December 1, 2016
The New York Public Library and American Library Association respond to a president eager to abuse his power
by Chad Felix
As the Intercept’s Micah Lee tweeted, and later expanded upon, the election of Donald Trump does not only mean the accession of an altogether very bad person. Unfortunately, it is also means handing over “the most invasive, and barely accountable, intelligence agency in the world” to this very bad person, this very bad person who is overly eager to abuse his power — a very bad person whose only coherent public policy is: get revenge.
Now, intelligence is a frightful tool, one that, if weaponized by the Trump administration, could radically alter the reality of civic life in this country, in particular that of journalists, people of color, and Muslims. And while Trump has, as Rachel Maddow recently reported, thus far taken a pass on the intelligence briefings most presidents-elect would be receiving, many of the other plans he and his cronies have been floating—the Muslim registry, the “opening up” of libel laws—would be assisted dramatically by the utilization of America’s private citizen data-collection machine, the NSA.
This is, of course, like all the news right now, incredibly dispiriting. Fortunately, there are things you can do today, important things that can help alleviate that feeling of hopelessness and also protect you in the years to come.
Also, there’s some inspiring, related news from—where else—the world of libraries. As Sam Thielman reports for the Guardian, librarians are already responding to Trump’s imminent invasion of patron privacy. Thielman writes:
Now, the page reads: “Sometimes the law requires us to share your information, such as if we receive a valid subpoena, warrant, or court order. We may share your information if our careful review leads us to believe that the law, including state privacy law applicable to Library Records, requires us to do so.”
The NYPL also assures users that it will not retain data any longer than is necessary. “We are committed to keeping such information, outlined in all the examples above, only as long as needed in order to provide Library services,” the librarians wrote.
While it’s not immediately apparent what exactly about the policy has changed other than tone (the language has been altered from boilerplate legalese to something more personal, conciliatory), it’s still good to see a library as big and powerful as the NYPL at the very least responding to the situation. It indicates a dynamic, attentive institution that is dedicated to its core values (values that we absolutely must hold them to) — and it gives this dedicated patron some heart.
In related news, the American Library Association, after facing backlash from librarians to a press release that stated that members of the organization would “work with President-elect Trump” and his transition team, altered their position for the better. ALA President Julie B Todaro responded to the outrage in American Libraries Magazine: “We understand that content from these press releases, including the 11/18/16 release that was posted in error, was interpreted as capitulating to and normalizing the incoming administration.” She goes on to defend the core tenants of libraries—“free access, intellectual freedom, privacy and confidentiality”—adding, “It is clear that many of these values are at odds with messaging or positions taken by the incoming administration.”
Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.