Judith Krug: heroine of libraries, Internet, PATRIOT Act resistance

By Andy Oram
April 19, 2009 | Comments: 1

Consider giving a donation to your local public library this week in honor of Judith Krug, whose death at the age of 69 was recently announced. Krug backed librarians around the country who defended their collections from censorship for several decades--and when the Internet came into libraries, she defended its freedom as well.

The history of library resistance to censorship and privacy violations is a tribute to the staunch integrity of thousands of ordinary librarians traversing the stacks throughout the United States, who over the decades kept books ranging from the John Birch Society Blue Book to Heather Has Two Mommies available to anyone who wanted to read them. Krug was their official leader at the American Library Association, as director of their Office for Intellectual Freedom form 1967 on.

Key to their defense was the distinction between selection and removal. People who objected to seeing books they didn't like in the library would tell the librarians, "You choose which books to stock in the first place; why can't you remove some?" Librarians successfully argued that they could choose books on the basis of their value, but that removing a book after it was chosen was a violation of the First Amendment.

Krug was one of the leaders in a coalition that overturned the "indecency" provisions of Communications Decency Act, That frontal attack on the First Amendment was followed quickly by successors attempting to control the Internet. One such bill, I'm sad to say, was sponsored by John McCain, who in this case didn't follow his "maverick" tendency to choose good sense and moderation over easy demagoguery.

The sponsors of such bills saw Supreme Court free speech rulings as damage, and routed around them by drawing their censorship provisions more and more narrowly until they succeeded in getting a bill upheld that required Internet filters in public and school libraries. The ALA and the majority of our countries librarians upheld open access throughout. And nowadays, when poor and unemployed people are flocking to libraries more than ever for Internet access, we must appreciate the vigilance of these public servants.

Even more courageous was the resistance by librarians to the FBI's demands in 2002 for the reading records of public library users. Krug spoke out forcefully against the privacy invasions of the PATRIOT Act and advised librarians to discard readings records as quickly as possible so they could not be subpoenaed. I wonder how many librarians had a chat about privacy with Google when it came to offer their books online...

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Kudos for your support of libraries and what they do.

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