Category Archives: Intellectual Freedom


Wed. 9/25: Banned Books Week talk with Dr. Jordan Carroll


Banned Book Week, Sept. 23 – 29, 2018

square_green-300x300Year after year, we need to remind ourselves that books are still targeted for censorship by various people, groups, and institutions throughout the nation. As Librarians, we strive to make all materials available under the belief that everyone should have the freedom to read.

This year’s tagline is “Banning books silences stories.” How many books have you read or heard about in the video below? A lot of them are children’s books; maybe you read some of them in elementary school or junior high.

Stop by the exhibit in the front of the library. Here we display books in our collection that have been challenged in the recent past. You can read more about frequently challenged books by year here.  Some of them may surprise you.

Fair Use Week – what is it and why is it important to you?


Are you an artist, a professor, or writer? Do you incorporate outside design work into your own to make it unique? That’s legal thanks to the doctrine of fair use, or the copyright laws that make transformative works legal.

Basically, fair use doctrines are exceptions to the copyright law. Because “fair use” is highly subjective, each case needs to be carefully weighted. Stanford University Libraries lists a handful of interesting fair use cases and their outcomes. Below summarizes one of the more contested cases. What do you think?

The painter, Richard Prince, created a collage using — in one collage — 35 images from a photographer’s book. The artist also used 28 of the photos in 29 additional paintings. In some instances the full photograph was used while in others, only the main subject of the photo was used. Important Factors. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that to qualify as a transformative use, Prince’s work did not have to comment on the original photographer’s work (or on popular culture). The Court of Appeals concluded that twenty-five of Prince’s artworks qualified as fair use and remanded the case to determine the status of the remaining five artworks. Cariou v. Prince,  No. 11-1197 (2d Cir. 2013) VERDICT: FAIR USE


The Internet’s Own Boy

Aaron Swartz was an early and important activist in the Open Access movement. The embedded documentary is the story of Aaron’s life and death.

You can watch the entire documentary here.

From Wikipedia, an open access reference resource –

Aaron Swartz

Aaron Hillel Swartz (November 8, 1986 – January 11, 2013) was an American computer programmer, entrepreneur, writer, political organizer and Internet hacktivist. He was involved in the development of the web feed format RSS and the Markdown publishing format, the organization Creative Commons, the website framework and the social news site, Reddit, in which he became a partner after its merger with his company, Infogami. He committed suicide while under federal indictment for data-theft, a prosecution that was characterized by his family as being “the product of a criminal-justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach”.

Swartz’s work also focused on civic awareness and activism. He helped launch the Progressive Change Campaign Committee in 2009 to learn more about effective online activism. In 2010, he became a research fellow at Harvard University’s Safra Research Lab on Institutional Corruption, directed by Lawrence Lessig. He founded the online group Demand Progress, known for its campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act.

On January 6, 2011, Swartz was arrested by MIT police on state breaking-and-entering charges, after connecting a computer to the MIT network in an unmarked and unlocked closet, and setting it to systematically download academic journal articles from JSTOR using a guest user account issued to him by MIT. Federal prosecutors later charged him with two counts of wire fraud and eleven violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, carrying a cumulative maximum penalty of $1 million in fines, 35 years in prison, asset forfeiture, restitution, and supervised release.

Swartz declined a plea bargain under which he would have served six months in federal prison. Two days after the prosecution rejected a counter-offer by Swartz, he was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment, where he had hanged himself.

In June 2013, Swartz was posthumously inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame.

Open Access and the Institutional Repository

Many universities have started implementing an “institutional repository” as a way of opening research to interested scholars. Clifford Lynch, writing for the Association of Research Libraries in 2003, defined an institutional repository as “a set of services that a university offers to members of its community for the management and dissemination of digital materials created by the institution and its community members.”

This means that in addition to scholarship being published in peer-reviewed journals, it is also published on a digital platform maintained by the university. Initially, many scholarly publishers balked at the thought of having articles available through a ‘competing’ resource. Over the course of the last decade more and more publishers are embracing this new model as a way of showing their commitment to the scholarly process.

In addition to providing a location to publish the research generated at an institution, an institutional repository can also be a place to make other materials available that may be of interest to the community, such as conference proceedings, learning objects, student work, and archives. (For example, The University of Tampa currently makes available the digitized versions of The Minaret, and The UT Journal through the library website. An institutional repository might hold this and other digitized archival materials.)

If you want to learn more about institutional repositories check out the Directory of Open Access Repositories.

In a briefing paper, Alma Swan lists the following benefits of the institutional repository:

  • Opening up outputs of the institution to a worldwide audience;
  • Maximizing the visibility and impact of these outputs as a result;
  • Showcasing the institution to interested constituencies – prospective staff, prospective students and other stakeholders;
  • Collecting and curating digital output;
  • Managing and measuring research and teaching activities;
  • Providing a workspace for work-in-progress, and for collaborative or large-scale projects;
  • Enabling and encouraging interdisciplinary approaches to research;
  • Facilitating the development and sharing of digital teaching materials and aids, and
  • Supporting student endeavours, providing access to theses and dissertations and a location for the development of e-portfolios.

Peter Suber and Open Access

If you want to learn more about Open Access one of the best places to start is with the works of Peter Suber.

Peter Suber is the Director of the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication, Director of the Harvard Open Access Project, Senior Researcher at the Berkman Center, Senior Researcher at SPARC, and Research Professor of Philosophy at Earlham College. He’s been writing about open access issues since the turn of the century, and participated in 2001 in the world’s first major international open access initiative, the Budapest Open Access Initiative.

His most recent work addresses good practices for university open-access policies.

You can read an electronic version of his book available through the library’s online catalog. You will need to log in using your Spartans domain username and password to gain access to Open Access by Peter Suber. (You can find open access versions of the book here.)

The following is quoted from “A Very Brief Introduction to Open Access.”

Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. What makes it possible is the internet and the consent of the author or copyright-holder.

In most fields, scholarly journals do not pay authors, who can therefore consent to OA without losing revenue. In this respect scholars and scientists are very differently situated from most musicians and movie-makers, and controversies about OA to music and movies do not carry over to research literature.

OA is entirely compatible with peer review, and all the major OA initiatives for scientific and scholarly literature insist on its importance. Just as authors of journal articles donate their labor, so do most journal editors and referees participating in peer review.

OA literature is not free to produce, even if it is less expensive to produce than conventionally published literature. The question is not whether scholarly literature can be made costless, but whether there are better ways to pay the bills than by charging readers and creating access barriers. Business models for paying the bills depend on how OA is delivered.

It’s Open Access Week! What Is Open Access?

Open Access is a movement responding to the high cost of scholarship and science. The Public Library of Science (PLoS) explains Open Access this way —

“Open Access (OA) stands for unrestricted access and unrestricted reuse. Here’s why that matters.

“Most publishers own the rights to the articles in their journals. Anyone who wants to read the articles must pay to access them. Anyone who wants to use the articles in any way must obtain permission from the publisher and is often required to pay an additional fee.

“Although many researchers can access the journals they need via their institution and think that their access is free, in reality it is not. The institution has often been involved in lengthy negotiations around the price of their site license and re-use of this content is limited.

“Paying for access to content makes sense in the world of print publishing, where providing content to each new reader requires the production of an additional copy, but online it makes much less sense to charge for content when it is possible to provide access to all readers anywhere in the world.”

Jorge Cham at “Piled Higher and Deeper” (PHD) Comics, along with Nick Shockey and Jonathan Eisen, provide this animated explanation of Open Access.

The Freedom to Read


Librarians promote Banned Books Week as a way of highlighting their commitment to the Freedom to Read. In 1953 the American Library Association issued their Freedom to Read Statement staking out the librarian’s position on this important topic.

To show our support for this idea the library recently placed the ALA Freedom to Read Statement above the bank of four computers near the reference desk.

The freedom to read is essential to our democracy. It is continuously under attack. Private groups and public authorities in various parts of the country are working to remove or limit access to reading materials, to censor content in schools, to label “controversial” views, to distribute lists of “objectionable” books or authors, and to purge libraries. These actions apparently rise from a view that our national tradition of free expression is no longer valid; that censorship and suppression are needed to counter threats to safety or national security, as well as to avoid the subversion of politics and the corruption of morals. We, as individuals devoted to reading and as librarians and publishers responsible for disseminating ideas, wish to assert the public interest in the preservation of the freedom to read.

Most attempts at suppression rest on a denial of the fundamental premise of democracy: that the ordinary individual, by exercising critical judgment, will select the good and reject the bad. We trust Americans to recognize propaganda and misinformation, and to make their own decisions about what they read and believe. We do not believe they are prepared to sacrifice their heritage of a free press in order to be “protected” against what others think may be bad for them. We believe they still favor free enterprise in ideas and expression.

These efforts at suppression are related to a larger pattern of pressures being brought against education, the press, art and images, films, broadcast media, and the Internet. The problem is not only one of actual censorship. The shadow of fear cast by these pressures leads, we suspect, to an even larger voluntary curtailment of expression by those who seek to avoid controversy or unwelcome scrutiny by government officials.

Read the rest here.

Banned Books Week

September 27 through October 3 is Banned Books Week, highlighting books that are challenged in schools and libraries around the world.

According to the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom the following were the most challenged books in 2014:

1) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”

2) Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
Reasons: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions”

3) And Tango Makes Three, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Reasons: Anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “promotes the homosexual agenda”

4) The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues”

5) It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
Reasons: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group. Additional reasons: “alleges it child pornography”

6) Saga, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Reasons: Anti-Family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.

7) The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence

8) The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “date rape and masturbation”

9) A Stolen Life, Jaycee Dugard
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group

10) Drama, by Raina Telgemeier
Reasons: sexually explicit

“A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness. The number of challenges reflects only incidents reported. We estimate that for every reported challenge, four or five remain unreported.”


Opening Up the Congressional Research Service

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) turns out wonderful reports for members of Congress. I often direct students to these reports if they’re researching current or contentious issues.

Unfortunately, the CRS is not allowed by law to directly share these reports with the public. The members of Congress who request the reports are allowed to share them, and there are non-profits who persistently ask for these reports and then release them to the open Internet.

This is sort of an obscure topic, but one closely followed by academic librarians. Perhaps it will receive a little more attention now that the New York Times has published an op-ed – Congressional Research Belongs to the Public.

“Every day, the Congressional Research Service, a little-known government agency attached to the Library of Congress, churns out papers on issues as varied as the defense budget, the farm bill and nuclear weapons. They’re not classified. They’re nonpartisan. And unlike many government reports, they’re fairly easy to understand. Yet it’s hard for most people to get copies of reports produced by the Congressional Research Service, which operates as an in-house think-tank for lawmakers. That is absurd.”

In 2007 the then-director of CRS released a memo to staff supporting the status quo of not releasing the reports.

“What is the rationale for CRS providing its work solely to the Congress? Three broad concerns go to the heart of the existin policy; impairment of th eperformance of Members’ representational role, risk to confidentiality, and impact on the mission and congressional focus that characterizes our efforts. These issues also inform our policies on furnishing products to individuals outside Congress and our guidelines on staff interactions with the media.” (Read the whole memo here.)

You can see a collection of these reports at the Federation of American Scientists website.