Freedom of Information Day at SIBL - March 16, 2011
March 16th is the birthday of James Madison, and because of his role as advocate for openness in government that date is celebrated by many different organizations, including the New York Public Library at SIBL, as Freedom of Information Day.
This year, SIBL is fortunate to have as guest presenter at our Freedom of Information Day celebration the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for The New York Times, David Barstow. I will talk a little about Mr. Barstow and his presentation later. First, however, I would like to offer a little background about FOI Day, as well as some pertinent topics and a few library and government resources that cover these.
In addition to here at SIBL, two other organizations that celebrate Freedom of Information Day are the American Library Association, with its Madison Awards, and the First Amendment Center, with its National FOI Day Conference. As the website of the latter indicates, FOI Day grew out of more informal observances of James Madison's birthday, developing eventually into a regular annual feature. And, as the commonality of FOI Day to these two organizations demonstrates, FOI Day is a moment when the interests of libraries and librarians in general access to information meets the more specific interest of the press in access to information about the activities and workings of government. While freedom of information can mean many different things, it is this latter facet—which can be characterized as the interest in open government, and a balancing of the interests of privacy and security against transparency in the workings of government and its activities—that is generally the focus of most FOI Day celebrations.
Quickly, some resources for background on these topics:
- Open Government: An American Tradition Faces National Security, Privacy, and Other Challenges, by David L. Hudson, Jr. This is available at several branches in the young adult section, but offers a succinct overview of differing viewpoints on the issues for readers of any age.
- Nation of Secrets: The Threat to Democracy and the American Way of Life, by Ted Gup.
- Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law, by Gabriel Schoenfeld.
- NYPL Database - Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center (available outside the library with a library card). Try a search on the subject "government information" or on "freedom of information."
- Federal Law - The Department of Justice Guide to the Freedom of Information Act (2009 Edition).
- New York State Law - The Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).
Next time: Freedom of Information Day at SIBL - past events...