When Molly Raphael became president of the American Library Association in 2011, she unveiled an agenda that focused on empowerment—and at the ALA 2012 Midwinter Meeting in Dallas, TX, “empowerment” has been an overarching theme. Despite lagging attendance (evidenced by a slow show floor and pre-registration numbers just below last year’s meeting in San Diego), the program has revealed a palpable desire for librarians to seize more control of their destiny, whether on legislative matters, their community presence, issues in scholarly communication, or the ever-complex e-book question.
On the conference program, ALA kicked off what Raphael called a new “centerpiece” event entitled "Empowering Voices, Transforming Communities,” two days of conversations among librarians about “the evolving roles of libraries.” The conversations were led by professor David Lankes, director of Syracuse University’s Library and Information Science Program, and author of The Atlas of New Librarianship (MIT Press, 2011). The ALA Washington Office legislative program featured a two-hour panel on digitization, which urged librarians to more boldly assert fair use rights in digitization projects, and not to let the fear of an unlikely infringement suit stop them from making valuable, locked away collections accessible to their communities. At the SPARC forum, a panel talked about the scholarly community getting the “rights question,” right—promoting open access, the benefit of using Creative Commons licenses, and encouraging innivation on the web, and fighting back against things like the e-reserve litigation at Georgia State University, and the recently introduced Research Works Act. And a panel presented by the librarians who assembled the library at the Occupy Wall Street encampment in New York City’s Zucotti Park spoke eloquently about the central role of sharing information in our democracy, and doing so from the front lines of a democratic movement.
Meanwhile Raphael and ALA executive director Keith Fiels showed some fight on the e-book question as well, informing a meeting of ALA’s Working Group on Digital Content and Libraries that ALA officials has set up meetings from January 30 to Feb. 1 with publishers currently restricting e-book lending. “I want to assure you that the dialog will begin with us saying ‘you need to deal with libraries and you need to do this as soon as possible,’ then we can have a dialog starting from there,” Fiels said, according to a report in Library Journal.
Although it has not been an easy time for libraries, many librarians appeared to arrive at Midwinter somewhat energized by the successful public protest against SOPA, which played out on computer screens, and in the headlines last week. At the SPARC forum, Rutgers University special projects librarian Nancy Kranich said ALA was working on a draft resolution on SOPA and PIPA, and, beyond that was looking for ways to harness the essence of the SOPA protest, and to develop "simple, sexy" messages to involve the public in more copyright issues facing libraries. And, at the Morning Keynote on Sunday, one librarian brought the issue of SOPA up with the day's speaker—author and Internet star John Green—who promptly blasted the proposed legislation.
"Like everyone on the Internet, I believe SOPA would have been a massive disaster," Green said, adding that if he wanted to create a video of “Paula Deen rising a jet ski in outer space with Jesus,” he shouldn’t have to hire an IP lawyer to do so. “Absolutely there needs to be smart regulations to prevent piracy on the Internet,” Green concluded, “but piracy is already illegal, and I’m not worried about making piracy more illegal.”
Capping Sunday afernoon's president's program, keynote speaker Richard Harwood, founder of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, soberly urged librarians not to become discouraged by the challenges they face in their communities, but to embrace them, and face them with renewed vigor, and as leaders. Harwood said libraries were more important now than at any time in his lifetime. "You know we live in srerious times," he said. "We face a recesision that is the greatest since the Great Depression, where people are scared about losing their homes. A politics that is so toxic and acrimoniuos and divisive that people are afraid to come back into the public square. A media that takes great pride in creating conflict, when in fact what people are looking for is someone to illuminate the issues we need to deal with as a society."