Librarians basked in more than their usual share of praise from speakers at this year's American Library Association Annual Conference, held in Atlanta June 13—19. Beyond the usual "I was a geeky kid and the library saved my life" rhetoric, librarians were thanked for fighting censorship, standing up for free speech, fighting for the public's access to information and resisting post—9/11 "political correctness." Attendance, at 20,725, was down nearly 6,000 from last year's San Francisco show. This had been expected, due to downturns in library funding and the greater attractiveness of San Francisco as a destination.
In an hour-long speech to a large general session, Michael Moore credited librarians with getting his bestselling Stupid White Men into bookstores. The book was ready to ship when the terrorist attacks occurred. Moore said his publisher, HarperCollins, told him that the mood of the country would not be receptive to the book's attacks on the country's leadership and that it would not ship the book unless he made major changes. Ann Sparnese, librarian for the Englewood (N.J.) Public Library, heard him speak about the situation shortly after, and she spread the word among fellow librarians. Moore said HarperCollins reported receiving "hundreds of letters a day from angry librarians" and agreed to ship the book as written. Calling librarians "the most important public servant in a democracy," Moore vowed to organize fellow authors to advocate on behalf of library issues such as better pay and to create an endowment to establish a scholarship for minorities who want to become librarians.
In a series of programs designed to focus librarians' attention on copyright issues, the ALA Office of Information Technology Policy brought in leaders from outside the library field. Lawrence Lessig, law professor at Stanford University, told librarians that the concept of "intellectual property" is dangerous to freedom of access to information. Ideas are not property, he said, and if we think of them as such, it leads to the concept of theft. He said, "We've got to reframe the debate... it's not just a debate about theft. This is also a debate about the freedom of people to build upon the cultural icons of the past... and the power to build upon the past." He noted that some call the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act "The Mickey Mouse Act," because Disney is a major backer. Ironically, Disney has built much of its wealth by adapting public-domain material such as Snow White and Cinderella. Instead of "intellectual property," Lessig proposed that we think of ideas as a commons to be shared by the community, with certain restrictions to encourage creation.
Speakers urged librarians and the ALA to fight the Copyright Extension Act, which adds 20 years of copyright protection to the current life plus 50 years (Eldred v. Ashcroft, a challenge to the Extension Act, will be argued before the Supreme Court), the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act. The AAP, along with eBay, realtors (who want database protection) and Jack Valenti were all cited by various speakers as major enemies to librarians in this fight.
CIPA Sigh of Relief
Librarians proved their ability to fight acts of Congress in the case of the Children's Internet Protection Act. CIPA would have required libraries to adapt Web terminals to filter out material deemed unsuitable for children or lose federal funding and eRate discounts. As a result of a suit filed by the ALA and the American Civil Liberties Union, the Pennsylvania District Court ruled on May 31 that the act was unconstitutional (News, June 10).
Librarians had more than 350 children's author and illustrator signings to choose from, including Katherine Paterson, Chris Raschka, Trina Schart Hyman, Paul Fleischman and Jerry Pinkney. The largest children's publishers juggled as many as 25 to 30 authors, attesting to the importance of the library market to children's publishers.
As is typical, there were far fewer adult authors, despite the sales of adult books to libraries. However, some publishers created innovative programs. Newmarket Press presented "From Covers to Screen," a discussion with Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down, and Ken Nolan, who wrote the screenplay for the movie. Algonquin Books sponsored "Songs and Stories from Good Ol' Girls," a cabaret-style musical featuring the stories of Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle, with songs by Nashville musicians Matraca Berg and Marshall Chapman.
Next year, for the first time, ALA will hold its annual conference outside the U.S. The conference will be held jointly with the Canadian Library Association in Toronto, June 19—25. The ALA MidWinter meeting will be in Philadelphia, Jan. 24—29, 2003.