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We’ve nominated Aaron Swartz for the ALA James Madison award and you should too!

Even before we learned of Aaron Swartz’s passing last friday, several colleagues and I were in the midst of writing letters nominating Aaron for the ALA James Madison Award which was established by the ALA in 1986 to “honor individuals or groups who have championed, protected and promoted public access to government information and the public’s “right to know” on the national level.”

We write now to ask all of our readers to also submit letters in support. The deadline for letter submission is January 16, 2013, so get a move on!

Send e-mail nominations to Jessica McGilvray, Assistant Director for the ALA Office of Government Relations, at jmcgilvray@alawash.org. Submissions can also be mailed to:

James Madison Award / Eileen Cooke Award
American Library Association
Washington Office
1615 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20009-2520

To help you in your letter writing, below are the nominating and seconding letters we submitted. Feel free to copy/paste for your own letter of support.

Many thanks go to Bruce Sanders, librarian at DePauw University, and Kelsey Kauffman, the mother of Aaron’s partner Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, for putting the idea of nominating Aaron for the Madison Award out in the universe and doing much of the work that went into the nomination.


To: Jessica McGilvray
Re: Nomination of Aaron Swartz for ALA James Madison Award

Dear Ms. McGilvray:

I am writing to nominate Aaron Swartz for the 2013 American Library Association James Madison Award. Aaron was the computer programmer who in 2008 downloaded nearly 20 million pages of text from the Public Access to Court Electronic Records System (PACER), and then donated the pages of public domain US Court documents to public.resource.org in order to make those documents truly open access. This act was the epitome of promoting open access of government documents.

Like many earlier Madison honorees, Aaron has been an outspoken advocate and practitioner of open access. In fact, it is fair to say that much of his life was devoted to open access. Through his online organization DemandProgress.org, now a million members strong, Aaron educated a large segment of the population about the dangers of PIPA and SOPA and led highly effective campaigns in opposition. As a result, he engaged millions of ordinary citizens in the political process and put Congress on notice that Internet censorship will be vigorously opposed by large swaths of the voting (and soon-to-be-voting) public. In 2007, at the age of 20, he founded Open Library, an ongoing project to provide information free-of-charge on every book ever published. In 2008 he penned “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto.”

Aaron also conducted a study on “Who Writes Wikipedia” that exploded the myth that a small core of Wikipedians is responsible for most of the content (though they are responsible for most of the edits). The reality — that Wikipedia is, in fact, the creation of millions of mostly one-time contributors — has provided us with one of the best examples of the power and quality of open source collaboration.

Past recipients of the Madison Award, such as Senator Patrick Leahy, Steven Garfinkel, Thomas Susman and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, have usually been established and highly effective advocates either within government or organizations close to seats of power. But in many ways the driving force today behind the open access movement is a younger generation raised with the understanding that knowledge can and should be shared not just nationally, but also globally, and without paywalls.

Aaron Swartz embodied this younger generation’s passionate commitment to open government, free and universal access to knowledge, and an informed civil society. He is truly deserving of receiving this award posthumously.

Respectfully submitted,

Bruce Sanders
Head of Cataloging and Processing
Roy O. West Library
DePauw University

Seconding letter:


To: Jessica McGilvray
Re: Nomination of Aaron Swartz for ALA James Madison Award

Dear Ms McGilvray,

The nominating letter by our colleague Bruce Sanders discusses reasons why Aaron Swartz should be nominated for the 2013 James Madison Award for his articulate and passionate leadership against SOPA and for devoting his life to promoting open access to scholarly and government information. As the New York Times described him in a 2011 front-page article, Aaron was “an Internet folk hero … a civil liberties activist who crusades for open access to data.” Aaron, in the spirit of the ALA Library Bill of Rights, believed that academic work and government information should not be commodified but instead distributed freely. He devoted his short but unimaginably prodigious life to his ideals. We wholeheartedly second Aaron’s posthumous nomination.

As noted in the nominating letter, Aaron was a pioneer in the new academic research methods of large-scale data collection and analysis. Aaron had extensive experience downloading and analyzing massive data sets, and in the process greatly enhanced our understanding of who controls access to knowledge—from correcting erroneous assumptions about who in fact authors most material on Wikipedia to raising alarms about undue corporate influence over legal scholarship. Aaron was studying the corrupting influence of money on a wide range of institutions including academia and government when his JSTOR troubles began.

His act of downloading articles from JSTOR for intellectual pursuit should have been encouraged and supported. Instead, it led the US government to indict and threaten him with 35 years in prison and a million dollar fine for wire- and computer fraud even after JSTOR refused to pursue criminal charges. Yet, until the end, Aaron never wavered from his ideals nor gave up his integrity.

The world and Libraries need more Aaron Swartz’s. We hope that the ALA will join us in honoring Aaron’s leadership in protecting the Internet from censorship and corporate interests and his life-long commitment to open access to scholarship and government information for every person on the planet. Aaron’s passing this week has motivated many people around the world to carry on his torch by uploading and freely sharing their writings on the Internet in his memory. We hope that ALA will honor Aaron by not only giving him the 2013 Madison Award, but also fostering his ideals and forwarding his work.

Respectfully submitted,

Shinjoung Yeo
PhD candidate and co-founder of Radical Reference and Free government Information

James Jacobs
Government Information Librarian and co-founder of Radical Reference and Free government Information

Brief Biography of Aaron Swartz:

Aaron Swartz’s, brief biography:
• Born 1986, Chicago, Illinois
• 1999 at the age of 13 creates a program for an open source encyclopedia, theinfo.org
• 2000 co-authored the RSS 1.0 standard for news aggregation
• 2001
o joined the founding team of Creative Commons and developed their metadata system
o joined the RDF Core Working Group, the standards body for the Web
o worked on the semantic web writing popular guides as well as specifications and co-wrote the article, “The Semantic Web: a Network of Content for the Digital City,” Proceedings Second Annual Digital Cities Workshop, Kyoto, Japan, October, 2001.
• 2002 wrote, “MusicBrainz: a Semantic Web Service,” IEEE Intelligent Systems, Jan./Feb., 2002 pp. 76-77.
• 2004 attended Stanford University for one year.
• 2005-2006 works for Reddit and develops the Python web framework, web.py, and releases it as an open-source project and also conducts study “Who Writes Wikipedia”
• 2007 developed Open Library, an open access project to collect metadata about every book ever published
• 2008 downloaded 20 million pages from PACER and made them truly public access
• 2010
o founds Demand Progress and begins activism that eventually defeats COICA, SOPA and PIPA bills
o fellow at Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics
o charged for crimes in relation to downloading 4 million JSTOR articles
• Dies January 2013

Muckrock waives FOIA fees in Tribute to Aaron Swartz. Activists Flood Government Agencies

I just noticed this post over at Wired Magazine’s Threat Level blog, Activists Flood Government Agencies With FOIA Requests in Tribute to Aaron Swartz. Last week, Muckrock, the site that helps journalists, lawyers, and the public submit FOIA requests for a small fee ($20 for 5 requests), waived their fees in tribute to the transparency fights of computer programmer and internet activist Aaron Swartz who committed suicide a few weeks ago. I hope Muckrock will post all of the documents received via these requests. According to Muckrock:

MuckRock has begun processing 153 free FOIA requests submitted in honor of Internet pioneer and transparency activist Aaron Swartz, who died earlier this month at age 26.

Swartz, among MuckRock’s first users and supporters, used public records laws to attempt to find out more about why the federal government was pursuing Internet piracy charges against him. He also filed requests related to alleged WikiLeaks collaborator Bradley Manning and the U.S. Mint, among many other topics.

In a Jan. 18 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking about Swartz’s prosecution, U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) asked, “was the prosecution of Mr. Swartz in any way retaliation for his exercise of his rights as a citizen under the Freedom of Information Act?”

As a way to honor Swartz’s legacy and to further his transparency work, MuckRock encouraged users to file requests in his honor free of charge. The requests cover all corners of government, ranging from the Department of Homeland Security’s documents relating to the high profile Tar Sands Blockade to the city payroll for Everett, Mass.

Updates on the requests will be available at the File for Aaron profile page. Swartz’s own requests can be found here.

I’m really glad Muckrock is doing this, and also happy to see that they post all requests and FOIA’d documents on their site. I’ve added Muckrock to our Archive-it FOIA collection.

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren agrees: nominate Aaron Swartz for ALA Madison award

Some of you may remember that we nominated Aaron Swartz for the ALA Madison award a few weeks ago and asked folks to write in letters of support to the Washington Office. Last week, there was a memorial for Aaron in Washington DC — Rick Perlstein covered it well for The Nation, “Aaron Swartz’s DC Memorial: Radical Brings Bipartisanship to Washington”. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, the 2012 Madison award honoree(!) and one of a number of Congressional members who attended Aaron’s memorial, caught wind of the campaign to nominate Aaron for the Madison Award and sent in her own letter in support. She kindly allowed us to post the letter here.


RIP Aaron Swartz, Friend of libraries and open information activist

Shinjoung and I were stunned when we heard the news early yesterday morning that our friend — and supreme friend of libraries and the Internet! — Aaron Swartz left this world late friday evening. Aaron was deeply committed to and passionate about internet freedom and making information and knowledge as available as possible. To those ends, he worked on many projects large and small in his short but influential life. He was 26.

The *many* heartfelt remembrances from communities as diverse as journalism, law and open source tech — witness Rick Perlstein, Lawrence Lessig, Glenn Greenwald, Karl Fogel — attest to Aaron’s supreme impact on the world at large (and that’s no hyperbole!).

Before I had even heard of his tragic demise, a few colleagues and I were in the midst of writing letters of support for Aaron’s nomination for this year’s James Madison award from the American Library Association (ALA). This award, named in honor of President James Madison, was established by the ALA in 1986 to honor individuals or groups who have championed, protected and promoted public access to government information and the public’s “right to know” on the national level. I hope now that ALA will award Aaron posthumously!

We’re helping Archive-it staff harvest a Web archive of Aaron’s work, writings, images, videos, and remembrances. If you’ve got a URI that you’d like to be included in the archive, please paste it to this Google Doc.

Remembrances of Aaron, as well as donations in his memory, can be submitted at http://rememberaaronsw.com

The world will miss you Aaron. Be at peace my friend!





O’Reilly makes its Open Government book freely available to honor Aaron Swartz

The great technology publisher O’Reilly is making its Open Government book files available for free for anyone to download, read and share. The files are posted on the O’Reilly Media GitHub account as PDF, Mobi, and EPUB files for now.

Be sure to check out Chapter 25, “When Is Transparency Useful?” by Aaron Swartz.