Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fahrenheit 451 as a graphic Novel

Publishers Weekly is reporting "a graphic translation” of Ray Bradbury's classic. The new book will be "created by artist Tim Hamilton, overseen by Ray Bradbury himself and supported by an elaborate marketing campaign that will peg the book to the American Library Association's Banned Books Week in September as well as a host of educational, book trade and comics industry events and promotions."

Friday, April 24, 2009

Freedom to Read Foundation Gala

Freedom to Read Foundation celebrates 40 years with a gala dinner and celebration Sunday, July 12th, in Chicago. Buy tickets now by calling (800) 545-2433 x4226.

Social Networking Safety Act

Proposed New Jersey Social Networking Safety Act, designed to protect children from cyber bullying and sexually explicit content, raises IF and many other issues.

Essentially, the act would require sites such as Facebook and MySpace to provide prominent links for users to report offensive content, and to investigate and report to law enforcement where appropriate.

The site itself is entitled to $1000 in damages from anyone posting a 'sexually offensive communication' to or about a minor in New Jersey.

Traditional Cultural Expression

ALA Office for Information Technology Policy released a draft statement on Traditional Cultural Expressions that has raised some concerns among IFRT members:

Librarianship and Traditional Cultural Expressions: Nurturing Understanding and Respect

Google Book Settlement

Google Book settlement “may compromise fundamental library values, such as privacy and intellectual freedom,” according to Dr. Alan Inouye of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Technology Policy.

Read the American Libraries Article about some of the objections.

There is also an overview of the settlement from ALA and ARL: A Guide for the Perplexed: Libraries and the Google Library Project Settlement, by Jonathan Band, JD.

The text of the proposed settlement is available here.

#AmazonFail: Amazon gets burned on filtering; lesson learned?

Amazon got a quick lesson in the problems that accompany filtering recently, as their attempt to make search results inoffensive offended and outraged thousands of people. Amazon hasn’t yet made it clear whether they intend to abandon filtering altogether, or simply try to fix their process.

In case you missed it, Amazon has been classifying certain books as ‘adult products.’ An Amazon customer service rep explained via email to author Mark R. Probst that “[i]n consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude ‘adult’ material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using
sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.”

In February, Craig Seymour noticed that his memoir of being a stripper in gay clubs in Washington, D.C. was no longer showing up in searches, and had its sales rank removed. While his title was eventually restored, by April 12th over 50, 000 books had been impacted, including Brokeback Mountain, Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, Heather Has Two Mommies, and False Colors The fact that books of Playboy centerfolds and memoirs of straight sex workers were not impacted led many to conclude that gay and lesbian titles were specifically targeted. In fact, the top results for searches on the keyword ‘homosexuality’ were titles on preventing and curing homosexuality. News spread like wildfire around the Internet over the weekend, most notably via hundreds of twitter messages a minute tagged #AmazonFail – now a synonym for the whole incident.

In a statement that was not at all reassuring for people concerned with filtering, Amazon spokesperson Drew Herdener asserted that it was not just homosexuality that was targeted, but also material in categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. Indeed books like The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability were also reportedly affected.

Ultimately, Amazon faulted employee error in conflating the concepts of ‘adult,’ ‘erotic, and ‘sexuality’ causing books to inappropriately be removed from rankings and search results.

While this explanation satisfies some who were worried about an anti-gay agenda at Amazon (and doesn’t satisfy others who see many unanswered questions), it still leaves open the idea that some books that Amazon sells are appropriately filtered from sales ranks and recommendation features.

Libraries learned long ago that attempts to narrowly filter a category of material that someone finds offensive quickly winds up blocking access to materials that virtually everyone agrees should not be filtered. Obviously, Amazon does not have the ethical responsibilities of a library. That’s why libraries remain more interesting and more integral to democratic society than bookstores. But while Amazon certainly has the right to limit its selection, search results, and recommendations by any criteria it wishes, much of its appeal is that Amazon can carry everything, unlike a physical bookstore that is limited by space concerns. If Amazon sabotages its own search and recommendation systems, it looses much of that appeal.

It is unclear why Amazon would need to filter ‘adult’ products. Customers are required to be adults, and it seems that a truly explicit thumbnail image of product description would be rare enough to be handled on a case by case basis.

Amazon should, in consideration of their entire customer base, offer full search and discovery options for all the products they sell. -David Hurley

Sir John Clifford Mortimer, CBE, QC (21 April 1923 – 16 January 2009

Though best known in the US for the PBS TV program Rumpole of the Bailey, John Mortimer was much more than a witty author of British crime stories. As a English barrister, Mortimer provided the defense in several major British free speech trials, cases that he said were “alleged to be testing the frontiers of tolerance.” Both his parallel careers as author and as barrister served Mortimer's belief in law as protector of individual liberties.

Called to the Bar in 1948, Mortimer was made a Queen's Counsel in 1966, and retired in 1984. On “taking silk” (as becoming a Queen’s Counsel in known, referring to the silk robes the QCs wear in court) he began defending criminal cases, including obscenity charges. In 1968, he successfully defended John Calder and Marion Boyars on appeal of their conviction under the Obscene Publications Act for publishing Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby. This case is considered a turning point in British censorship law.

In the early 1970s, the Obscene Publications Squad, with covert blessing from conservative elements in government, went after radical underground publications to divert attention from the real pornography they'd been bribed to ignore. Mortimer was one of the few barristers willing to defend in such cases. He defended Richard Handyside who published an English edition of the Danish Little Red Schoolbook guide for students to sex, drugs and rebellion. Handyside lost and eventually appealed to the European Court of Human Rights which helped to define how free speech would be handled across national boundaries.

Oz, an underground magazine, produced one issue (#28) written and illustrated by students, but the crude humor of “Schoolkids Oz” provoked prosecution under an archaic law, “conspiracy to corrupt the public morals,” that had no limit on the possible sentence. Mortimer defended the publishers in the 1971 “Oz conspiracy” trial, the longest obscenity trial in British legal history, and the harsh sentence was quashed on appeal. In his summing up for the jury, Mortimer said, "The case stands at the very cross roads of our liberties, at the boundaries of our freedom to think and draw and write about what we please."

In 1977, Mortimer defended Gay News editor Denis Lemon who was charged with Blasphemous libel in Whitehouse v. Lemon for publishing James Kirkup's poem "The Love that Dares to Speak its Name." The poem uses homoerotic imagery about Jesus to reconcile faith and same-sex love. The magazine was convicted and fined but Lemon's sentence was quashed on appeal.

The title of the 1977 Sex Pistols album Never Mind The Bollocks, uses a British vulgarity that brought Virgin Records and one of its' shops' window displays into court charged under the 1899 Indecent Advertising Act. Mortimer's defense included a professor of English who observed that “bollocks” appeared in englsh placenames without stirring any sensual desires in the residents. In his summing up, Mortimer asked, “do we live in a country where we are proud of our Anglo Saxon language? Do we wish our language to be verile and strong or watered down and weak?” The album title was acquitted of indecency.

Mortimer also used his character Horace Rumpole and the people he defends in London's Old Bailey, to illustrate his beliefs and promote his causes. He was against the death penalty as well as censorship, and a strong advocate for the right of all accused to a fair trial. Particularly in his second full length novel, Rumpole and the Reign of Terror published in 2006, Mortimer challenged the erosion of liberty in the name of national security. Despite criticism from his colleagues and his wife Hilda, Rumpole defends a Pakistani doctor accused of being an al Qaeda terrorist. The barrister condemns Britain's Anti-Terror Act as an assault on Magna Carta, aiding terrorism by undermining the rule of law. The fictional case also examines Britain's struggle with its new diversity.

After Labour's victory in 1997, Mortimer had been rewarded with a knighthood, but he became a persistent critic of the government's disregard of individual liberty. In both careers, he helped make criminal defense work respectable and police procedures more trustworthy. He always asserted that defense of individual liberties was the only justification for the profession of law, and its highest calling.

-Carolyn Caywood

Talking Privacy

Librarians met with diverse focus groups across the US to ask what concerns people have about privacy. We heard that privacy is a right necessary to human dignity and individual integrity, but it is personal and individual. Many folks commented on the gossip that pervades media and affects our concept of privacy.

People fear that partial and mis-information will result in them being misjudged. At the same time, people use new technology to learn more about others to protect themselves. New technology has heightened awareness of privacy implications. Privacy within a family and especially between a parent and child is judged differently.

Some say privacy is lost because we no longer know how to protect it. Others question “what are you trying to hide?” Many would trade privacy for convenience and convenience for security. Still others make a connection from privacy to financial security, health care, and employment prospects. The people who want government protection of privacy don’t trust the government’s intentions or ability to foil hackers. Though public safety and national security are invoked in opposition to privacy, people recognize that security is necessary to protect privacy.

The outcome of these focus group discussions is an ‘issue map’ that presents three alternatives for who or what could be in charge of protecting privacy: the marketplace, the government, or the individual (“my self”).

The full Privacy Issue Map is available here.

Privacy Issue Map

Who do I trust to protect my privacy?

the marketplace

the government

my self

Actions to Implement

Purchase security measures

Use spending to reward business that respects privacy

Use public opinion, boycott against intrusive businesses.

Set up an office like Canada

Use courts to enforce checks/balances

Enact legislation that protects privacy

Monitor credit, stay informed

Demand transparent processes

Pay cash, avoid EZpass

Supporters would say

Innovates to protect privacy

Keeps up with new threats

Is motivated to please customers

ID theft threatens profits

HIPAA, Libraries are good examples

Privacy implied in First Amendment

Protecting rights is government role

Clarifies public value for public servants

“Who will watch the watchers?”

What should be private is individual

Individual carelessness is main threat

Only one who can detect/correct errors/theft

Opponents would say

Targeted marketing is invasive

Data mining is profitable

Susceptible to government pressure

Public has limited leverage

No universal definition of what’s private

Susceptible to demagoguery

Cannot keep up with changing threats

Always tempted by secrecy

Too hard, too much work

Public is lazy, won’t demand privacy

Individuals don’t have the power

Can never be sure you’re safe


Savings through targeted sales

Escalating security expenses

Public safety & National security

Complex bureaucratic rules

Time & effort & inconvenience

No one to blame but self