|NOVEMBER 2002||Volume 4 Number 4|
Kendall F. Wiggin
Connecticut State Librarian
Intellectual Freedom in a Time of War
That was the theme of the 3rd Annual Connecticut Leadership Conference held on October 10 in Westport. More than150 librarians and library trustees gathered to learn of the impact the war on terrorism is having on the very foundations of our country. One of the great things about this country is that a group of people can gather to discuss issues of the day and question government policy. The sad thing about the current situation is that we had to come together at all. By all accounts the conference was a big success. Most importantly, it was the first major discussion by the Connecticut Library community since the War on Terrorism was declared. This war poses great challenges, especially for that particular American invention, the free public library, a bulwark of intellectual freedom. The topic and the speakers were so provocative as to cause at least one attendee to question our patriotism. Questioning law enforcement tactics or the intentions of national leaders is certainly legitimate. The program was not about foiling law enforcement's efforts to protect our security. Rather it was a wakeup call for librarians and library trustees to not blindly yield to efforts, however well intentioned and intoned, that compromise the very freedoms that define our country.
It is very easy to let concern for our own personal safety outweigh freedoms we take for granted. Because we choose to fly, for example, we have accepted invasions of our privacy. I didn't like it the last time I went through airport security and was pulled aside and patted down by a man wearing latex gloves. I had already shown my ID three times and had had my briefcase searched. What had I done to receive this type of treatment, I knew I wasn't a terrorist, but how did he know that? Collectively, we have agreed to accept these new procedures. But the idea of law enforcement coming into libraries trying to seize computers or asking for information about our patrons is Orwellian. Not being able to tell anyone that law enforcement has been inquiring about a person, including your supervisor and the person who is subject to the inquiry, is even more repugnant. Don't doubt that this could happen in your library; we learned at the conference that similar incidents have already occurred in Connecticut. We also learned that federal law has trumped state law when it comes to the confidentiality of library records.
The Patriot Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) is not just one law. Rather it represents a series of changes to existing laws as well a creating whole new laws. Not all provisions are limited to foreign nationals, and it isn't just limited to fighting terrorists. Law enforcement is doing just that, enforcing the law. However, we must be prepared to challenge new laws that encroach on our freedoms. We must demand more debate in the halls of our legislatures when new legislation affecting our basic freedoms is proposed, no matter how well intentioned. Libraries can inform citizens by developing programs and collections on the Bill of Rights.
I consider myself a patriot. Oh , I don't wear it on my sleeve (or car window), that's just not me, but I do strive to protect our rights as Americans. We must strike a balance between the security of our country and the rights that make us the envy of the world. To not safeguard those rights is unpatriotic.