Alison Macrina is the founder of the Library Freedom Project, “an initiative which aims to make real the promise of intellectual freedom in libraries by teaching librarians and their local communities about surveillance threats, privacy rights and law, and privacy-protecting technology tools to help safeguard digital freedoms.” They will speak at Digital Odyssey, at the Hamilton Public Library on June 10th.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What got you interested in libraries and tech?
I’ve worked in libraries for about 8 years, half of those as a library technologist, and now run LFP full time. I decided to work in libraries because I cared about maintaining and protecting the public commons and because I believe deeply in library values like free expression. I got into the technical side of it because I saw a big push in libraries to adopt every shiny new piece of tech trash without any critical eye to what they meant for those values. I thought there was an opportunity to shape our technical policy in the way we’ve shaped our collection development policies and our core values and the like — not just a frenzied push for relevance, but a meaningful consideration of the needs of our community and the kind of world we want to live in. That’s pretty much what led me to privacy-enhancing technologies in particular, because I saw a real need there.
Do you have any major projects on the horizon?
LFP is always doing a bunch of things — we run about 10-12 privacy trainings in libraries per month (for librarians or for community members), we write and speak about privacy in other arenas, we develop curriculum for librarians who want to teach privacy classes, we run Tor relays in libraries, and we work really closely with The Tor Project on bringing privacy to everyone all over the world. Beyond our typical stuff, I’m working on the nascent stages of an in-depth privacy training course for librarians that we’re calling Library Freedom Institute. If we get this off the ground, it would be something like a 6 month course taught by LFP staff and other technologists, activists, attorneys, and others working in the privacy space.
You train library staff all across the US and are based there, but I know you occasionally make the trek up North. Canadian privacy legislation is a little different, but do you think that really matters? Do you tailor the training you give to Canadian library staff?
Yes it matters and yes we tailor it. In the US we work with the ACLU to cover the legal contours, and in Canada we’ve worked with CCLA and some other civil libertarian attorneys. It does make a huge difference to know, for example, how C-51 could be used to falsely target political dissidents in Canada, and what librarians can do to protect themselves and their community members.
What advice would you give to a library contracting out services (like an ILS or e-book platform) to a private vendor?
Use these ALA guidelines as a template for informing your contracts: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/li
Privacy in libraries is a pretty big issue to tackle. How do you stay energized and focused?
I feel pretty energized by the progress I’ve made with LFP. I only got started a couple of years ago, teaching privacy classes in a small library in Massachusetts. It quickly turned into an internationally-recognized full-time project. My success is good evidence of how much demand there is from our communities to do this for them. Yes, there’s a lot more work to do, but if more of us get involved it’s actually doable.
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