Shhhhh in the library: Gag Order cuts Librarians out of Patriot Act Reauthorization Debate

I come from the generation where people were actually quiet in libraries. Not like today, when students in community colleges are encouraged to form study groups and meet in the library to discuss their subject. Or in graduate schools’ computer rooms, where innumerable groups murmur together working on group assignments, and if you stay too late, someone is bound to come in from the local watering hole and be really loud. Back in the good old days, if someone talked too loud, a librarian would actually come over and sush them.

So, given my years of conditioning that has resulted in an automatic reverent silence in the presence of books, I was shocked and dismayed to read a piece written by Michael over at Homeland Stupidity about librarians being under a gag order. Librarians and gags? It conjures up images of cliffhangers with sweet Penelope tied to the railroad tracks while Oilcan Harry tries to persuade her to marry him and give up the ‘deed to the ranch’.

According to the Washington Post, the FBI asked a Connecticut library service for information about one of its users–without a warrant. The librarians stalled, with some help from the ACLU. Then the FBI came back and said never mind, the threat wasn’t ‘viable’. In the meantime, the librarians were prevented from participating in the debate over renewing the Patriot Act.

The librarians had been under a gag order for months. Last year a federal judge said it unfairly prevented them from participating in a debate over how the Patriot Act should be rewritten, but by the time the FBI dropped its appeal in April, Congress had already voted to reauthorize the law.

This time, they have really gone too far. It’s time to fight back. Throughout history many books were banned that are now considered classics, including books by Thoreau, Shakespeare, and Mark Twain. The American Library Association sponsors Banned Book Week in September, but you can read a banned book right now, while you are waiting for the November election. Here is the ALA’s list of the 100 most frequently banned books.

Gags and librarians, indeed.

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