One of the mini-themes at the ALA conference in New Orleans was how the internet has eliminated the need to ask for permission. This theme surfaced in at least two sessions: the first was the General Opening Session featuring Dan Savage, and the second was the ACRL/SPARC forum.
Mr. Savage is editorial director of the Seattle newspaper, The Stranger, and writes an advice column for that publication called “Savage Love.” His presentation at ALA focused on the It Gets Better Project, a collection of user-created videos that help lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender teenagers imagine a positive future. The project was founded in 2001 in response to the suicides of LGBT teens who had been bullied.
Mr. Savage’s attempt to give hope to LGBT teens is not welcomed by all. Speaking in the voice of a parent (or a bully, a school, an entire culture) Mr. Savage said, “You [LGBT teens] are ours to torture until you’re 18. After that you can move wherever you want, be with whomever you want, do whatever you want – except come back to talk to the kids we’re still torturing.” The beauty of the It Gets Better videos is that they’re accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Mr. Savage frequently gets emails from kids in their teens (and younger) who watch the videos on their phone, at night, in bed, with the covers pulled up so no one can see what they’re doing. By using internet as his medium, he eliminated the need to ask for permission to reach these bullied youth.
The ACRL/SPARC forum was perhaps less entertaining than Mr. Savage, but just as thought-provoking. Its three speakers were:
- Dr. Dieter Stein, Professor of English Language and Linguistics at Heinrich Heine University in Germany and organizer of the Berlin 6 conference
- Lorraine Haricombe, Dean of Libraries at the University of Kansas
- Jennifer McLennan, Director of Programs and Operations for SPARC and moderator of the Berlin 9 organizing coalition
Each speaker focused on emerging issues in scholarly communication and specifically on expanding support for the Berlin Declaration, which encourages “researchers and cultural heritage custodians to make all kinds of materials openly available.”
Dr. Stein touched on three points in particular that sparked my imagination. One, the concept of “open access” probably wouldn’t exist were it not for the internet. Two, the internet heralded not just a shift from print to electronic resources within the publishing world, but also a shift from easily commodified writing (as with a printed book or article, for example) to less easily commodified writing (as with a blog or wiki or e-article). And three, we writers, librarians, researchers, and teachers no longer need to ask permission from commercial publishers in order to spread our ideas – the open access movement has liberated (or is liberating) us from that need.
I love the thought that Mr. Savage and Dr. Stein planted in my brain: we no longer need permission to share our ideas, to touch the world, to set off an avalanche of positive change. I think it’s a liberating, powerful, inspiring idea. What are your thoughts? Can you think of other circumstances in which we no longer need to ask for permission? What about circumstances in which we *should* ask for permission?