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Librarian Blog

The right to be forgotten

In Europe, citizens have the right to require Google and other search engines to remove old news or information about them after the passage of a certain period of time.

No such right exists in the United States as a matter of law.

So, the American Library Association and others have been asking, in a variety of forums, whether this country should.

The central notion here is that people have a right to bury their baggage after a reasonable length of time. If you, for example, were arrested for stealing chickens when you were 17 and an item appeared in the newspaper or in an electronic venue, shouldn't you be able to put that episode behind you when you decided to run for office as a 54-year-old? Doesn't simple fairness dictate that you do have such a right even if it's not in law?

Yes, it should.

And, as a practical matter, the principle is recognized in the Unite States in the common law developed around the issue of privacy. The courts have found that you can win an invasion of privacy case under civil law if a sin from long ago makes it back into print or online 20 or 30 years after the fact.

In the newspapers I edited, I warned all my reporters and copy editors not to go back in the files and dredge up ancient news about individuals who were making news again.

 

It's getting ugly out there

I've only just stumbled upon a raging controversy over another children's book.

The book was published by Scholastic, which has now pulled the plug on the book.

The title is A Birthday Cake for George Washington. The issue is this: the author and artist depict the cooks who prepare the cake as happy black folks, dancing and smiling as they fix the boss's favorite dessert. The contention from those who are up in arms about the book seems to be that not enough emphasis was given to the fact these people are enslaved. The author says that even so they could have been happy.

Whoa! I sure don't want to get involved in that. Just wanted to pass the fact there's a dispute along.

Check it out.

Controversy

Shooting ourselves in the feet

I was reading through some old copies of Science News, the magazine, the other day and found myself reading a column by the editor at the time Eva Emerson.

The item was about the government shutdown of 2013 and the message it sent to young people wanting a career in research.

Her reference was a longer article in the same issue, dated Nov. 30, 2013, that spread out all the facts about how the U.S. government has steadily reduced funding for scientific research and development over time.

I'd been hearing about that for years, so it was nothing new.

I decided to Google U.S. government R&D funding and found that nothing's changed in the slope of the downward-tending curve of government support for scientific research. It's down, down, down.

Meanwhile, isn't it becoming more and more obvious that the path to technological and scientific superiority, upon which our nation's reputation largely rests, is through, in part, government-funded research?

Somebody needs to talk sense this election season about how to restore and rebuild funding levels for science, but also for welfare and also for job training and programs to boost people out of poverty. Talking cuts may be popular, but cutting for the sake of cutting will not pay off for our children and their children.

Penn and El Chapo

As a journalist, Sean Penn is a great actor.

Penn, you know, has written up an interview for publication in Rolling Stone magazine.

Like any great journalist, he got himself an exclusive -- this one happens to have been with El Chapo, the drug kingpin in Mexico just arrested by the Mexican marines.

Penn apparently met the drug lord in some remote part of Mexico and interviewed him in person and then pursued other topics online.

I have not read the Rolling Stone piece.

But, thanks to "60 Minutes" I now have enough information to know this was not a work of true journalism. See, Sean Penn let El Chapo read his story and approve of it BEFORE it was published. Journalists do not do that.

So, Sean Penn is a PR shil for a drug king. That's it, pure and simple.

Whence the librarian?

Librarian Steve Barker, writing in the 1-11-16 Wall Street Journal, laments the rise of Google and demise of specially trained master's degreed librarians.

He notes the trend, now obvious, away from asking librarians questions about literallky everthing. Few reference quesstions come our way anymore. Instead, we help people download books to their new Kindles, we help people with computer problems, we check books in and out. For me, it's fun. I can see why it would be disturbing to people like Steve Barker, though. He's being displaced, just as I was as a well-paid newspaper editor.

Times change.

And so do libraries. For example, we are putting together a maker space and getting a 3D printer up and operating. We want to help kids and young adults with STEM programming.

We'll still do the other things librarians are supposed to do, but our role will be different.

Watch this space for actual announcements of these new adventures.

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