Friday, April 17, 2009

Judith Krug: Tribute and Thoughts

Many folks have written about the death of Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) Director Judy Krug. I won't even point to the wonderful articles in the New York Times and Washington Post. There is a somewhat incomplete article in Wikipedia (my recollection is that it used to be fuller, and had a photo!). There are some wonderful quotes in Wikiquotes, though. Most of them I can mentally hear Judy say!

She was a staunch supporter of the first amendment to the US Constitution which includes "free speech" as a core value of life in the United States.

I had heard of Judy for years before I ever met her when I became an ALA Councilor. However, from then on I learned to listen carefully to what she said, and to respect her incredible commitment to a value which is important to me.

I was not going post on this until I read John Berry III's recent Blatant Berry post (which I am expecting to see in the print version of Library Journal. He has followed that up with a shorter post that is pure tribute and expresses the need to have the ALA OIF headed by a librarian. The longer post says some of the things I would have about Judith. However, John (and yes, I know him in person), has lost what made Judy so critically important in defending the First Ammendment. Let me quote the third to last and the penultimate paragraphs:

The new chief of OIF and FTRF must be a consolidator, a diplomat, and a lobbyist of high skill. This IF leader must not only defend ALA’s IF apparatus but manage its continued evolution in an environment of easy technological access to information, where censorship is often practiced not by removal of information but by its online manipulation. Beyond that, innovations like Google Book Search pose new challenges. The new leader must possess the legal, political, and moral fiber to outmaneuver the opponents of free inquiry and individual privacy in the courts, the marketplace, and the civic community.

Just as important, the new leader of OIF must face the longstanding gap between our principles and our practice. This gap comes in part from transposing policies born in the print age, such as providing open access to all library materials for juveniles, and the difficulty of allowing unrestricted use of public access computer terminals.

The first of the two above paragraphs hits the nail on the head. The next leader of the OIF must be incredibly tactful, articulate, visionary, and politically skilled. Where I take issue with John Berry is the second of the two paragraphs above. In a country (and profession) which is as large and diverse as ours, there will always be differences. These will include places where there is a gap between principles and practice. But, just because there are gaps does not mean that on a "core value" issue such as this, we should be any less diligent in expressing our views. Policies (in public libraries) are generally made by appointed or elected boards. In an age of technological change there will be a lag in having the policies (created in an earlier enviornment) matching the new environment.

The next head of the OIF *must* continue to express unqualified support for all that the First Ammendment stands for. To do anything less will allow us to slide down a slippery slope.

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