The Library of Congress has blocked access on all of its computers to Wikileaks. This action was taken, according to the Library of Congress blog, in direct response to a memo from the White House Executive Branch. According to a New York Times article, the White House has since said that it issued no such directives to block Wikileaks in any government agency. I am unconcerned with the “he said, she said” childish finger pointing of the different arms of government. I don’t care who said what to whom in a memo, an email, or in a hallway conversation.
I am, however, gravely concerned that the leading library of the United States has willfully and arbitrarily blocked access to information. Blocking access to information, any information, is censorship. This action is unconscionable.
I condemn the Library of Congress action in every way, and like others I fully reject their attempt at justifications or defenses of their action. There is never a justification for blocking access to information in a library — never.
The Library of Congress’s decision is a violation of the First Amendment and a violation of the American Library Association’s Bill of Rights. Moreover, it is a violation of the professional ethics of librarians to always provide free access to all information. The Librarian of Congress has violated our ethics knowingly. I am horrified.
The documents leaked on Wikileaks have been posted on the free and open web for some time now, and are therefore pieces of open and free information on the web, as is all other information in the United States. These documents are not illegal. So why, pray tell, does anyone have the right to block access to them in a federal government institution?
In this case particularly, access to this information is even more critical to the continued success of an open democracy. The documents contained in the Wikileaks collections often expose the federal government’s dereliction of duty, incompetence, poor judgment, and even criminal actions. Exposing our government’s actions is a matter of concern for every single citizen. Is this not a golden case study for why we need freedom of information in a democracy? Is it not a golden opportunity for the Librarian of Congress to stand firm with his professional ethics, and say “Hell no, I won’t block access to information!” ?
Interestingly, there is already a functional problem with this decision for the Congressional Research Service within the Library of Congress. The CRS researches government and public information to inform lawmakers of current important issues. The CRS will now be unable to access Wikileaks to include the leaked material’s primary content in their reports to Congress. So now Congress won’t know what’s in Wikileaks? Oh yeah, that’s good for democracy.
The Progressive Librarians Guild has called for formal condemnation from the American Library Association. I second that motion. From the PLG’s post:
We call on the American Library Association (ALA) to condemn unequivocally this move by the Library of Congress to actively conspire in preventing access to information in the public interest. Blocking access to this published information is censorship, plain and simple, and supporting sanctions against reading is endorsing abridgment of intellectual freedom. The documentation’s open publication by an agency of the free press, Wikileaks, renders its government classification status irrelevant.
It would seem that someone was more concerned about saving his relationships with politicians than he was about upholding Constitutional rights and his professional ethics. This is a deeply disturbing precedent and an affront to all librarians everywhere.
The Library of Congress should be ashamed of its action of pure censorship, reverse the block immediately, and be censured by the American Library Association for malfeasance. I also encourage President Obama’s administration to get involved in the fray immediately. If Obama is still “committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government” as stated in 2009, then this is a perfect opportunity to re-emphasize that commitment.