The Whole World is Watching – On YouTube

Sometimes academic libraries hit the news in a big way. In the case of campus police using a Taser on a student in the UCLA library it even has become an international incident. As reported in many blogs and in Inside Higher Ed, this incident has not only has been widely viewed on YouTube, where as of this writing nearly 3,500 comments have been posted, it caused the Iranian foreign minister to pronounce it “a clear violation of international and human rights.” But it made me ponder some library and information issues.

First, libraries are places traditionally open to ideas – and to people who want to pursue them. Though libraries in urban areas have a legitimate need to control access for security reasons, including safety of their students and collections, it’s particularly shocking to have such a violent arrest result from conflict over someone’s right to be in a library. Whatever the independent investigation will conclude, it’s particularly distressing to see this happen in that setting that is dedicated to intellectual freedom and open access to information.

Second, there is a fascinating paradox in our information environment right now. The police have new powers and means to do surveillance. But while it’s more and more common in US cities to have public places monitored by cameras that can be controlled from police stations or squad cars, it’s also easier for citizens to whip out their phones and film police actions. There are over 500 clips on YouTube as of this writing tagged “police brutality.”

Just as read/write technologies challenge authority in projects such as Wikipedia and enabling library users to create their own tags for the catalog, it ripples out into other arenas. Big Brother may be watching, but we can watch back – and share what we see online.

Author: Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

6 thoughts on “The Whole World is Watching – On YouTube”

  1. It is a good thing that video information is so widely spread nowadays, and from that aspect YouTube is a good project but there is also a privacy concern that is becoming a big issue.

  2. I think these things happen because to many bureaucrats have been enlisted into the ranks of librarians. When we consistently forget that rules are designed to serve our patrons needs and not our own needs for control then these types of tragedies occur. When you have a customer service job you need to be prepared for situations in which you will be uncomfortable. It is an inevitibility in service industries. You also need to be able to take the responsibility for bending policies to fit the needs of the moment.

    Sadly, I have often observed that libraries excercise discrimination in the patrons they serve. There is a rampant, industry wide dislike for serving teens, the homeless, mentally ill or disabled people, and other special needs populations. Libraries also tend to be the one government entity that practices civil disobedience the most. One question that seems to go unasked is, what example does this set when government will not obey its own laws.

    I think that perhaps the time has come to really examine what we mean by ethics and how one can be ethical if one holds laws in unveilled contempt. To what extent do our policies need to be flexible and to what extent do we need to ensure our application of policies, laws, and regulations is consistent.

    Also, when it comes to computer lab usage I think it is an important thing to remember that computers don’t work if you simply pull the plug out of the outlet…that would seem to me to be a less confrontational method of denying service…

  3. This title is ironic, because I actually found a YouTube movie made by Microjazz LLC called “the whole world is watching” with dramatic footage of civil disobedience and some police brutality.

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