Hackers And Librarians

Grad school has been keeping me pretty busy which means I haven’t had as much time for free writing as I’d like. I don’t want to let my blog go neglected, however, so I thought rather than have several days of silence, I’d post the essay that I’m working on for my information technology course. I’m not certain this thing will be interesting to anybody who isn’t a librarian, but then, I’m not certain that most of what I talk about is going to be interesting to anybody other than me.

Anyway, my short essay was about about the similarities and differences between hackers and librarians. For reference, I’ll first post the ethical outlines I was working off of; you may or may not agree with the points made in those statements, which is fair. Afterwards, I’ll post what I wrote for my essay. I do apologize for the writing style; I tend to get a bit more stilted when doing academic writing due to perceptions that too much casual language creates a feeling of informality and sloppiness. Nevertheless, feel free to discuss, critique, or whatever. Here’s the essay:

The Hacker Ethic, as described by Steven Levy:

  • Access to computers and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works should be unlimited and total. Always yield to the Hands-On Imperative!
  • All information should be free.
  • Mistrust Authority Promote Decentralization.
  • Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position.
  • You can create art and beauty on a computer.
  • Computers can change your life for the better.
  • Like Aladdin’s lamp, you could get it to do your bidding.’

The Library Bill of Rights, as described by the American Library Association:

  1. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
  2. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
  3. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.
  4. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.
  5. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.
  6. Libraries that make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.

When looking at the Hacker’s Ethic and the Library Bill of Rights, we can quickly see that these are two credos that embrace the same core ideal but advocate the attainment of that ideal through almost diametrically opposed methodology. For the purpose of discussion, I will refer to these respective principles through their beholders: Hackers and Librarians. I make this distinction while noting that I am speaking of both groups in a somewhat broad and generalized fashion while also noting that there is always the potential for overlap: some hackers may also be librarians. Nevertheless, this will be the structure for my discussion.

Both the Hacker and the Librarian value information as an ideal. This distinction is necessary, because it creates a different standard than one might find among the general public. Clearly, information is valuable; there is no one who can rationally argue against that fact, but for the average user, information is only measured by its value. Its relative worth is purely practical.

For both the Hacker and the Librarian, information, and more importantly, information access has a value that extends beyond its practical application. Hackers and Librarians maintain that access to information is a basic human right and that denial of access constitutes a breach of ethical responsibility. Censorship is anathema for both, whether that censorship comes through the suppression of materials or restricting access to computers. In either instance, information should be freely open and available to all. Neither the Hacker nor the Librarian makes a judgment upon the value of the information itself. A user who desires information on a new video game is equally as important as one who needs information about Federal Income Tax codes. Hackers and Librarians are united in a sense of egalitarianism, although Librarians tend to operate in a true egalitarian fashion while Hackers are generally more of a meritocracy. In either group, however, one’s race, sex, income, or other factors are inconsequential when it comes to the execution of the ideal of information access.

Where Hackers and Librarians diverge, however, is in their execution of serving this ideal. For the Hacker, authority is a form of restriction. Centralization of information is merely another form of restriction. In this way, Hackers are very comparable to anarchists in that they promote open access for all. Any control is to be rejected. Any restriction is to be opposed. The only consideration that truly matters is the access. Everything else is secondary. Authority in any form should be disregarded due to the fact that authority means rules and rules by their very nature restrict access in one form or another.

Librarians, on the other hand, promote both authority and centralization. They do so in the belief that centralization of information actually promotes access rather than restricts it. Information that is not readily and easily accessible to the user often cannot be located when it is needed and is thus subject to what is called “soft censorship.” Thus, by organizing and collating information and bringing it to a central point of reference, Librarians ensure access.

Librarians, while opponents of censorship, also recognize that certain filters need to be in place due to needing to be open and accessible to patrons of all ages and temperaments. The anarchist mentality of the Hacker cannot serve the needs of the public librarian who needs to be concerned with children accessing adult images; in such an instance, a measure of control must be maintained. Librarians must balance the needs of informing and enlightening their patrons while also realizing that not all information is created equally and some information can be very hurtful, deleterious, or even dangerous. The act of maintaining such a distinction while not sliding into censorship due to doctrinal or partisan consideration is a very delicate balancing act. This balancing act serves as another contrast to the Hacker, who is unburdened by such considerations.

In conclusion, the Hacker and the Librarian approach the same ideal of information access through very different means. The Hacker is more chaotic, more libertarian, believing that authority of any sort is a negative presence and that individuals will be responsible for the content they experience. The Librarian, on the other hand, must balance information access with the other considerations necessary to properly serve her community. A book that is banned due to political pressure is just as much a moral loss as is a parent who does not bring his child to the library because the library does not take appropriate steps to keep adult materials out of the hands of children, for example. In both cases, censorship occurs, albeit in different forms.

Various Thoughts

Usually, when I sit down to write a blog post, I have a particular topic or theme I want to discuss. This topic or theme then provides structure for my various musings and/or ramblings. On occasion, though, I find myself with lots of thoughts floating around in my head but without any larger theme to tie them together and you end up with a post like this: bullet points that are related to one another only in that I’m thinking about them at all.

  • I’m a week into my online class for my MLS degree. I’ve never taken an online class before and right away, I’ve noticed it is incredibly easy to blow off/procrastinate on my work. I’ve realized I need to structure a dedicated amount of hours into my day that are “class time” or else I’m never going to get anything done. I’ll let you know if this is successful.
  • I took a motorcycle ride up Mt. Lemmon on Sunday, even though I knew it was going to be insanely crowded with Labor Day weekend campers and picnickers. Is that how you spell that word? Picnickers? It doesn’t look right to me, but spell check is adamant, so I guess we’ll go with that. As far as the Mt. Lemmon ride was concerned, I knew it was going to be crowded but I was still amazed at just how crowded it was. Every single picnic and camping area was full. Several of them were so full that people had parked on the side of the road to have their picnics. It made me very glad that I was just going to ride up to the top of the mountain and then ride back down. Didn’t even have to look for a parking space.
  • I realized I still haven’t put away my suitcase from my trip to New York, even though it’s been almost a month. I’ve unpacked all my stuff, of course, it’s just that my suitcase is still sitting in the corner of my room. Is there a time limit on when it’s been out for too long? If so, I think I’ve already passed it.
  • I can’t believe it’s already September.
  • There hasn’t been any news about last month’s horrible python attack in Canada. I’ve been keeping an eye out for news, but there hasn’t been anything. There was one report that caused me to raise my eyebrows, however:

    A reptile store owner under investigation for criminal negligence in the deaths of two boys after a large python escaped its enclosure had blood on his hands and shorts when police arrived at the scene in Campbellton, N.B., according to newly released court documents. Jean-Claude Savoie was distressed and pacing outside Reptile Ocean on Aug. 5, when he said four-year-old Noah Barthe and his six-year-old brother Connor were dead, police state in the documents

    Bold emphasis is mine. Wait, why didn’t this make the news anywhere else? Two kids are dead and there’s a guy with blood on his hands and shorts? That doesn’t raise any concerns? It doesn’t get mentioned again in the article, nor could I corroborate it with any other sources. Whose blood was this? Where did this blood come from? Either this particular reporter made this detail up or it’s been ignored because blood on a suspect’s hands isn’t nearly as sensational as a killer snake. Sigh.

Well, enough rambling for one evening, I think. I have things to do and I’m sure you do as well. And on an unrelated note, thanks for taking the time to read my strange little blog.