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Not Your Grandmother’s Librarian


The Cover story of The Nation this weeks is about librarians battling for privacy.

Amy Sonnie, a librarian and activist in Oakland, told me that there’s a debate within the profession about whether librarianship is, or should be, politically neutral. “I can and should be an advocate around issues that impact our ability to fulfill our mission, and privacy is one of those issues,” she said. Sonnie and Macrina both see privacy as not just an issue of intellectual freedom, but also of social justice. “We serve members of communities who have been historically under greater surveillance than the rest of the population: immigrants, Muslim-Americans, people of color, political dissidents,” Macrina explained.

The article recounts some recent history of how individual librarians and libraries and the ALA have advocated for privacy for readers — one of ALA’s core values since 1939 — and gives examples of recent battles against the NSA and Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


  1. Indeed, protecting freedom is nothing new to librarianship. LIS-GISIG (Gov Information Library Student Group) re/posted a comment related to this: in re the general rhetoric of the ubiquitous “not your grandmother’s librarian” PR campaign.


    I AM proud to be my Grandmother’s & great grandmother’s Librarian These [women]:

    changed the fabric of America when it was dangerous to do so.
    -bucked the rules of “proper womanhood,”
    -fought for freedom of information –even during McCarthy.
    -stood up for patron privacy-and lost their jobs for it
    -protected and helped new immigrants,
    -served in the first major organization to boycott segregated cities,
    – went by mule, sleigh and foot to bring books–in countless languages– to underserved & rural populations,
    -quietly but internally supported lesbians and non gender-conforming people,
    -had the foresight to insist on library funding in state charters,
    -were responsible for access to government information
    -and built one of the strongest progressive institutions in history
    We must celebrate our past AND look ahead.”


    GPO Gov Doc: SuDoc Cataloging System

    In 1896, Adelaide Hasse, created the SuDoc System-the Dewey Decimal System for Government Documents–in less than 3 months. It’s still in use today. In many ways, her work made citizen participation possible (and gave us a job).

    She’s our Great Great Grandmother’s librarian. And we want to be just like her.

    • excellent points all, rachel! i should have wrapped the whole Nation cover in “irony” tags! seems like non-librarians (even when they praise librarians and their whole point is that this has been going on for a long time) just cannot drop the stereotypes. 🙁

  2. Women librarians have taken on the establishment for centuries and brought information to all – sometimes at great risk to themselves. They took to horses to bring books to isolated Montana people. Many of them work for almost nothing to bring books to their communities. Small town newspapers depended on women reporters to write about their towns and they often started book clubs to encourage education for those who worked at home.

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