The American Library Association's code of ethics demands that library professionals "protect each library user's right to privacy and confidentiality" and they've been taking that duty seriously since the first days of the Patriot Act.
The history of libraries in the post-9/11 fight is a proud and honorable one, with librarians putting their jobs and honor on the line to stand up for the right of people to conduct intellectual inquiry without government surveillance, and to stand against secret wiretaps that come with perpetual gag orders. And it's a tradition that continues today, with projects like Alison Macrina's series of cryptoparties and workshops for her patrons in Massachusetts.
Everywhere I go, I meet librarians who believe in these principles and take a stand for it. One Bay Area high school librarian told me how the FBI demanded that she turn over all her school's yearbooks, back to the 1950s, without a warrant. When she told them that they'd need to get one, they leaned on her, asking her why she didn't want to help out law enforcement efforts.
"My father was an SFPD detective," she replied. "And he taught me that cops need warrants."
They never came back.
In the case of government surveillance, they are not shushing. They've been among the loudest voices urging freedom of information and privacy protections.
Edward Snowden's campaign against the National Security Agency's data collection program has energized this group once again. And a new call to action from the ALA's president means their voices could be louder and more coordinated than ever.
Guarding patrons' library activities is considered a core value of the profession, written into the ALA's code of ethics: "We protect each library user's right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted."
Librarians won’t stay quiet about government surveillance [Andrea Peterson/Washington Post]
(Image: the fbi has not been here, Jessamyn West, CC-BY)