The Information Policy Blog

The (unofficial) blog of the BCLA Information Policy Committee

Monthly Archives: March 2013

Fresh (Possibly Bizarre) Activity in Mellen Press vs Dale Askey lawsuit situation

Not content with suing librarian Dale Askey for his opinion (see BCLA’s statement on the issue), Edwin Mellen Press is sending its lawyers out (or at least letters from the lawyers) to get blog posts critical of its operations taken down. The Scholarly Kitchen has the letter here.

What did those posts say? According to the letter they attacked the character of the publisher. As Gary Price from the Infodocket points out in his article on the subject, it’s actually hard to remove something from the internet, so let’s see those posts again (thanks for the links). From the first of the taken down posts (via the Internet Wayback Machine, which has prompted at least one tweeter to speculate if Archive.org will be the next entity sued by EMP):

[Dr. Richardson, owner of Edwin Mellen Press] mentioned that Askey had written a highly negative blog posting about EMP in 2010 (the posting has been removed from his blog but retrieved by EduHacker and posted here). As I recall, Dr. Richardson characterized the posting as “scurrilous.” I told him I had never met Askey; he had left the U of U before I was hired in 2007. I got the impression that Dr. Richardson believed it was Askey’s fault our library had stopped buying EMP titles, but I explained that I had worked as an academic bookseller and an acquisitions librarian for 20 years and had formed my own opinion of EMP a long time ago, and that it was my own familiarity with EMP that had led us to stop buying the press’ books.

Dr. Richardson then launched into a long defense of the quality and uniqueness of his list. I finally had to cut him off so I could go to a meeting. It was easily the strangest phone conversation I’ve ever had with a publisher.

And from the other post:

It is abundantly clear that the point of ACUP’s open letter was not to confirm or defend EMP’s character as a reputable scholarly publisher; on the contrary, it was to defend Askey’s posting as “the views of an experienced and professional university librarian” and his expressed views as “fair comment,” and to call on EMP to stop persecuting Askey for engaging in legitimate criticism. In other words, having been castigated publicly for behaving in a manner fundamentally antithetical to scholarship and freedom of expression, EMP then deliberately drew the public’s attention to that criticism and attempted to characterize it as “confirmation” of its scholarly status. This is simply bizarre.

Also interesting, apparently whoever’s registered the domain name daleaskey.net uses a mellenpress.com email address. The registrar for daleaskey.com is emp@mellen.demon.co.uk. Daleaskey.org has the most tenuous connection to EMP, only sharing the hosting company with the registrar for daleaskey.net. Admittedly this could all be nothing, and I’m sure a lawyer-friendly organization like EMP wouldn’t create a Fake Dale Askey online presence. But still. It’s kind of bizarre. [UPDATE: @DaveYP has a spreadsheet of EMP’s domain holdings if you’re interested in digging in further.]

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Library and Archives Canada Code of Conduct Followup Post 4 – Second Week

This week didn’t have quite the same amount of excitement and media attention towards the muzzling of Library and Archives Canada’s professionals that last week did, but that isn’t to say nothing happened for us to link to.

The most interesting and detailed piece I’ve seen this week was by Priya Sarin in a column on Rabble.ca. I’ve reproduced a small chunk, but the whole article is well worth your time:

Section 4.2 refers to the obligation to report “high risk” activities such as a teaching position at the college or university level to the Conflict of Interest Administrator. Further, section 4.4.2 of the Code in relation to the personal, off‑duty conduct of the employee, requires the employee to obtain permission before he or she is able to accept an invitation to teach, speak at a conference, or even to merely attend a conference. These activities have all been classified as “high risk”. In all cases, regardless of whether the personal engagement has anything to do with the activities of LAC or whether the employee is presented in association with LAC, clearance from the employee’s Manager is required. This appears to be an unnecessary intrusion into the personal activities of the employee and an unreasonable limit on freedom of expression.

Can’t you just tell by the section numbers there that it’s not just some person saying “this seems wrong”? It gave me shivers.

Which is not to say that emotional support isn’t welcomed too, especially when it comes as the lead editorial in the Calgary Herald on March 25th:

One would think that librarians and archivists are at grave risk of selling secrets to Canada’s enemies in their spare time, rather than helping to educate their audiences about history.

One of my favourite things about LAC being in the news the past little while has been that teaching and presenting at conferences and sharing information (in non-checking-out-books-to-people ways) as part of librarchivists’ jobs is trying to work its way into the consciousness of people who aren’t infopros themselves (or close friends with one). It’s crappy it has to become visible because it’s under attack, but it’s a hook to hang our discussion of policy on for the future. We have to fight this kind of thing because as Effie Patelos said the other day:

Ubyssey explainer on Access Copyright

Though it takes a little while to get into the meat of it, I thought Arno Rosenfeld did a nice job in this Ubyssey article, The great copyright battle, explaining Access Copyright and why universities like UBC might find it a bad deal.

Library and Archives Canada Code of Conduct Followup Post 3 – Piling On

As mentioned yesterday the LAC Code of Conduct is getting more play in the Canadian media, including Jian Ghomeshi’s opening essay for Q on CBC radio this morning. On my way home from work tonight I heard a letter read on CBC’s All Points West from a listener comparing the muzzling of scientists, archivists and librarians as shades of 1930s Europe. So as people hear about it they’re getting into this issue.

Not quite as pop-culturey as hitting Q, here’s a video of MP Andrew Cash trying to discuss LAC oversight in committee a couple of days ago. You’ll note how things are quickly taken in camera (so it will not be recorded and uploaded to YouTube for public consumption, for example).

The Canadian Library Association also released a statement on the issue today. In it they say

We recognize that, as public servants, LAC employees also have a duty to uphold the principles contained in the Government of Canada’s Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector, including the duty to “use resources responsibly by acquiring, preserving and sharing knowledge and information.” If employees of Library and Archives Canada are unable to teach and to speak publicly, they are unable to perform their work as information professionals and as public servants.

And here’s a good example of a non-abysmal Code of Ethics for infopros, from the Association of Canadian Archivists (hat tip to Bibliocracy for bringing it up).

Library and Archives Canada Code of Conduct Followup Post 2 – Balancing

Just a short post today to note that Daniel Caron has made a public response to the outcry about the Code of Conduct. Basically he says that this is normal, “commonly applied in the public and private sector.”

The problem with this response is that as noted on Bibliocracy “This basically says ‘leave your brain and your free will at the door’.” That is a problem not just for librarians and archivists at LAC but any citizen.

Listen again to our committee chair talking about the things that it makes sense to be sensitive about information professionals disclosing. That’s where the balance of responsibility in being an information professional comes in. Despite what Caron says, this abysmal code of conduct gathers up everything a librarian could possibly say and treats it like every possible opinion is high-risk and must be cleared by superiors. If that was commonly applied in information organizations (and other settings) around this country how could anyone say we had any sorts of freedoms of expression?

One of the benefits of this terrible code of conduct being made public and getting media attention is that it might be a spur for information professionals at other organizations, in the public and private sectors, to take a look at their own organizational policies. If our codes of conduct were made public would people be outraged, like we are about LAC? These are conversations we should be having in our workplaces too and this media attention is a good excuse to do some self-reflection too.

A final note (to a post that went longer than I thought it would): Friday morning on CBC Radio’s Q, Jian Ghomeshi will be talking about LAC in his opening essay. I’m sure a lot of librarchivists will be listening.

Library and Archives Canada Code of Conduct Followup Post 1 – Use Your Ears

You’ve read this blog’s starter post on the LAC Code of Conduct, and BCLA’s statement on it (which had a nicely pointed critique of LAC seeing its employees’ accomplishments and opinions as sources of suspicion instead of pride). You’ve been reading other blogs and news sources noticing the kerfuffle about librarians and scientists getting muzzled (plus some analysis of interesting word choice within the documents).

What can you possibly do next?

Listen to this stuff! With your ears!

BCLA Info Policy Committee chair Myron Groover was on CBC Radio’s As It Happens this evening. Listen to the segment which focuses on how LAC can try to control librarians’ off-work behaviour, including the snitch line. Also, earlier in the week James Turk, the executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, was interviewed on Radio-Canada International [scroll down to the bottom to hit the “Listen” link].

One of the reasons this issue is a big deal (and why it’s important for the public to hear about it) is because it’s not just librarians and archivists being told not to talk about their work, but scientists and even our (former) Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page [following that link takes you to a story with a “Listen” link if you desire]. As government websites get pared down, it’s not hard to see that in Canada “long-term research and evidence-based policy making are about to get a lot tougher.”

BCLA Press Release on LAC “Code of Conduct”

For Immediate Release, 20/3/2013

The British Columbia Library Association (BCLA) is alarmed by some of the oppressive language in the Values and Ethics Code recently issued to govern the behaviour of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) employees. The implications of the Code and its attempts to regulate behavior, critical thinking and freedom of expression both in and out of the work environment threaten the principles of a democratic society.

As information professionals, librarians and archivists are governed by well-established professional codes of ethics and principles, developed over centuries of service to the public. For example, from the Canadian Library Association:

“It is the responsibility of libraries to guarantee and facilitate access to all expressions of knowledge and intellectual activity, including those which some elements of society may consider to be unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable.”

BCLA’s perception is that some parts of the Values and Ethics Code is punitive and results from the concerns expressed by professional librarians and archivists across Canada about budget cuts to LAC and drastic changes in policies by current LAC management.

The LAC Values and Ethics Code is disturbing for several other reasons. It inhibits employees from participating in library- or archives-related professional conferences, teaching engagements, or other unspecified “personal activities”. The Code describes these activities as “high risk” to LAC. This implies that any discussion on any topic not approved by LAC senior management threatens the institution and is in a conflict of interest. BCLA acknowledges that public servants have a “duty of loyalty” but argues that this must be balanced with a person’s right to freedom of expression. As well, professional employees such as librarians and archivists must be permitted to engage with their peers in forums where they may be discussing differing or controversial perspectives.

Preventing LAC employees from engaging in professional discourse does a profound disservice to scholarship in fields relating to technology, history, libraries, and archives. It discourages many of the nation’s foremost heritage experts from discussing their work with the wider world and restricts their access to innovations being developed and shared by their colleagues outside LAC. Historically LAC employees have played an active and important role in Canada and internationally, sharing expertise and supporting smaller libraries and archives

The implications of the Code extend far beyond employees’ professional lives. Sections pertaining to “personal activities” display a suspicious attitude bordering on contempt for employees’ civil liberties. In one passage, employees are warned that their private lives and conversation “could become a work-related matter” if they criticize the organization or its management. The language of the Code implies that the most basic liberties – participating in politics, joining professional organizations, or even discussing one’s work with family – are subject to scrutiny and censorship. Again, BCLA recognizes the need for public bodies to balance employees’ duties and functions as government representatives with their right to freedom of expression, but in this case the balance is drastically skewed.

BCLA is deeply concerned by sections of LAC’s Values and Ethics Code because it devalues and dismisses employees’ professional integrity and their underlying freedom of thought and expression. The accomplishments – and professional opinions – of LAC employees should be a source of pride rather than suspicion and should be a focus for discussion rather than censorship.

BCLA urges LAC to withdraw the Values and Ethics Code and re-formulate it more in keeping with the Government’s “Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector”, which holds that “treating all people with respect, dignity and fairness is fundamental.”

British Columbia Library Association
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Library and Archives Canada’s Code of Conduct Starter Post

It was a busy weekend in Canadian library land after a copy of Library and Archives Canada’s code of conduct leaked to the press. Since then there’s been blogging on the issue, more news reports, the slides that accompany the code was leaked and in Question Period on Monday NDP MPs Pierre Nantel and Andrew Cash asked CPC Heritage Minister Jim Moore “why is the government scared of librarians?”

This post is to give you a bit of an idea how that conversation’s been playing out as more people hear about the content of this code.

From Emerging Technologies Librarian on the code of conduct’s secretive nature:

The document made it clear that it was shared only on the staff intranet. Personally, I find that worrisome for any governmental agency. The document also discourages engagement with social media, EVEN WHEN CLOSED ACCESS. The document fails to describe appropriate ways in which to engage positively with social media, instead focusing on censures.

In a followup to the original piece by Margaret Munro she discusses the training slideshow:

The presentation about the code, which critics say is having a “chilling effect,” goes on to stress that public servants have a “duty of loyalty” to the government that extends to their personal activities.

The code also describes teaching and attending conferences on personal time as “high risk” activities.

Heritage Minister James Moore, who is responsible for Library and Archives Canada, has been quick to distance the government from the code that has been denounced as a “muzzle” by several critics.

From Bibliocracy on The Duty of Loyalty:

If Daniel Caron indeed operates “at arm’s length” from the Government as alleged by Minister Moore, why should he and his deputies be protected by a Duty to Loyalty intended to apply to elected officials and their proxies? The LAC Code of Ethics says that:

“As public servants, our duty of loyalty to the Government of Canada and its elected officials extends beyond our workplace to our personal activities. Public servants must therefore use caution when making public comments, expressing personal opinions or taking actions that could potentially damage LAC ’s reputation and/or public confidence in the public service and the Government of Canada.”

The above doesn’t especially stand up to the rigours of logic, especially in light of Minister Moore’s repeated allegation that LAC’s operational decisions have nothing whatsoever to do with the Government. There are a few insalubrious conflations there and what looks to be at least one glaring non sequitur.

From Bob McClelland in the Ottawa Citizen:

The real reason for muzzling federal employees is quite simple. If you have complete control of communications and the release of information, you reduce the risk of an incident which might embarrass the minister and the department, or contradict the government’s position. Some would call it an effective communications policy; I would call it a denial of freedom of speech.

From Bibliocracy on why the Duty of Loyalty isn’t the really bad part:

The real danger is the insidious implication expressed by the Code as a whole that ALL civil liberties, in the workplace or out of it, are subject to oversight and approval by management. Repeatedly you see the document saying “it’s OK for you to have opinions…but it might not be if they’re about certain things. Best to check with your boss”. Even where these principles are pretty well attested in other departments’ Codes of Ethics it’s the heavy-handedness of the language and the implied universalisation of management oversight of employees’ personal lives that are truly sinister.

And finally, genealogist Dick Eastman talked about it from the perspective of people who use LAC:

Libraries and Archives Canada employees used to be encouraged to interact with groups interested in everything from genealogy to preserving historical documents. Now the opposite rules are in effect.

It’s kind of crazy out there, but library groups and organizations are putting together statements and trying to figure out what we can do about this kind of thing. We’ll link to some of those later this week.

CBSA’s Quarterly List of Admissible and Prohibited Titles (July to September 2012)

The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) publishes a quarterly list of controversial titles that have been admitted and titles that have been prohibited from entering Canada. Below, please find screenshots of the list for the period July to September 2012. If you’d like to receive the list directly, you can subscribe at http://cbsa.gc.ca/alert-avis/piu-uip-eng.html

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