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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Wikileaks in libraries – notes from a classroom discussion

Debbie Rabina, LIS Professor at Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science (and my colleague on the Depository Library Council!), after reading our post A librarian reacts to “A librarian reacts to wikileaks” and doing the Wikileaks and Libraries survey (which is still open BTW so please take a minute to fill it in!), decided to survey her LIS students. Below are responses from 2 of her students about the class discussion.

Wikileaks in libraries – notes from a classroom discussion
Debbie Rabina

Months after the Wikileaks release of US State Department cables, having read countless accounts in the media, as well as a few course readings, twenty Master’s students in an information policy class at Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science, came to class three of the course unit on limiting information access in a democracy.

I chose to open the class with a survey. Based on the survey that James sent to libraries, I presented students with the following three questions:

  • Should libraries include the wikileaks cable site in their catalogs and provide a link to it?
  • Should libraries download the wikileaks cables and archive them?
  • Is it important for libraries to preserve and give access to wikileaks cables?

Using classroom clickers students entered their anonymous vote. The results for all three questions indicated that around 70% of students felt that cataloging, archiving, preserving and treating wikileaks as a collection was not important, but most students agreed that the library should provide access to wikileaks through Internet to a remote location where the cables will be stored by someone else.

Quite surprised by this response we held a discussion centered on collection development and social responsibility. Below are responses of two students to the classroom discussion that evening.

Lauren’ response:

Take a group of mostly liberal-minded New York City library school students and give them a survey pertaining to WikiLeaks and libraries. What sort of reaction would you expect them to have?

This exact social experiment occurred recently in my Information Policy class. Using anonymous survey technology, a group of 17 students answered four questions about WikiLeaks: one asking asked about our general opinions of the website leaking thousands of diplomat cables, followed by three questions about libraries cataloging, archiving, and preserving access to WikiLeaks. When it came to whether libraries should catalog and link to WikiLeaks and/or download and archive them, the class was split pretty much evenly. However, the results of the last question were truly staggering: when asked “Do you think it is important for libraries to preserve and give access to WikiLeaks cables?” the class voted a resounding yes, 16 to 1.

So what does this mean? How do a group of library students see the importance of preserving WikiLeaks, yet are so split on cataloging and archiving them? Everyone in the class recognizes the significance of these documents and understands to some degree that they need to be preserved. (Who knows how long the WikiLeaks site will be around? As a generation of digital natives, the students of our class are painfully aware how quickly websites pop-up and disappear. As the U.S. government prepares to try Manning and Assange, the lifespan of the information seems to shrink.)

I am one of the 17 who voted against cataloging and archiving WikiLeaks, but was in favor of libraries in general preserving access to them. I can only speak for myself, but my reasoning was simple: my own professional background stems from working in an art library and a German Jewry library. To me, the most important thing about collections is scope—WikiLeaks would not be appropriate for the scope of the libraries I have worked in. However after our class discussion, I see the fallacy in using scope as the highest value factor in collection development: all of us in the class agreed that libraries had a responsibility to that preserve access to WikiLeaks, but we apparently expect someone else to do it.

Maybe more libraries need to take a closer look at WikiLeaks and consider archiving and cataloging this collection. After all, there are thousands of documents available, most of which we as a nation (and beyond) haven’t even scratched the surface of. There could be information there that does pertain to the art world, or to the history of German-speaking Jewry. Or more likely, not. But upon further reflection, I have come to the conclusion that if libraries don’t preserve this material, we will never find out.

Rini’s response:

I did not have a strong opinion one way or the other when I first read these questions, and I admit that I waffled between yea and nay on each of them. I think the main reason that I did not have a strong feeling about any of them is that I don’t think I, personally, had enough information about the whole thing. Of course, I had seen a few newspaper articles about the data dump – most of them sporting relatively sensational headlines that belied the fairly dry content of the articles. And throwing out Assange’s sex-capades certainly obfuscated matters – information completely unrelated to serious issues at hand. But I hadn’t really given that much thought to the implications of the situation until we discussed it in class.

At first, I was disinclined to make it the responsibility of libraries/librarians to provide access to the materials. The data dump (editor’s note: “dump” is a misnomer. See our previous post for more explanation) seemed rather like offering too much information to be useful unless someone took a good deal of time to sift through all of it. However, further reflection and a little digging on the Web has me firmly on the side of protecting this information for current and future users. The problem of cataloging is a concern because of the time and labor commitment that would require. However, there is a Wikipedia article that has done a lot of the preliminary sorting, so it might not be that problematic to create at least a preliminary catalog of the materials.

That said, the final question for me comes down to whether this is a public library access issue, as in current affairs; or a research library issue, as in archiving for posterity. I come down firmly on BOTH sides. In the moment, the public should have full access to “all the data, all the time” in some form that assures that full access as well as governmental transparency are assured. For posterity, a research library should be able to provide full access to all the material for in-depth journalistic and/or scholarly research of the sort that might provide more accurate historical descriptions of a particular moment in time.

Lots More Links from Resource Shelf

Our friend Gary Price sent a lot of great links you’ll want to know about from Resource Shelf.

Don’t forget that you can always see the latest items from Gary’s Docuticker right here on FGI in the left column. You can also find Gary on twitter (@resourceshelf).

***Top of the List***
New: Extremely Useful: NARA Releases List of Digitized Records (NARA Partners & Their Records) http://bit.ly/bjOVyI Source: NARA

The Others
1. List: Most Popular Baby Names of 2009 and Two Tools to Get “Most Popular Names” back to Late 19th Century. Source: SSA http://bit.ly/baby2009

2) New: Searchable Database: Venomous Snakes and Antivenoms Search (yes, a specialized dbase for every topic) Source: World Health Organization http://bit.ly/cRFiEm

3) California (3 Items): 2010 State Fault Activity Map, State Geological Map, 150 Geological Facts About California Source: CA Department of Conservation http://bit.ly/cali2010map

4) Interview with Archivist of the U.S., David Ferriero: What Happens to Social Media Records? Source: Smart Planet http://bit.ly/interview121

5) Public Printer with GPO Budget News & Graph: 10 Years of GPO Financial Performance Source: GPO http://bit.ly/gpobudget

6) EPA Launches New Web Tools to Inform the Public About Clean Water Enforcement Interactive Web tool allows the public to check water violations in their communities http://bit.ly/b5IwbE Source: EPA

7) NOAA Incident News In Left Column, access to database of Oil Spills NOAA has been involved with since late 50’s (Pre-NOAA) http://bit.ly/d8WzGG Source: NOAA

8) Research Paper: From Obscurity to Prominence in Minutes: Political Speech and Real-Time Search http://bit.ly/bTMBwm Source WebSci 2010 Conf.

9) FBI Now Accepts Freedom of Info Requests on the Web http://bit.ly/av7XTB Source: FCW

10) U.S. Embassy in Haiti Now on Twitter http://bit.ly/cXs5Vh

also on Facebook http://bit.ly/ayXXij

and Haiti: Legal Bibliography from Law Library of Congress http://bit.ly/haitilawbib

Thanks Gary!

Lots of Links from ResourceShelf

Gary Price, our friend who runs both ResourceShelf and Docuticker, kindly shared lots of links of interest to FGI readers from the last week on ResourceShelf.

Don’t forget that you can always see the latest items from Docuticker right here on FGI in the left column. You can also find Gary on twitter (@resourceshelf).

Thanks and a hat tip to Gary!

This week’s hot docs from ResourceShelf

Our pal Gary Price runs both ResourceShelf and Docuticker, two must-read sites for docs geeks and great tools for library collection development. He just sent some highlights from the last week on ResourceShelf. Be sure to check out the Docuticker ticker in the left column. You can also find Gary on twitter (@resourceshelf).

CIA manual of trickery and deception resurfaces

Noah Shactman’s cool Danger Room blog (from Wired) posted recently about the CIA’s declassified Lost Magic Manual that has just resurfaced. In 1953, the CIA hired professional magician John Mulholland to adapt his techniques of stealth and misdirection to the craft of espionage. According to the BBC News, “the guide was part of a larger CIA programme, called [w:Project MKULTRA], aimed at countering the Soviet mind-control techniques of the Cold War era.” The classified manuals were believed to have been destroyed in 1973, but Intelligence historian H. Keith Melton and retired CIA officer Robert Wallace discovered a copy in 2007 in the CIA Archives. The Boston Globe has a great visual summary of some of Mulholland’s best tricks. Get a copy from isbn.nu. A great addition to any library. In fact a bunch of them already have a copy!

At the height of the Cold War, the Central Intelligence Agency paid $3,000 to renowned magician John Mulholland to write a manual on misdirection, concealment, and stagecraft. All known copies of the document — and a related paper, on conveying hidden signals — were believed to be destroyed in 1973. But recently, the manuals resurfaced, and have now been published as “The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception.” Topics include working a clandestine partner, slipping a pill into the drink of the unsuspecting, and “surreptitious removal of objects by women.”