Fox Chicago News recently asked “Are Libraries Necessary, or a Waste of Tax Money?”  Really?  The article by Anna Davlantes goes on to talk about how libraries “eat up millions of your hard earned tax dollars” and as proof of the irrelevancy of libraries, an undercover camera crew recorded library visitors for an hour.  During that hour, they recorded 300 visitors with most of them using the free internet.  Hmmm…

This is your proof that libraries are irrelevant?  Three hundred visitors with “most” of them using the free internet?  Did you ask them why they were using internet access at the library instead of in their homes?  Could it be that they can’t afford internet access?  In case you haven’t noticed, the economy has tanked and internet access is a luxury that some people truly cannot afford.  Did you ask the computer users what types of sites they were accessing?  How many of them were applying for jobs?  Many jobs now require that you apply online.  Were some of them looking for continuing education opportunities?  And so what if they were just spending an hour or so surfing the web?  Escapism helps people cope, no matter what form that escapism may take.

Libraries are more than book repositories, they are gateways to information and entertainment.  Just ask any librarian what he or she does all day and you’ll find that more often than not we’re not just pointing out the latest best sellers.  We’re helping people put together resumes, we’re showing them how to care for loved ones, we’re introducing children to books and creating lifelong learners through story time and we’re demonstrating the latest in technology.  And, yes, we’re helping people find books.

Rather than trying to point out how libraries “eat up tax dollars,” how about taking the time to get to know your local librarian and see how their services help those in need?

Senator Joe Lieberman has proposed a bill that would give the president the power to kill the Internet in cases of national emergency.  Also known as the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act (PCNAA), the bill would require that private companies such as broadband providers, search engines and software companies immediately comply with any emergency requirements put in place by Homeland Security.  If they don’t comply, the companies would face enormous fines.

The bill also allows for the creation of a new department within Homeland Security called the National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications (NCCC).  This agency would control any private company that relies on the Internet, the telephone system or any other component of the U.S. “information infrastructure.”  They would also be required to engage in “information sharing” with the NCCC.

Lieberman defends the bill by essentially stating that there may be a time when there is a national security threat that requires the government have the ability to order companies ISPs to shut down portions of the Internet or search engines to restrict access to and from certain countries.

The biggest opponent to the Internet “kill switch” is TechAmerica, which sees this move as having the potential to silence free speech under the guise of national security.

While I understand the thinking behind the bill, I worry that there is the potential for abuse.  If access to the Internet is restricted or cut off, then the American public is at the mercy of the U.S. government for all of its information.  As much as I love this country, I enjoy being able to access different sites for information.  That is part of what makes this country great.

I have to go back to the only frame of reference that I have ~ September 11th.  What if on that day the government had shut down the Internet or restricted phone calls?  I would have been at a loss and I know many of you would have been too.  Not only was I relying on television coverage for my news but I was also checking various websites for information.  I also used the web to check on some of my online friends.  Had there been an Internet kill switch I would have been loss.

So tell me, are you comfortable with giving up some of your freedoms in the name of national security?  How much is too much to sacrifice?

Dani UnpluggedThis weekend I had the chance to remember what it was like before I had 24 hour access to everything and I have to say, it was brutal.  Ok, brutal may be a little harsh, but it’s pretty darn close.  My ISP and I have been going back and forth over my internet connection because they can’t seem to understand that I have had the same account for 13 years and I want to keep said account along with all of the email that have accumulated in that account.  For the past 4 days, I’ve been passed from Technical Support to Customer Service more often than an offering plate at church.  And, really, what it boils down to is the inability of two offices that ostensibly work for the same company to know what the other is doing. 

In the meantime, without intenet access I’ve felt so disconnected from everything: my friends, my family, the world.  Yes, I know I could have picked up the phone or, heaven forbid, written a letter, but I like the instantaneous satisfaction that comes from social networking.  But it has also made me more aware of all that I take for granted. 

That’s why it is important that we as librarians and others who are interested in creating and maintaining an informed society take every opportunity to encourage our government to increase access to information for everyone.  Today is Virtual Library Legislative Day, so, please, plan to take action.