Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Cubans blocked from popular blog

Ahh, blogs. Some exist solely as platforms for personal rants. Some help change the world.

This Guardian story highlights an interesting case in Cuba, where the communist country's most popular blogger has recently been censored by the government.

Until today the blog had been widely available, or at least available to those lucky few who could afford and find net access. While still available to the rest of the world, Cuban citizens can no longer access GeneraciĆ³n Y. The Guardian story notes that the blog was something of a "litmus test" for dissent in the country.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

CLA Award Shortlists!

In the past two weeks, the CLA has announced a number of shortlists for various awards:

2008 Book of the Year Award for Children Shortlist

2008 Book of the Year Award for Young Adult Shortlist

2008 Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator’s Award Shortlist


Ryerson and Facebook

By now, many of you have probably heard of the controversy surrounding Ryerson University's case against student Chris Avenir for his administration of a Facebook study group. If not, read on!

U of A's Gateway has a very informative article explaining the background and circumstances of the case:

"Chris Avenir, a chemical engineering student, joined to help himself and others study for upcoming test and assignments. The group, called “The Dungeon / Mastering Chemistry Solutions,” eventually gained 146 members.

After a university administrator discovered it, however, Avenir’s professor gave him an F in the course, charged him with academic misconduct, and recommended that he be expelled..."

This case provokes a range of interesting questions: What constitutes cheating and how is it differentiated from studying? Should the activity of regular in-person study groups be approached in the same manner as online study groups? What is the dominion of the university and it's student code of conduct over online activity? Where are the limitations? Do students have any measure of academic freedom?

Ivor Tossell of the Globe and Mail has written a fairly entertaining, but thoughtful analysis of the situation.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Free University Courses and Podcasts Online...

In the area of freeing the intellect, there are a number of very interesting free online University courses--ranging from podcasted lectures to full out text-based reading and inquiry--being offered by a number of universities in the United States, United Kingdom, and abroad.
So far it has been difficult to locate Canadian content in the free university course realm.
If you know of any Canadian universities currently offering free courses online, please leave a comment!

Hosting Company "GoDaddy" shuts down domain name service to controversial website...

From Kevin Poulsen at Wired:

"A new web service that lets users rate and comment on the uniformed police officers in their community is scrambling to restore service Tuesday, after hosting company GoDaddy unceremonious pulled-the-plug on the site in the wake of outrage from criticism-leery cops.

Visitors to on Tuesday were redirected to a GoDaddy page reading, 'Oops!!!', which urged the site owner to contact GoDaddy to find out why the company pulled the plug.

RateMyCop founder Gino Sesto says he was given no notice of the suspension. When he called GoDaddy, the company told him that he'd been shut down for 'suspicious activity.'

When Sesto got a supervisor on the phone, the company changed its story and claimed the site had surpassed its 3 terabyte bandwidth limit, a claim that Sesto says is nonsense. 'How can it be overloaded when it only had 80,000 page views today, and 400,000 yesterday?'

This is not the first incident in which the GoDaddy company has come under fire for taking down websites that post controversial information and the Ratemycop website is still down at the time of posting.

Kentucky Lawmaker proposes the criminalization of anonymous internet posting...

Ars Technica's Ryan Paul writes:

"Kentucky lawmaker Tim Couch has proposed a bill that would criminalize anonymous Internet posting. Web site and forum operators would be forced to collect and publicly disclose identifying information about all of the visitors who post content on their sites. Failing to do so would lead to a fine of $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

The bill, which extends Chapter 369 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes, would mandate collection of the complete name, mailing address, and e-mail address of all visitors who post Internet content. Web sites would have to display names next to all relevant content and establish procedures that enable anyone to obtain the rest of the information. The bill stipulates that mailing address and e-mail address only have to be supplied to supplicants in cases where someone has posted "false or defamatory" information."

This kind of legislation seems to be intended to increase accountability in online conduct, especially in areas such as cyber-bullying. The cost to freedom of speech and subsequently to intellectual freedom, however, would be very high indeed. It is not difficult to imagine how the application of this bill would increase individual self-censorship and compromise the privacy of many, whether proven cyberbullies or not. Here we might as well note that on many social networking sites, cyberbullying is already carried out by people who post under their own names! From a political standpoint, it is difficult to imagine how this bill would fit into the admittedly messy and delightfully chaotic framework of healthy democratic discourse. The implications for any kind of online reference service offered by Kentucky libraries are also problematic, at best. As a fellow observer remarked, "This bill would pretty much grind the Internet to a halt, at least in Kentucky."

In fairness, Couch seems to recognize that this bill would likely not stand against the 1st Amendment and has little chance of actually passing. When interviewed by The Herald-Leader, Couch claimed that he was more hoping that the bill would raise awareness about cyberbullying and the posting of other "unkind comments" on the web. But if a half-hearted attempt at raising awareness is truly his motivation, then why go to the expense and trouble of threatening privacy, intellectual freedom, and democratic discourse with the levers of government?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Possible filtering in Royal Oaks, Michigan and more...

Royal Oak's elected officials want pornography-blocking filters added to library computers after the arrest of a homeless man on charges of viewing child pornography at the public library.

City commissioners stopped short of ordering the library to install filters, but they voted March 3 to have the city library board tackle a question faced by nearly every library: Should First Amendment rights to uncensored information trump a need to block obscenity from public computers?
The Detroit Free Press article provides an interesting snapshot of the debate on web-filtering and varying approaches to access as the situation evolves in Michigan. Although many of the librarians interviewed in this article seem opposed or cautious and yet accepting of filtering, there does not seem to be a clear alternative on offer for resolving this issue.

Meanwhile, the staff of Gwinnett County Libraries will now be able to use software to capture the browsing histories of patrons after a change to the library system's Internet safety policy:

"The responses include counseling users on appropriate Internet usage for less serious situations, ordering users to stop viewing obscene materials, or calling police and capturing the computer's browsing history as possible evidence in the case of child pornography."

This policy also raises the age at which patrons can use unfiltered computers to 18.
These changes were effected after a woman complained that another patron was viewing pornographic materials and staff informed her that they were unable to respond.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Many thanks

Freedom to Read Week is over, and it was a great event! Not only did we promote intellectual freedom and the rejection of censorship, but we helped spread the word to the greater university community. There was a lot of interaction with and some great questions and comments from those who visited the FLIF table in HUB.

Kudos to GELA for joining us, and a special thank you on their behalf to those who donated to the book drive. It's ongoing, so see this post for more information.
The UofA CLA Student Chapter partnered with us for this, and we appreciate all of their help. The buttons were particularly fabulous!
As always, LISSA and the students, faculty and staff of SLIS have been great.

Now we have to make it even bigger and better next year.