By: Bel Outwater
I’m new to the Intellectual Freedom scene. I’ve always been a passionate advocate for reading whatever one wants, anti-censorship, and in possession of a healthy skepticism towards opportunities that sound too good to be true (A Nigerian Prince wants to give me millions! I just have to send him a few thousand first!), but it was not until recently that I discovered how vital the continuing fight for Intellectual Freedom truly is.
In February, I happened to see a call for applications to the second round of the Library Freedom Institute Cohort on the Georgia Library Association’s listserv. The Library Freedom Institute is part of the Library Freedom Project, born in 2015 to combat the increasing use of surveillance and data-mining by government and corporations. The purpose of LFI is to create privacy advocates who will fight these same fights within their communities and at local and state levels. The training, including a two-day, in-person workshop in New York City, is currently funded through grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. This sounded like a cool opportunity to learn more about an area of librarianship I was fascinated by but not knowledgeable in. I frantically spent the next 24 hours preparing my application and expected to hear nothing more. To my intense shock and absolute delight, I was one of the 30 library employees chosen!
For six months last year, we cohort members immersed ourselves in training on how to teach privacy to both library patrons and staff; how to install and use privacy tools in libraries; and how to advocate for privacy with community leaders and officials. We heard talks and lectures from amazing, passionate people who work all over the world, fighting against facial recognition and surveillance societies, teaching threat modeling, and creating conversations about the millions of way our privacy is eroding away. We learned how to evaluate vendor language to see what information they are collecting from our patrons, how to audit our data retention policies in our libraries, and how to guard against cyber threats. Working alongside these brilliant librarians, learning from our fearless leader, Alison Macrina, founder of the Library Freedom Project, has been one of the most thought-provoking, mind-blowing, and life-altering experiences of my life.
You too, can be a Library Freedom Fighter! If you are a librarian interested in privacy awareness and advocacy (and odds are you are, because you are reading this), then apply to be part of the Library Freedom Institute’s Cohort 3. Do it for the professional development opportunity. Do it because you are learning and doing work worth doing. Do it because you will be joining a cadre of rock star librarians who are trying to change the world for the better. Applications are now open, and we want you! Learn more and find the application at https://libraryfreedom.org/index.php/lfi/.
Bel Outwater is the Library Manager for the Auburn Public Library in Auburn, GA. She lives with her husband and two spoiled dogs in Barrow County, GA, and is currently working on her Masters of Library and Information Science at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. Before libraries, she worked for Borders Books (RIP) for almost a decade. She is this year’s recipient of the of the Georgia Library Association’s Hubbard Scholarship and a finalist in the 2019 Innovative Librarians Award contest. Working in a library combines her two passions — reading and helping people. She is also entirely too obsessed with penguins, sloths, and dinosaurs.