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Obama, Libraries and Technology

Submitted by Daniel A. Freeman on January 22, 2009 - 10:36am

In his first two days in office, President Obama has definitely given a lot of us the impression that he intends to be President 2.0. Obama's campaign famously used online social networking to tremendous effect, he has since been giving weekly addresses via YouTube and now the new White House Web Page includes a blog.

Now that the President has taken office and new policies are being enacted, what changes will we see in national policy towards libraries generally, and technology specifically?

For many information professionals, questions about freedom of information and intellectual freedom. Jessamyn West had a great post yesterday discussing some of the changes that are already underway.

An recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle oferred a slightly more critical assessment in discussing Attorney General-Designate Eric Holder's confirmation hearing:

Eric Holder said at his confirmation hearing Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he supports renewing a section of the USA Patriot Act that allows FBI agents investigating international terrorism or espionage to seek records from businesses, libraries and bookstores. If not renewed by Congress, the provision will expire at the end of 2009.

The searches must be authorized by a court that meets secretly and has approved the government's requests in nearly all cases, according to congressional reports. The target of the search does not have to be suspected of terrorism or any other crime. A permanent gag order that accompanies each search prohibits the business or library from telling anyone about it...

..."I was disappointed" that Holder supports the bookstore and library searches, "although maybe not entirely surprised," Chris Finan, spokesman for the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, said Friday.

The provision Holder wants Congress to renew, known as Section 215, "gives the government far too much power to conduct fishing expeditions in the records of bookstore customers and library patrons," Finan said. "We never expected that the change of administration would mean we had any less of a fight on our hands."

Of course, President Obama has long been a supporter of libraries. Here at ALA his 2005 Keynote Address has been  the subject of a lot of recent conversation. While librarians, along with the rest of the country, are eager to see what President Obama will mean to our profession, we are thrilled to know that he is an advocate for libraries and librarianship as well as a President who wants to make the use of new technology a hallmark of his administration.