that they had not cooperated with law enforcement requests for patron information and Internet practices. Few libraries had changed existing access policies, but most libraries had engaged in staff training, both regarding the USA PATRIOT Act (60 percent) and the library’s own privacy policies (70 percent). In contrast to the numbers provided by the Justice Department, Estabrook’s team found that "Federal and local law enforcement officials visited at least 545 libraries" [44], and they suspected that this number was likely to be lower than actual, given the secrecy provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act. Estabrook’s team designed their survey to include questions that also appeared in a parallel study of the public by the Pew Internet and American Life Project (Rainie, et al., 2002). By so doing, they were able to show that librarians are far more likely (67 percent) than the public (35.3 percent) to object to the federal government removing information from its Internet Web sites.

 

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Learning from the past

Comparing the four historical periods with current debates over the USA PATRIOT Act, three key areas emerge as focal points of professional evolution: librarianship’s role in society, the profession’s organizational maturation, and what might be called librarians’ collective memory. The profession has long sought a culturally significant role in American society. During both World War I and World War II, librarians saw promise in providing critical war–related service, as well as in enthusiastically implementing wartime information restrictions and surveillance. This approach was emblematic of the early view of libraries as "guardians of cultural values" [45]. Not until the 1948 revision of the Library Bill of Rights did the transformation begin to the role as "guardians of free access" [46]. This new emphasis upon intellectual freedom, and the identification of that value with the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights, has gradually grown into the fundamental principle that governs the ALA’s official response to governmental actions related to information management, with the number, depth, and specificity of resolutions, statements, and guidelines increasing with each national security crisis.

Slightly less than half the librarians surveyed were fully cooperating with law enforcement requests.

It is worth noting, however, that the commitment to intellectual freedom by the profession’s major national association has not perfectly corresponded to thoughts and actions of the rank–and–file. Edwards (2004) showed that, whereas support for intellectual freedom was greater than support for national security during both the Early Cold War and current periods, the relative support for intellectual freedom had declined from two–thirds to one–half of items published [47]. The Estabrook team’s findings also revealed that slightly less than half the librarians surveyed were fully cooperating with law enforcement requests (Estabrook, et al., 2003).

Organizationally, the library profession, and the ALA in particular, has matured considerably since the World War I period, though it still "does not rank among older, more established professions" [48]. Beginning in the period just prior to World War, the ALA began to establish both policies and internal infrastructure to support a true position on issues related to intellectual freedom, with the 1939 passage of the first Library Bill of Rights, followed by the 1940 formation of the IFC [49]. During the Early Cold War period, the IFC’s Chairman, David K. Berninghausen (1950), was a strong voice against censorship and loyalty oath programs, exhorting librarians to "realize that it is there essential duty to prevent censorship and encourage free inquiry" [50]. Similarly, it was during this period that the ALA began skillfully to use the power of the press, gaining publicity for its efforts to challenge Senator McCarthy, and effectively influencing public opinion. This capability was crucial to winning over public opinion during the Library Awareness Program period, and the attention to press relations continues today, with ALA Presidents like Carla Hayden (2003) making sound–bite–ready statements such as, "Libraries are [italics in the original] the cornerstone of democracy" [51]. Lastly, just as the 1948 Library Bill of Rights suggested, the ALA has benefited greatly from the capacity to collaborate with other groups, and this strategy is very much in evidence in the present approach to the USA PATRIOT Act.

Because the FBI Library Awareness Program occurred so recently, many librarians working today have a personal memory of the events and issues it raised. For this reason, this experience has had the most impact upon the current response to the USA PATRIOT Act. Paula Kaufman (2002) herself has written about the degree to which the current climate reminds her of the late 1980s, warning, "we must be diligent to ensure that greater national security will not erode the civil liberties that form the national character for which we have fought so long and so hard" [52]. Indeed, perhaps the greatest lesson retained from the Library Awareness Program was a distrust of the FBI specifically, and the Justice Department, generally. The approaches to low–level clerks at that time led to a strong focus on training for all staff members today, as reflected both in the ALA Resolution on the USA Patriot Act (ALA, 2003b) and in Estabrook team’s findings (Estabrook, et al., 2003). Writing about the Library Awareness Program, Foerstel (1991) reported libraries making the decision to retain only those records that are necessary [53], a step that finds an eerie echo in Roy Tennant’s (2003) recent call, "Keep only what you are willing to give up. Destroy everything else" [54].

 

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A rationale for action

Just as it was during the Library Awareness Program period, the ALA continues to be the chief spokesman for librarianship and for "the people of the United States in their search for the highest quality of library and information services" [55]. Equally, what Berninghausen wrote in 1951 holds true today: "The whole profession is weakened when librarians themselves violate ALA policy" [56]. Therefore, librarians should form a professionally appropriate response to the challenges of the USA PATRIOT Act on the basis of ALA directives addressing these issues: the Library Bill of Rights (ALA, 1996), the Code of Ethics (ALA, 1995), and the Policy on Confidentiality of Library Records (ALA, 1986). Among other provisions, these hold that:

  • Libraries should uphold ideals of free expression and free access to ideas [57];
  • Librarians should "protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired, or transmitted" [58]; and,
  • Library employees should resist providing library records to "any agency of state, federal, or local government" until "a proper showing of good cause has been made" [59].

Clearly, however, librarians must comply with the USA PATRIOT Act in all library operations. In practical terms, the following actions, suggested by Alaska librarian June Pinnell–Stevens [60], are both prudent and professionally ethical:

  • Conduct an audit of record retention policies and procedures to ensure that there is an operational need for any information connected to individual patrons.
  • Commit to writing the library’s procedure for handling contacts with law enforcement requests. Refer to the library’s attorney or a resource such as Mary Minow’s analysis (2002) to confirm compliance with the law.
  • Finally, engage in comprehensive staff training, both in regards to the library’s policies and intellectual freedom principles. It is also useful to promote discussion of these themes in the library’s local community.

To support these efforts, the ALA and other professional information societies must continue to provide a broad range of services to library and information workers. This means offering everything from legal analysis and training tools to legal support for libraries that do not have representation. The ALA must also keep these issues in the popular news media, which helps to provide a receptive community audience for local library programs on intellectual freedom topics.

It is equally clear that, when authorities have crossed "the line between effective intelligence to protect the nation from threats and unconstitutional intrusion" [61], the ALA must do more than help librarians cope. It must work for changes in the law. The ALA is rightfully engaged in advocacy for legislation to amend the Act, and it has made explicit its commitment to "defend and support user privacy and free and open access to knowledge and information" [62].

There is some reason for optimism. The Gilmore Commission, a federally–chartered commission established to make recommendations on homeland security, published its final report in early 2004, and endorsed changes to Section 215, stating "a higher threshold [should be] imposed to collect information directly related to First Amendment activity, in addition to barring collection based solely on protected activity" [63]. The Commission also recommended that the FBI "return to a context in which a criminal predicate is once again a prerequisite for law enforcement activity" [64]. Further, a Federal District Court Judge recently struck down Section 250 of the USA PATRIOT Act, a measure creating a new kind of subpoena used to require Internet service providers to divulge information about subscribers. The New York Times quoted the judge as stating that the provision had "no place in our open society" [65].

On the other hand, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives warned in September 2004 that Republican leaders plan to introduce legislation to expand the electronic surveillance authority now provided by the USA PATRIOT Act (Shenon, 2004). Furthermore, in the 8 October 2004, presidential debate, President Bush stated, "I don’t think the Patriot Act abridges your rights at all" [66]. It is evident that the principle of intellectual freedom demands abiding vigilance. Now that it has become a hallmark of the profession, librarians must stand fast. End of article

 

About the author

Joan Starr is a graduate student in the School of Library and Information Science at San José State University (Calif.). She is also a Senior Project Consultant in the Information and Technology Services Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
E–mail: joanstarr [at] earthlink [dot] net

 

Acknowledgments

The views herein expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or any Federal entity.

 

Notes

1. Wiegand, 1989, p. 136.

2. Stielow, 1990, p. 516.

3. Young, 2002, p. 11.

4. Wiegand, 1989, p. 90.

5. Op. cit., p. 91.

6. Wiegand, 1989, p. 111.

7. Op. cit., p. 101.

8. Wiegand, 1989, p. 69.

9. Berelson, 1938, p. 89.

10. Stielow, 1990, pp. 524–525.

11. MacLeish, 1940, p. 388.

12. Stielow, 1990, p. 523.

13. Becker, 2003, p. 55.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Stielow, 1990, p. 525.

17. American Library Association (ALA), item 12.

18. Lincove, 1994, p. 515.

19. Robbins, 1994, p. 366.

20. Robbins, 1996, ¶ 8.

21. Library Bill of Rights, 1948, p. 285, item 3.

22. Library Bill of Rights, 1948, p. 285, item 4.

23. ALA and ABPC, 1953, pp. 1273–1274.

24. Eisenhower, 1953, p. 59.

25. Robbins, 2001, p. 31.

26. Robbins, 2001, p. 36.

27. "FBI ‘Library Awareness’ Program: A Chronology," 1988, p. 146.

28. McFadden, ¶ 12.

29. Schmidt, 1989a, p. 125.

30. "FBI ‘Library Awareness’ Program: A Background," 1988, p. 166.

31. Foerstel, 1991, p. 14.

32. "FBI ‘Library Awareness’ Program: A Background," 1988, pp. 166–167; Foerstel, 1991, pp. 60–70.

33. "ALA Intellectual Freedom," 1987, p. 241.

34. Schmidt, 1989b, p. 86.

35. "FBI ‘Library Awareness’ Program: A Chronology," 1988, pp. 172–173.

36. Schmidt, 1988, p. 175.

37. Flagg, 1989, p. 1029.

38. Ibid.

39. "ALA Files Appeal," 1990, p. 22.

40. McCoy, 2003, p. 22.

41. ALA, 2003a, ¶ 12.

42. ALA, 2003a, ¶ 10.

43. Bader, 2002, ¶ 8.

44. Estabrook, et al., 2003, ¶ 4.

45. Robbins, 1996, ¶ 26.

46. Ibid.

47. Edwards, 2004, p. 51.

48. Chadwell, 2002, p. 23.

49. Chadwell, 2002, p. 20.

50. Berninghausen, 1950, p. 305.

51. Hayden, 2003, p. 5.

52. Kaufman, 2002, p. 57.

53. Foerstel, 1991, p. 65.

54. Tennant, 2003, p. 32.

55. Schmidt, 1988, p. 145.

56. Berninghausen, 1951, p. 1073.

57. ALA, 1996, item 4.

58. ALA, 1995, item 3.

59. ALA, 1986, items 2, 3.

60. Pinnell–Stevens, 2003, p. 7.

61. Strickland, 2003, p. 22.

62. ALA, 2003b, p. 10.

63. Spaulding, 2003, p. E–12.

64. Spaulding, 2003, p. E–13.

65. Preston, 2004, ¶ 6.

66. Presidential Candidates’ 2nd Debate, 2004, p. 16.

 

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Editorial history

Paper received 11 November 2004; accepted 30 December 2004.
HTML markup: Kyleen Kenney and Edward J. Valauskas; Editor: Edward J. Valauskas.


Copyright ©2004, First Monday

Copyright ©2004, Joan Starr

Libraries and national security: An historical review by Joan Starr
First Monday, Volume 9, Number 12 - 6 December 2004
http://journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/1198/1118





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