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.