"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Have You Hugged Your Librarian Today? 

I'm sure that some regular readers (now enough to field a whole softball team, including shortfielder!) are starting to think that I have a hard-on for librarians in general, but I assure you, there is only a plurality whose children I would bear. Still, it's stories like this that remind me how stalwart America's librarians have been in the never-ending struggle against soft fascism:
The FBI wants to know who checked out a book from a small library about Osama Bin Laden. But the library isn't giving out names, saying the government has no business knowing what their patrons read.

The library in Deming isn't much larger than a family home. Located in rural Whatcom County, it hardly seems the site for a showdown with the feds.

"I think we all figure it's places like the New York Library System that's going to be one of the first we hear about," said the attorney for the Whatcom County Library System, Deborra Garret.

At the center of the issue, a book titled "Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America."

The FBI confiscated the original book after a patron reported than some one hand wrote a bin Laden quote in the margin that read: "Let history be witness I am a criminal."

The FBI demanded to know the names and addresses of everyone who ever checked out the book.

Listen up, because I don't wnat to have to repeat this: The America I love is a place where citizens can read any book they God damn well please, and no jackbooted thug from Ashcroft's SS can say fuck-all about it. You don't like that? Tough. Move to Russia, where Vladimir "Pooty-Poot" Putin is busy reconstituting the Soviet state. We won't miss your sorry, cowardly ass.

A word about this particular, and (apparently) particularly scary, book: Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America was written by Yossef Bodansky, who is no one's idea of an Islamist apologist. He is a "contributing expert" for the Ariel Center for Policy Research, a pro-Israel think tank. He is in no way symapathetic to bin Laden or his people.

Also, a word about Whatcom County, one of the most interesting places in the state of Washington. Whatcom County is generally associated with its largest town, Bellingham (home of Western Washington University), which is the kind of place where "formal attire" means your best tie-dye, and strangers greet each other with a peace sign. The rest of the county is rural and stoutly conservative. The kind of conservatism one encounters there, however, is generally of the Libertarian variety - you can be an Islamic fundamentalist on your own property, if you want, but if you try to be an Islamic fundamentalist on my property, I'll shoot you.

And so it is in this environment, and in relation to this book, that the FBI is going to the mat. Standing against the full force of the Department of Justice there is one solitary librarian, who has the guts to say (and I'm paraphrasing here), "blow me."

Notice also that the only reason why this matter is being discussed openly is that the FBI chose an unfortunate (from their point of view) procedural posture:
Because of privacy policies, the library does not give out circulation records without a court order. When the FBI got a grand jury subpoena, the library filed a motion to quash it -- citing the rights of all people who use the library....

The FBI withdrew the subpoena, reserving the right to file it again.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office says they are not permitted to discuss anything that involves the grand jury.

If the feds had demanded the records under the Patriot Act, the library would have had to hand them over without question and without help from the courts.

That's good to know. Next time, you can bet they won't make the same mistake.

Finally, I should point out that librarians do have their own authoritarian impulses:
The FBI still has the bin Laden book.

Librarians point out, it's overdue.

Oh, oh. They'll fine you for that, you know. In the prosecution of our war against terroprism and general bad manners, ignorance of the due date is no excuse.

Update 10/08/2004: The American Street has picked up this story (thanks for the link, Kevin!) and adds some important contact information so we can all make sure that the library administration knows how much their courage is appreciated. He also makes the excellent suggestion that blogophiles can express their appreciation in a concrete manner, contributing much-needed dollars toward the planned expansion of the Deming Library. A wonderful idea, indeed.




Standing against the full force of the Department of Justice there is one solitary librarian, who has the guts to say (and I'm paraphrasing here), "blow me."

Not to be argumentative, but it sounds more like 'Suck My Dick!' to me.

Hhhhmmm. I guess that is just a stylistic difference.
Hmmm. I think our libraries should start purging their borrowing histories and regularly wiping their backups as a matter of policy. You can't respond to an information request if you don't have the information...
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