What Types of Information should be Free and at what Cost?



When we talk and write about information being free, financial means is not the sole implication of the term, “free.” Free is a word that implies open access and is liberated from cost—almost a romanticized version of itself in a world where everything has its cost. Information is not valuable in itself; it is what is done with the information that is valuable, or rather when the information becomes “a commodity that has value when it meets a client’s need, (Bates n.d.)

Two ways that free and open access to information is established are through the library and through the Internet. The term ‘library’ is used loosely here, and can also apply to any information-containing, collection-driven entity that strives to preserve and share information. Sipley (2003) writes that “libraries nurture children’s curiosity, and use it to instill a sense of ‘information entitlement.” As Americans, we all have our share of entitlement feelings regarding information, almost regarding it as a basic human right. Tiwari (2010) argues that access to information should absolutely “be treated a basic human right.”

The Internet brings secrets to light, and maybe even abolishes secrets all together. Information is available on it (and sometimes for a price) that concerns people’s criminal and financial backgrounds, their contact information, who they are related to, where they live, and who they talk to online.

In 2011, there was uproar from the public regarding the SOPA legislation (Stop
Online Piracy Act), which sought to establish guidelines that would regulate information on the Internet, mostly in an attempt to cut down on counterfeit goods (Samuelson 2012). Unfortunately, the legislation would have ultimately trampled on other civil liberties such as general freedom of information because specific websites would be blocked completely. Although the legislation was blocked, Samuelson says that the battle over the information on the Internet has just begun, (2012).

In some countries, like North Korea, Syria, China and Iran, the Internet is very much censored, if available at all. In the U.S. information is regulated, even though many may not be aware. For example, there are many laws governing the media and information regulation, and even things like the Library Awareness Program, which attempted, in 1988, to collect information regarding “suspicious” activity of library patrons. Representative Don Edwards of California wrote, “Everybody in this country has a right to use libraries, and they have a right to do so with confidentiality….” (Foerstel 2008, 10). In 1998, congress tried to pass the COPA legislation (Child Online Protection Act), which sought to limit access to pornography by minors (Fry 2006). This is a prime example of another strange factoid: how concerned our culture is with protecting and limiting exposure to sexual content, while sometimes ignoring violent content which is often deemed as somewhat more socially acceptable. The policies governing United States access to information are very much ingrained in our culture. Fry (2006, 137) writes:

“The Internet as a communication technology transcends national boundaries in unprecedented ways and the relative weight and priorities given to these values and beliefs are shaped by different cultural perspectives.”
Every culture confronts these problems in different ways. More recently, there were pressures from other countries towards Google (and its subsidiary YouTube) to take down an inflammatory video, which depicted the prophet Muhammad. The video has incited violent protests in the Middle East, and had even been blamed by the U.S. government as a factor in the assassination of U.S. Embassy diplomats in Libya. Under escalating pressures from foreign countries and even from the United States, the private company blocked the website to specific countries in the Middle East, although did not take down the video entirely (Miller 2012).

At the cost of rising tensions between nations, which is greater cause for concern: Freedom of information or peaceful diplomatic relations? This paper comments on the difficulties in formally establishing specific categories of information that should always be free, which types of information should not be free, and what cost is associated with limiting or allowing open access to information in a democratic society.

There are certain types of information that could be considered dangerous. There are also certain types of information that are private to individuals. There are also certain types of information that could pose a serious threat if it fell into the wrong hands. Tiwari (2010) says that “freedom of information can be a potent tool to prevent and fight corruption,” and yet, on the other hand, freedom of information can be a pretty potent tool to build a bomb as well.

Peter Galison argues, “My general view is that I think there are some things that should not be published. I don’t want to find instructions on how to make binary chemical weapons easily available on the web,” (Galison et al. 2010, 1015). To this Naomi Oreskes states, “But if I think about what broad categories of information I would support blocking, I would have to say the answer is none,” (Galison, et al. 2010, 1019).

The argument for protection of information regarding weaponry is an easy one, but what problems arise from a view that emphasizes fear and preemptive strikes? During WWII, Comanche Indians were recruited so that they could use the Comanche language to communicate secret and critical messages for the American military, because it was a language that could not easily be deciphered by the Germans (Meadows 2002). Imagine a scenario in which audio and video files of the Comanche language were digitized and openly accessible via the Internet. It would no longer be a secret weapon that we could employ in military tactics. Even something as banal as language could be considered a weapon of sorts, so should our language, too, be classified?

It is because of this “unreasonable extension of privacy” (Galison, et al. 2010, 1028) that there is an over-classification of information in United States governmental bodies. Oreskes argues that “secret knowledge is used in ways that can be counterproductive to democracy, in ways that are intended to shut down debate,” (Galison et al. 2010, 1029). Hinson states that “Undue government secrecy prevents citizens from making informed choices in matters important to individual citizens and to society,” (2010, 829).

Our country is a democracy, and with that, comes certain responsibilities and obligations that only naturally emerge from such a foundation. But as our government encourages freedom of information, it simultaneously oppresses it in the pursuit of another freedom, the freedom to create. This is a paradox Lipinski (2002, 236) calls “the contradictory nature of copyright law.”

Of course, this is only one of many sources of information control. Information is controlled by not only by copyright law, but also federal agencies such as the FCC (Federal Communication Commission), CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), FTC (Federal Trade Commission), and the NSA (National Security Agency/Central Security Service) (Lester & Koehler 2007, 278-280). They even cite the United States Postal Service as a regulator of information, because of the laws governing what can and cannot be transmitted through the mail.

Despite these regulatory bodies, information is not always controlled. Lester and Koehler (2007, 274) say that “efforts to control have often failed.” Creating a law to regulate is one thing, enforcing it is another. Some authors argue that copyright serves not only as protector, but also as financial motivator for authors of content (Lester & Koehler 2007, 320). They even go on to say that financial gain is the main reason for content creation, and without it, authors would not create: “Without some means of reward (primarily financial reward) new information would not be created.”

Not all authors create for the financial gain. There are other needs and need-satisfaction factors in place that need to be understood. This seems to be a big point that the authors who write about copyright and intellectual property fail to comment on: Not all authors create for financial reward, and other needs, such as the need for self-actualization may be a major factor in creating works (Manheim 1998). Authors of content such as art, music, literature and books should not have to worry about other people coming in and hijacking their intellectual works. U.S. Copyright law protects authors, but not forever. Personal information such as phone number, address, and social security numbers are not the types of information you want floating around the Internet for anyone to see.

Current United States copyright specifies that information is only copyrighted for the author’s lifetime with the addition of seventy years. After this time period the works become public domain (Lipinski 2002, 239). There are, however, specific exemptions for museums, archives and libraries, specifically regarding copies for interlibrary loan and for preservation reasons. Helprin (2009, 75) spouts that there is a sort of “twisted logic of copyright,” specifically in regards to what works can and cannot be read in schools. At times it seems that the laying of laws regarding freedom and privacy resist formalization. There is a tradeoff in what is valued and there is an opportunity cost associated with freedom of information and intellectual property. It becomes, at this point, a question of which thing is valued more?

In 2005, India passed a law called “The Right to Information Act” which “seeks to establish that transparency is the norm and secrecy is an exception’ in the working of every public authority” (Tiwari 2010). Perhaps what information is limited and what information is accessible is a delicate exchange between freedom and safety. The next problem then, is, who decides which category the information falls into?

The purpose of open access to information is about equality and our Egalitarian American society almost demands it. Martorella (2006) writes that “open access to information and patron privacy allow intellectual inquiry, participation in a democratic society, and the creation of new knowledge for the advancement of society.” Intellectual property and governmental secrecy of information serve the individual or group monetarily and selfishly, while forsaking the advancement of society. Freedom of information is a foundational tenant of democratic society, and an entitlement that is deeply embedded within the American psyche.


Bates, ME. n.d. “Does Information (Still) Want to Be Free?.” Online 36, no. 4: 64.

Foerstel, Herbert. 2010. The Patriot Act: A Documentary and Reference Guide. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Fry, Jenny. 2006. “Google’s Privacy Responsibilities at Home and Abroad.” Journal of Librarianship & Information Science, September. 135-139.

Galison, Peter, Victor S. Navasky, Naomi Oreskes, Anthony Romero, and Aryeh Neier. 2010. “What We Have Learned about Limiting Knowledge in a Democracy.” Social Research 77, no. 3: 1013-1048.

Helprin, Mark. 2009. Digital Barbarism. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Hinson, Christopher L. 2010. “Negative Information Action: Danger for Democracy.” American

Behavioral Scientist 53, no. 6: 826-847.

Lipinski, Tomas A. 2002. Libraries, museums, and archives : legal issues and ethical challenges in the new information era / edited by Tomas A. Lipinski. n.p.: Lanham, Md. [USA] : Scarecrow Press, 2002., 2002.

Manheim, AR. 1998. “The Relationship between the Artistic Process and Self-Actualization.” Art Therapy: Journal of The American Art Therapy Association 15, no. 2: 99-106.

Meadows, William C. 2002. The Comanche code talkers of World War II [electronic resource] / William C. Meadows. n.p.: Austin : University of Texas Press, 2002., 2002.

Martorella, Georgina. 2006. “Libraries in the Aftermath of 9/11.” Reference Librarian 45, no. 94: 109.

Miller, Laire Cain. “As Violence Spreads in Arab World, Google Blocks Access to Inflammatory Video.” New York Times, September 13, 2012. Accessed October 29, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/14/technology/google-blocks-inflammatory-video-in-egypt- and-libya.html?_r=0

Samuelson, Pamela. 2012. “Can Online Piracy Be Stopped by Laws?.” Communications Of The ACM 55, no. 7: 25-27.

Sipley, Michele. 2003. “Operation-Patriots Act: The Role of School Libraries in Promoting a Free and Informed Society.” Progressive Librarian no. 22: 52.

Lester, June and Wallace C. Koehler, Jr. 2007. Fundamentals of Information Studies. NewYork, NY: Neil-Schuman Publishers Inc.

Tiwari, S. K. 2010. “Right to Information: An Important Tool of Social Development, Good Governance and Strong Democracy.” Global Media Journal: Indian Edition 1-7.


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Life is a Circus That You Are Either Watching or Performing In

Originally published Dec 2, 2014 on LinkedIn

My life used to feel like the picture of the woman juggling finances, babies, responsibilities, family and work–a daily stress-test rat-race to 8:00pm me time. Maybe sometimes it still looks like that to others but I’m starting to see myself more like Lottie Brunn, the famous juggler–determined, entertaining, focused.

I will walk across the stage to accept my Master’s Diploma in exactly 10 days. The past two years I have worked full-time while going to grad school, taking care of a young child, actively participating in extracurricular activities and experiences to broaden my perspective, and tried very hard also, to be a good, supportive wife for my husband, the photographer, artist, builder, skateboarder, and Art Preparator/Collections Care Professional who has supported me during this high-intensity, high-stakes game of “Can She Have it All and a 4.0?”

I’ve often felt like I have sacrificed much in pursuit of personal achievement and growth, and I am not alone. I would wager there are many who feel this way, both women and men, and continuing to discuss the inequality of division of labor in the home is beating a dead horse with another dead horse into the ground. That’s why I stopped my daily after-work ritual of cleaning, cooking, and otherwise assuming all stereotypical responsibilities of the female partner in a relationship.

My husband has been taking care of me and our daughter and it dawned on me just how much, when he remarked to me (after cooking, doing dishes, and completing the “after-work” household and parental duties) that “I haven’t stepped foot out of the kitchen until just now.” (around 8PM). And I was so good and I didn’t even say “Now you know how I feel.” Felt.

Life is much better when you stop repeating patterns of behavior that stress you out. The problem is our parents modeled this behavior for us and its easy to slip back into a pattern that has had centuries of social and cultural acceptance–practically mentally encoding us to feel guilty if we don’t have it all, do it all, join the PTA–whatever it may be.

There’s something about getting closer to 30…some type of checkpoint to measure the track of your lifespan and compare it to your previous and present expectations, hopes, and dreams. I thought I would be a nurse anesthetist at 18, no idea ages 18-26 (7 years of wandering….) and then perhaps a clinical psychologist at 26, and finally one day, I knew that I wanted a lot more than a single discipline and profession–a life that wasn’t confined by controlled terms or nice, neat demarcations of aboutness. A life that doesn’t fit into a category. A life that isn’t defined by gender roles, religion or culture. A life that is owned by me.

That’s the secret. Own what you want. Go after it with a sense of urgency and bravery. Be the badass lady who juggles everything beautifully, Lottie Brunn, in the picture up above, make what you do beautiful and inspiring and timeless because life is a circus that you are either watching or performing in.

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Information, Storytelling, Fathoming beyond 100 years & Immortality



If you have a child, imagine them 30 years from now.  Are you still around?  Are you past the average lifespan for humans?

What about a hundred years after you are gone?  Can you imagine that?

How can we market preservation when the concept is so beyond us, almost painful to imagine because everyone you love is gone?  I had the most terrible dream in my almost 30 years of existence last night. My daughter died in the dream.

I can’t even tell my husband the details of the dream because it is so painful and terrible to think about ever again and I don’t want to reinforce the neural connections by following that path over and over again.  I want to forget it, like it never happened even though it wasn’t real.

I’m sure you’ve had that dream also.  Your boyfriend, girlfriend, mother or father, your daughter, your son–the dream of them dying and the reminder that tomorrow is not guaranteed.  It’s something we all need to maintain that sense of urgency about making an impact but quite a terrible, gut-wrenching, and painful feeling if you ask me. I can’t shake it.

There’s a connection between all of this and information management.  I had a wonderful conversation with other DAM thought-leaders today and we talked a bit about storytelling, preservation and the digital dark ages.  To lose a child is unfathomable.  There are a lot of ways you can grab a little bit of immortality or at least the proof of “I was here.”   I’m doing it right now but writing this.  I’m doing it when I’m writing scholarly works, presenting something, a slide show, a photograph, a painting, a footprint–all some type of solid, concrete evidence of your existence and impact on the world around you– your intellectual offspring living indefinitely, people thinking of you and how your work made them feel centuries after you have departed.

I have this theory that we all want offspring.  Genetic and intellectual, quantifiable and intangible, ubiquitous and uncategorizable.  We want to tell a story and make a mark in this vast sea of multiverses because at one time, the only way to live beyond your lifetime was to tell a story that resonated with what it was to be alive and of lessons learned on the path, on the journey, through this fucked-up ride of chaos that we are so desperately trying to categorize.

An Interview for Another DAM Podcast

I very recently did an interview for “Another DAM podcast” on Digital Asset Management with Henrik de Gyor, which you can listen to here:  http://wp.me/puKPc-PI
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Henrik has an extensive collection of interviews with DAM professionals which are available if you click the link above.  He has even done one with JA Pryse, who was the digital archivist I worked for at the Oklahoma History Center when I was working on the Gateway to Oklahoma History Project.

DAM and Digital Preservation Webinar

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