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The Silverfish is published monthly by the students of the Information School at the University of Washington.

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The Silverfish

January 2003 Contents:

Editorial: Whose Intellectual Freedom is it Anyway?
MLIS Students Pay More Under New Tiered Tuition System

Field Report: Alaska

The Library Catalog: What's in it for You?
Traveling Home for the Holidays on the Information Not-So-Superhighway
Book Review: The Mystery of Flight 427: Inside a Crash Investigation
Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan Series
Giving Tree Selection Committee sought
Group Projects for LIS510 are a Success

Whose Intellectual Freedom is it Anyway?

Why, in so many cases, are we as a profession so steadfast about preserving the public's intellectual freedom while so ardently forgoing our own?

Welcome back!

I hope everyone had a great holiday and took the opportunity to recharge and tackle winter quarter 2003 with all the enthusiasm and vigor that a new (calendar) year traditionally brings. I intended to write something lighthearted this month, but the holidays always get me thinking about the state of the world and the state of my life. Something has been gnawing at me that I need to get off my chest.

I chose to pursue librarianship because of the ideals associated with the profession. Libraries (public, at least) not only offer information from multiple viewpoints, but serve as community centers where people can feel safe and confident about expressing divergent and often unpopular opinions and views. Some would argue this is the very foundation upon which our country was built. In our profession, we call this "intellectual freedom." Like "information" and "document," intellectual freedom has many different definitions and interpretations. Anyone who has faced challenges typical to libraries (banned books, purchasing materials with controversial viewpoints, providing meeting space for groups with questionable political agendas, etc.) knows that believing in intellectual freedom is easy while practicing it is not.

Over the break, I got together with Amanda Hirst and Jenifer Loomis to prepare an article for publication that we wrote last spring. As part of a class assignment for our LIS 570 Research Methods class spring quarter 2002, we took on an ambitious study that surveyed librarians at Seattle Public Library about their personal opinions in regards to patrons accessing pornography on library Internet terminals. The purpose of the study was to first determine if differences exist between the librarians' personal opinions and professional protocols in regard to this subject matter (they do), and if so, how the librarians go about reconciling these differences. The online survey collected both quantitative and qualitative data from nearly 60 respondents (40 percent of our target population). It was an amazing learning experience, but I was unprepared for what followed when we presented our results to the class.

I spent a lot of time and effort preparing our report and subsequent class presentation, but (as is often the case with me) didn't fully comprehend the significance of our findings until I stepped back and looked at the larger-than-life PowerPoint slides projected onto the wall and saw our results from our classmates' point of view. What struck me hardest was the fact that one of the recurring themes in the qualitative (text box) responses was that many of our survey respondents generally didn't feel "safe" expressing any sort of divergent views within the organization or profession. We aren't talking about voicing personal opinions to the public. Our respondents generally possessed the ability to enforce policies with which they disagreed, even when they found such enforcement difficult. However, many of the respondents thought silence within the profession was the road of least resistance.

Once we opened this door to the class, the reactions were both stultifying and disheartening. At least two students (in a class of 15-20 total) related their own emotionally-charged experiences within the iSchool where they were either brow-beat for expressing a divergent view in regards to intellectual freedom, or didn't feel comfortable enough to express their opinion in the first place. I have personally witnessed particular individuals in my own classes come under verbal attacks by other students because their opinions did not coincide with academic ideals. The problem here is that while academic ideals and theory may work beautifully in the classroom, they're of very little use in real world situations where, for example, an angry father is threatening to bash your head in because his grade-school-age daughter looked at online pictures of naked men at the library.

Intellectual freedom as it relates to Internet pornography is an emotional and, yes, complicated issue. This whole project changed my view of our professional ideals. Why, in so many cases, are we as a profession so steadfast about preserving the public's intellectual freedom while so ardently forgoing our own? This epiphany ended the school year on a sour note for me. I spent a lot of time during the summer processing what I learned and questioning where I, as an individual who works so hard at remaining true to himself, fit into a profession that doesn't. Obviously, I was overreacting a bit, but it provided fierce food for thought.

It was also a bummer of a way to end my first year in the iSchool.

I can't think of a happy ending for this editorial, so let me conclude by encouraging all of you who have divergent views to express them in your classes, in your life, and in your subsequent endeavors. We are here to think for ourselves, and with divergent political views increasingly coming under attack in this country, it's important that we as a profession stand our ground and practice internally what we claim to represent externally.

Michael Harkovitch
Silverfish Senior Editor

MLIS Students Pay More Under New Tiered Tuition System
By Katy Shaw

MLIS students were unpleasantly surprised to find that, at the beginning of Autumn Quarter 2002, a new three-tiered tuition system was implemented for graduate students. The fact that tuition was going up was not in itself a surprise. Tuition is skyrocketing for higher education across the state, and students have come to expect this as an unfortunate side effect of the slowing economy... FULL STORY

Field Report: Alaska
By Sarah Bosarge

The Jon Krakauer best seller Into the Wild tells the story of Christopher McCandless, a new college graduate who gave away all the money in his savings account and then dropped out of society eventually making his way to Alaska where he starved to death in the shadow of Denali. Distance MLIS student Wendy Zimmerman tells a similar story of selling her belongings and driving to Alaska, but, of course, Wendy's story has a happier ending... FULL STORY

The Library Catalog: What's in it for You?
By Jenna Irwin

It could be argued that what makes a library a library is the catalog. A library without a catalog is just a collection of materials… So what do catalogs have to offer that is so special?... FULL STORY

Traveling Home for the Holidays on the Information Not-So-Superhighway
By Beth Lahickey

Over the winter break, I visited my relatives on the east coast. Like many people, we keep in touch these days using email and occasionally attaching digital pictures... FULL STORY

Book Review: The Mystery of Flight 427: Inside a Crash Investigation
By Joan Hutchinson

I have a fear of flying. Oh, I still get on a plane when I need to, but I grit my teeth (and gulp wine) throughout the flight and breathe a sigh of relief when the wheels touch down. So why would I read a book about a fatal plane crash? FULL STORY

Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan Series
By John Buell

Like many of you, I had such good intentions this winter break to get something useful done. I took three weeks off from work starting the day I turned in my last project, intending to get started on my portfolio, but fate smacked me a cruel blow in the guise of a nasty, mean rhinovirus. Instead of going into the gross details of this particular cold, however, I thought I would gush about my latest science fiction obsession, the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold... FULL STORY

Giving Tree Selection Committee sought
By Rachael Bohn

CALLING ALL FUTURE LIBRARIANS! Are you interested in the literacy needs of children? Would you like to be involved in picking a great book for an underprivileged child who might not own a single book otherwise? Would you like to see the iSchool become an important player in the reading lives of our community's most needy children? FULL STORY

Group Projects for LIS510 are a Success
By Katy Shaw

During the second half of autumn quarter, the halls of Mary Gates were abuzz as first year MLIS students feverishly put the final touches on their group projects for their Information Behavior classes. The atmosphere was rife with excitement and apprehension, owing in part to the fact that the presentation was worth 40 percent of the class grade... FULL STORY

Submissions Requested

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Edited by Michael Harkovitch

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