January 1, 2007
Wisconsin Library Association
5250 East Terrace Drive, Suite A
Madison WI 53718-8345
Dear WLA and the Intellectual Freedom Round Table:
I am writing to complain about an instance of censorship of information that may have, and should have, involved University of Wisconsin librarians.
Attached, is an article from the Isthmus that provides some details of the situation. (Primate tapes get trashed, 08/11/2006.)
Briefly: the university denied public records requests for information held by the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. Sixty-two days after one denial, documents, photographs, and sixty boxes of videotapes were destroyed by the primate center.
This matter should be of concern to the WLA for at least two reasons.
1. Important historical documents and unique visual records have been lost forever through an act of intentional destruction carried out under the auspices of the University of Wisconsin even as members of the public were asking for that information.
2. The Lawrence Jacobsen Library is housed at the primate center. It is a part of the primate center and a part of the University of Wisconsin General Library System. The library violated its mission when it chose not to collect this unique collection of information regarding research occurring at its own institution:
"The Wisconsin Primate Research Center Library and Information Service supports the research and outreach missions of the National Primate Research Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison. The library acquires, organizes, develops, provides access to, and delivers information resources in a variety of formats to Center scientists and staff, University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty and students, and persons worldwide with an interest in primatology. Essential to this mission is the effort to comprehensively collect and provide access to print, audiovisual and digital materials related to nonhuman primates in research, conservation, education, and veterinary care."
The mission of the June Northrop Barker Archives, part of the Lawrence Jacobson Library:
"The June Northrop Barker Archives serves to enrich and support the cross-disciplinary field of Primatology by acting as a repository for the history and science of this emerging field. To do this, the Barker Archives solicits, collects, organizes, describes, preserves and provides access to the research and historical documents, as well as the records of the international, national and regional organizations related to the field of Primatology."
The destruction of these documents, photographs, and sixty boxes of videotapes is grossly at odds with the library’s mission. Even if the tapes were damaged, the librarians should still have saved, repaired, and archived that information, and made it available to the library’s present and future users.
So much unique information has been irretrievably lost to the public – to say nothing of the loss to history and science – while these librarians either did nothing to prevent this loss or have remained silent after the fact.
The librarians at the Lawrence Jacobsen Library violated a fundamental professional ethic of the field of librarianship:
"The American Library Association defines intellectual freedom, a fundamental professional ethic of the field of librarianship, as the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored. Intellectual freedom encompasses the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas."
These librarians did not advocate for the intellectual rights of those seeking the information. The destruction of this information raised barriers to an exploration of all sides of the question of primates in research and animal rights. The Lawrence Jacobsen Library may not have been able to stop the destruction of this information, but book burning is book burning, and librarians must call attention to it wherever it occurs.
I am enclosing copies of letters to the Lawrence Jacobson Library, the University of Wisconsin’s General Library System, the University of Wisconsin’s School of Library and Information Studies, and to the ALA regarding this situation.
I hope the WLA will take strong action on this matter.
See too: 628 Pieces of Primate Research Garbage
One of the reasons I suspect involvement by the primate center library staff is the careful cataloging of video tapes by multiple researchers over the course of fifteen or so years. Here's the index to the tapes. Who else but a librarian would have done this? And, wouldn't the librarians at the primate center have been aware of this repository of visual records? If they had anything at all to do with the catalog or the organization of the data, then they violated a fundamental ethic of librarianship by not defending the public's right to receive information. They should have tried to stop its destruction at the very least. If they did nothing and/or remained silent, they should be disciplined by the library associations.