When you’re in J-school, you’re taught to do a number of things in service of the way that you carry yourself. You keep your opinions close to your chest. You try to be thoughtful in terms of your objectivity. You don’t donate to candidates.
And you don’t sign petitions.
The reason is that piece of paper can come back to haunt you, because it implies that you’re in the clink for one side or another.
This approach to journalism has become to a degree outdated in the digital era in part because journalists tend to be a bit more opinionated in the modern day. Given that I mix so much commentary into my journalism (as someone who evolved into a blogger), it’s not surprising to hear that I have opinions on things.
But still, I grew into journalism from a traditional newspaper, J-school background. And so I have never donated to a political candidate, and while I’m plenty opinionated, I generally have avoided direct political jockeying in my own journalism.
But when I was posed with the opportunity to sign onto a letter that supported the cause of libraries, I decided that just this once, I had to break this personal rule for myself. So you’ll see my name on Fight for the Future’s “Authors for Libraries” letter, speaking out for the power of the library, including in its digital forms (the Internet Archive, despite what you’ve heard, is a library).
I wrote this as an explanation of my point of view on this specific issue:
Closing off libraries to fair access in the digital age closes off one of the most important tools for research we have. The Internet Archive’s controlled digital lending approach is an excellent way to quickly research topics from primary sources that may not have digital equivalents. The library should be allowed to reasonably keep up with the times, and we should not allow publishers to attempt to redefine it just because the format is changing.
So why did I sign? In this particular case, I felt that this fits into what I’ve said in the past about research and accessibility, and I debated it very heavily before I actually did. To me, the concern that something might happen to the Internet Archive or its ability to distribute books over the lawsuit it faces over its controlled digital lending approach to book distribution is serious enough that I feel like I can’t sit aside. And it supports the work I’ve done in writing and research.
Additionally, I am increasingly concerned about the attacks that libraries have faced for simply hosting content in their collections. It feels like we’ve receded quite a bit in recent years when it comes to what we’re willing to accept within the walls of a library. Ironically, it seems like the people who speak up most loudly for free speech on social media, an area where (poorly written Texas laws notwithstanding) the First Amendment doesn’t apply, are the first to threaten the library’s free speech in an area where the First Amendment does apply.
Sure, my signature on this sign-on letter may have a small impact in the grand scheme of things. After all, it’s not like I’m going to court and testifying for the Internet Archive in their case against the publishing industry. But I did break a rule for myself that lasted 18 full years. And if the risk is serious enough on this specific issue, I might do it again.
After all, the concept of research itself is put under threat if the library is endangered—no matter its form.
If you’d like to sign the letter yourself—no pressure—the Authors for Libraries petition is still taking signatures from writers and authors.
Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes
Time left on clock ⏲: 3 minutes, 46 seconds