684 Art and Museum Librarianship research proposal

Assignment 1: Adding Poetry Archives to the ARLIS Under Digital Humanities

  1. Bibliographic Essay

Is Poetry Art?  And if so, is there a space in the study of art museum librarianship for a new publication highlighting the numerous examples and manifestations of poetry archival practices?

This proposal answers both the above questions in the affirmative.   The proposal includes a brief survey of the literature, identifying the gaps that exist in the coverage of poetry archives.  I identify examples of poetry archival efforts that may qualify for inclusion under a new rubric that includes poetry within the overall category of digital humanities.  I list poetry archival projects that exist and are not ready for inclusion but soon may be.  Finally, I propose a new publication, a book of essays by experts at poetry archival organizations already listed, that may serve to mark off the terrain of poetry archival practices.

To open the literature survey, let’s take a quick look at Ranganathan’s Fifth Law of Library Science, which states that the library is a growing organism (Ranganathan, 2006).  Ranganathan explains that the library can be characterized as a growing organism because it is made up of three parts, a trinity, the parts of which are also growing, i.e., the staff of the library, the books themselves, and the public, the readers, and that these subcomponents not only grow, but equally, interact with each other in a very dynamic and “growing” way.  Similarly, we know intuitively that a museum follows a similar pattern, with a public who visits the museum for education and for entertainment, the artifacts that are arranged in a display for the public, and the museum staff, led by a curator and a librarian or library director.

McCann reveals the interesting interdependency that exists between the library director, the curator, and the public (McCann, 1933).  The curator classifies and identifies the artifacts and arranges them in some meaningful fashion, and the librarian supplies the information on which the curator bases his/her artistic decisions, the background, the provenance, and the ultimate origin of the material being exhibited.  The artifacts, the things being arranged, of course, are analogous to books, or documents, thus keeping intact the Ranganathan trinity.

John Falk, in chapter 10 of his essay, “Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience,” lays out some ideas for ensuring that the museum experience adds value for visitors.  Many of these ideas are generally useful, but of particular value to the art collections on which we are focusing.  Museum visitors have varying needs, and museum staffs must work to accommodate those needs (Falk, 2009).  Some visitors, for example, are explorers, seeking to satisfy already formed personal interests.  For them, museum staff should design exhibitions that facilitate their exploration in an accurate and precise way.  Some visitors may be facilitators themselves, accompanying small children, or elderly groups, or students, or whatever members of a group they support.  Facilitators will need to occupy the minds of their members, and keep them stimulated and interested.  Museum staff will have to be present to work with facilitators to ensure their success.  Some visitors are experience seekers, looking for the newest exhibit, or one that particularly appeals to them.  Experience seekers require an overview and may prefer a quick dose of superficial information rather than a deep dive.

Poetry is a well-established art form, dating back to ancient times, examples of which are still intact.  Numerous poetry archives exist in substantive form on websites and at universities and literary institutions throughout the United States and in Canada and the United Kingdom. These poetry archive locations have staffs, and they receive large numbers of visitors, just like museums. They contain artifacts, whose information is highly sought by students, scholars, and the general public. The Ranganathan trinity is satisfied.  And yet, a careful search of the ARLIS website does not result in a discovery of a poetry page or a publication aggregating poetry archival efforts, or any attention devoted to the poetry art form.  There may have been very valid reasons for this exclusion many years ago, prior to the digital and digitizing age.  There may also be a valid reason for the dearth of literature related to the inclusion of poetry archives among art library collection considerations.  However, we are reminded that the Roman poet Horace said words to the effect that “A painting is just a poem without words.”

This proposal sets forth a standard by which to measure, among the numerous examples, the existing poetry archive sites that are serious collections, ones which might warrant a close look by ARLIS for inclusion on a possible website page for its membership or in a future publication.  After outlining selection criteria, I will offer sites that satisfy that selection criteria.

The archival site should have the following features sought by students and the general public:

  • archived poetry covering a significant period or dedicated to a significant artist;
  • recorded archives of actual readings of the poetry covered;
  • regular podcasts or real time radio broadcasts that are downloadable;
  • downloadable mp3 files of lectures, conference and symposium proceedings;
  • on-going on-line courses, lectures, MOOC’s;
  • integration with social media for access and sharing;
  • subscription capability, i.e., members can subscribe to regular periodic updates.

The following five sites presently meet the above criteria (unless otherwise noted, all information is from the designated website):

  1. PennSound.  PennSound (http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound) is a web-based archive for non-commercial distribution of the largest collection of poetry sound files on the Internet. PennSound offers a large variety of digital recordings of poems — currently 1,500 and rapidly growing — mostly as song-length singles.  PennSound directors are famed poet Charles Bernstein and English professor Al Filreis.   PennSound hosts over 3500 downloadable links to single poems.  Associated programs and lectures and supporting documents are also archived.  Recordings of over 560 individual poets reading their own works are preserved for perpetuity.  And scores of poetry programs are recorded/produced at Kelly Writer’s House, also associated with PennSound, on the campus of University of Pennsylvania.  PennSound is an on-going archiving project, committed to producing new audio recordings and preserving existing archives and associated documentation. According to the PennSound manifesto, all media archived must be free and downloadable, MP3 quality or better, in singles format, clearly named and identifiable, indexed, and embedded with bibliographic material in the file (provenance).

2. UBUweb.  UBUweb (http://ubu.com) began in 1996 as a website focused on visual and concrete poetry.  As internet technology developed and expanded, UBUweb grew and increased its capacity, adding sound poetry files when streaming audio technology became available, and adding MP3 files and video as bandwidth increased.  UBUweb also maintains an archive of “off-beat” historical artistic performances, films, radio plays, and eclectic music files.  In 2005, UBUweb acquired the 365 Days Project, a collection of celebrity gaffs, song-poems, how-to recordings, and spoken word pieces.  UBUweb holds over 2500 full length avant-garde films and movies, all free and all downloadable.  UBUweb hosts over 7500 artists and several thousand works of art.  Its current director is Kenneth Goldsmith, Poet-In-Residence at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).

3. Poets.org. Poet.org (www.poets.org) is the on-line representation of the Academy of American Poets, founded in 1934.  Poets.org first went online in 1993, but was re-launched with a new website in 2005.  It is one of the most popular non-profit poetry sites on the web, hosting over 2000 poems, over 500 poet biographies, 400 essays and interviews, 150 audio recordings of poetry, lesson plans for high school teachers or English and Humanities, and a poem-a-day email service for tens of thousands of subscribers.  Poets.org offers written works, photos, biographies, interviews, audio recordings, a purchasable DVD, a list of related poets, and external links on contemporary poets.  Founded by Marie Bullock in 1934, the Academy is led by executive director Jennifer Benka, author of several collections of poetry.  On-going programs include National Poetry Month, Academy Book Awards, live archives dating back to 1963, a host of educational programs, and the American Poet Magazine.  Its Board of Chancellors includes America’s top poets and poetry scholars.

4.  The Poetry Foundation.  The Poetry Foundation (http://www.poetryfoundation.org),  Led by Executive Director John Barr, is the publisher of Poetry magazine and is an independent literary organization committed to discovering the best poetry and making it available to the widest audience.  Founded by Harriet Moore in 1912, its parent magazine, Poetry is the oldest monthly magazine dedicated to poetry in the English-speaking world.  The Poetry Foundation was established in 2003 by a philanthropic gift from Ruth Lilly.  The Poetry Foundation library (Katherine Litwin is the Library Director) hosts a collection of over 30,000 volumes, audio and video recordings.  The Poetry Foundation hosts a number of education programs, collaborates with universities, and send daily poetry emails to its members.

5.  The Poetry Center, San Francisco State University.  The Poetry Center at San Francisco State University (www.sfsu.edu/~poetry/archives.html) is led by Steve Dickison.  It was established in 1954 and funded with the honorarium paid to and then returned by W.H Auden when he read his poetry to celebrate the opening of the University.  Since 1954, the University has recorded every poet who has read on campus and has added it to the archive, which now exceeds over 4000 hours of recorded audio and video.  In 1994, the archive was transferred to a climate controlled vault.  An on-line catalog contains over 2000 hours of original video recordings made since 1973.

These five examples of poetry archiving organizations are ready now for aggregation and exhibition.  Other examples do not quite meet the stringent requirements set forth earlier in this paper, such as Naropa Audio Archive (http://archive.org/details/naropa), the Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center (http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/poetryaudio/), the U.K. Poetry Archive (http://www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/home.do), and Concordia University’s (Montreal) SpokenWeb http://spokenweb.concordia.ca/).

  1. Bibliographic Essay References

Books and Articles

Falk, John H.  Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience.  Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press. (2009)

Hollister, Christopher V. Handbook of Academic Writing for Librarians. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.  (2013)

McCann, G.L. “The Art Museum Serves the Curator.” Special Libraries 23/24.  (1933)

Ranganathan, S.R. The Five Laws of Library Science.  Bangalore: Ess Ess Publications.  (2006)








  1. Abstract

The proposed publication will consist of the following chapters:

  1. Introduction.
  2. Staffing and resource challenges in maintaining an on-line archive. (Dickison)
  3. Archiving collaboration across many related agencies.   (Dickison)
  4. Pedagogy of using on-line archived material in teaching, esp., on-line courses. (Filreis)
  5. Archivist, curator, collaborator, performer: managing the poetry archive. (Goldsmith)
  6. Fundraising and marketing for poetry archiving organizations. (Benka)
  7. Poetry as a museum-able art. (Benka)
  8. Library directorship in the on-line archiving environment. (Litwin)
  9. Conclusion.

Dickison’s work as a collection curator and manager makes him uniquely qualified to contribute an extended essay on the staffing and resource challenges of cataloging and preparing recordings for on-line presentation and for maintaining a historic and growing archive of poetry performances. A second chapter by Dickison will compare archival practices and collaboration strategies across the top five poetry archival providers, highlighting staffing and financing differences and similarities among them.

Filreis will provide a chapter on incorporating the archive he manages, PennSound, into a course he has taught at Penn for over thirty years and a new MOOC he taught worldwide to over 40,000 students for the first time in 2012 (a 2013 offering starts in the fall).  Invariably, his chapter will get into the pedagogy of using on-line archived material to teach an on-line course to tens of thousands of students at a time and in a way that provides a high quality, Ivy League educational experience at a low cost.

Goldsmith’s contribution to the publication will be an extended essay, in his remarkable poetic sonorous style, on the mechanics of maintaining a film and poetry archive, as a curator, while collaborating with Filreis on teaching at Penn, all balanced by his service as Poet Laureate at MOMA.  The Goldsmith chapter will also draw from his series of lectures on poetry at the White House in 2012-2013.

Ms. Benka’s contribution to the book will be a chapter on arts fundraising and marketing for poetry organizations and a separate extended essay on the techniques and the significance of poetry as a museum-able art form.

Ms. Litwin will provide a chapter detailing her experience as library director of a large collection supporting a performance and collection archive.  This will be an important chapter because of the significant role of the museum library in supporting the precision and accuracy of the exhibits and artifacts on display, their provenance, and chain of custody.

  1. Biographical Statements and publications

Bio – Dickison, San Francisco State University – The Poetry Center

Since 1999, Steve Dickison has been the Executive Director of The Poetry Center and American Poetry Archives at San Francisco State University.  He manages and curates the Poetry Center’s extensive public reading series and directs the American Poetry Archives collection of over 4,000 hours of video and audio recordings of poets and writers from 1954 to the present.  He also teaches creative writing at San Francisco State University and is an adjunct professor in the Writing and Literature program at California College of the Arts.   Dickison is a writer and a poet. He is editor and publisher of the poetry press Listening Chamber.  He co-edits a music magazine, Suffle Boil.

Publications:  Dickison published two collections of poetry, Disposed, and Wear You to the Ball, a poetry-sound collaboration with musician Bill Dietz.

Bio – Filreis, University of Pennsylvania – PennSound. 

Al Filreis has served as co-director of PennSound, an archival collection of poets reading their own works, since founding it in 2003 with poet Charles Bernstein.  He is Kelly Professor of English, Faculty Director of Kelly Writer’s House, Director of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, publisher of an on-line poetry magazine, Jacket2, and host, in collaboration with the Poetry Foundation, of a monthly podcast, PoemTalk.


Counter-revolution of the Word: The Conservative Attack on Modern Poetry, 1945-60 (University of North Carolina Press, 2008).

Modernism from Right to Left: Wallace Stevens, the Thirties, & Literary Radicalism (Cambridge University Press, July 1994)

Wallace Stevens and the Actual World (Princeton University Press, 1991)

Secretaries of the Moon: The Letters of Wallace Stevens and Jose Rodriguez Feo, with Beverly Coyle (Durham: Duke University Press, 1986)

Bio – Kenneth Smith, Ubuweb

Kenneth Goldsmith is the founding editor of the poetry archive UbuWeb.  He teaches Poetics and Poetic Practice at the University of Pennsylvania and is a Senior Editor of PennSound.  From 1995 to 2010 he hosted a weekly radio show at WFMU. In 2013, he was appointed the Museum of Modern Art’s first Poet Laureate. He resides in New York City with his wife, artist Cheryl Donegan and his two sons.


Ten books of poetry, notably Fidget (2000), Soliloquy (2001) and Day (2003) and Goldsmith’s American trilogy, The Weather (2005), Traffic, (2007) and Sports, (2008). He authored a book of essays, Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in a Digital Age (2011). As editor he published I’ll be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews (2004) and is the co-editor of Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (2011).

Bio – Jennifer Benka – Poets.org, Academy of American Poets

In June 2012, Jennifer Benka was appointed Director of the Academy of American Poets.  Previously she served as National Director of Development and Marketing for 826 National, a national non-profit promoting writing skills through a network of eight writing and tutoring centers.  Ms. Benka has extensive experience in nonprofit fundraising, marketing, and management of local and national arts and social service organizations.  She was previously Managing Director of Poets & Writers, where she served as the chief fundraising and marketing officer.  There, she planned and executed a multi-million dollar endowment campaign.  Ms. Benka said, “American poetry tells the story of our country in unique and powerful ways. I’m honored to lead the Academy and to work with poets, readers, and educators to deepen our engagement with an art form that speaks to the human experience like no other.”


Two collections of poetry: Pinko (Hanging Loose Press) and A Box of Longing With Fifty Drawers (Soft Skull Press).  She has had poems and essays featured in Crossing State Lines: An American Renga (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

Bio: Katherine Litwin – Librarian – The Poetry Foundation

Katherine Litwin is the library director of the Poetry Foundation.  Her library holds some 30,000 volumes, making it the largest library supporting a poetry archive among the group of top five poetry archive organizations.


The Birth and the Death of the New World Information and Communications Order (NWICO)

The Birth and the Death of the New World Information and Communications Order

           The New International Information Order (NIIO), also known as the New World Information and Communications Order (NWICO), was a short-lived UNESCO initiative that focused on global information policy.  In this paper I will examine the origin and short life of this initiative within the UN bureaucracy.  I will analyze how and why it came to be, and how it met its end.  I will conclude with some thoughts on why such an organization is needed today, more than ever before, especially in light of new global technologies for storing, transmitting and distributing information.

Keywords: information policy, new information order, international conventions

The Birth and the Death of the New World Information and Communications Order


A passing reference in a Buckland article (Buckland, 1997) to the existence of the International Institute for Cooperation, an agency of the short-lived League of Nations, sparked my interest in exploring international institutions dedicated to global information policy.  That, a few searches later, led me to the New World Information Order, also known as the New World Information and Communications Order, another short-lived initiative, this time in UNESCO, the branch of the United Nations that deals with science, cultural exchange, and information policy, among other subjects.

This paper examines the origin and short life of this initiative within the UN bureaucracy and analyzes how and why it came to be, and how it met its end.  It concludes with some speculative thoughts on why such an organization is needed today, more than ever before, especially in light of new technologies for storing, transmitting and distributing information.

First, a few words are in order about information policy and policy formulation in general. From Rubin’s textbook and Chancellor’s class notes we know that domestically, the federal government determines how information is created, acquired, disseminated, evaluated, and organized in a country through the creation of laws and regulations (Rubin, 2010 and Chancellor, 2013).  Globally, international institutions make a similar determination regarding the range of issues governing information flow across national boundaries, subject to agreement by member states.

Of the several policy formulation models to be considered, Kingdon’s Multiple Streams model provides a robust explanation for how policy is formulated at the international, multilateral level (Cohen-Vogel and McLendon, 2009). Problem, policy and political streams interact and inter-twine.  Policy choices seek issues, problems that exist seek decision-making points where they can insert themselves, solutions are on the lookout for problems for which they may provide an answer, and politicians are ever watchful for issues, projects, and programs that might propel or sustain their careers and positions (Cohen-Vogel & McLendon, 2009).  Information policy formulation at the international level presents a unique example of multiple streams at work.  And the idea of agenda change, prominent in Kingdon’s model, finds unparalleled expression in our discussion.

Historical Perspective

            Two historic, geopolitical forces were set in motion as a result of the allied victory in World War Two: the Cold War between the US and her allies versus the Soviet Bloc; and the process of decolonization of Africa, Asia and Latin America by the European powers – simultaneously East versus West, and North versus South.  In fact, although the U.S. and the then Soviet Union never actually went to war in a traditional sense (hence, the Cold War), they each fought proxy battles through their respective allies in decolonization struggles at several locations.  The importance of information resources and methodologies at play in both these geopolitical conflict sets cannot be overstated, especially in an increasingly technology-oriented world where the wheels of economic development are lubricated, as it were, by the oil of information exchange.

Anthony Smith (1980), in his book, The Geopolitics of Information, wrote,

The collecting, editing, and distribution of information is now a key element in all economies. It is not inaptly that the French have come to speak of the ‘informatisation’ of society; more and more governmental, economic and cultural processes have come to depend upon a set of companies, institutions and systems which make up the information sector and so the tension over the international flow of news has spread across a wide range of concerns which formerly were not conceived as part of this sector.  Changing technology has brought more and more matters into the problem-strewn area of information policy, now subject to this further international wrangle (p. 16).

It was in this environment that legal scholars, information experts, government officials and politicians came together, fresh from the victories of World War Two, to create the United Nations and to adopt a UN General Assembly Resolution 59(1) declaring freedom of information to be “a fundamental human right” (Hajnal, 1983, p. 241).  In 1948, the United Nations Conference on Freedom of Information held further debates on freedom of information and information policy subjects.  In the same year, the member states of the United Nations unanimously adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 of which states,

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” (“Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” “Article #19”).

Moreover, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966 contained similar language to that of the Universal Declaration with respect to information policy, but, in addition, couched as a legally binding agreement among states party to the covenant and containing a provision for an international implementation mechanism (Raude-Wilson, 1986, pp. 116-117).  The original Universal Declaration lacked both the legally binding condition and the implementation mechanism, and thus, lacked any true authority under international law (Raude-Wilson, p. 116).


            A series of conventions and declarations, put forward in 1952, in 1962, and in 1966 all cleared the path for a 1972 Soviet-sponsored UNESCO resolution calling for guiding principles on the use of satellite broadcasting for the free flow of information.  But it was the Cold War, and the United States, although it didn’t have an absolute veto vote in UNESCO, cast the sole negative vote against the Soviet-sponsored resolution (Hajnal, 1983, p. 244).  The resolution called for prior consent of the receiving nation before receipt of any informational signal.  The official United States position was that the Soviet–sponsored resolution and corresponding insistence on host nation “prior approval” would result in “an abridgment of the universal right to receive and transmit information” (Hajnal, p. 244).  But the Soviets saw it exclusively as a matter of national sovereignty.

In some respects the United States, even though voting against the resolution, took perhaps a more forward-leaning and progressive approach than the consensus position, stating that the resolution “does not put sufficient emphasis on the central importance of the free flow of information and ideas in the modern world” (Nordenstreng, 1980, p. 213).

And on the issue of sovereignty, the U.S. delegation said “in actual practice the sovereignty of States and the unimpeded flow of information and ideas should complement rather than conflict with one another” (Nordenstreng, p. 213).  But the die was cast, and the gulf between the two Cold War powers, even though more symbolic than actual, only continued to widen within the UNESCO framework.

The 19th session of the UNESCO General Conference in Nairobi (1976) occurred as a culmination of the Non-Aligned Symposium on Information in Tunis, the Ministerial Conference of Non-Aligned Nations in New Delhi, and the 5th Non-Aligned Summit in Colombo (Gunter, 1978, pp. 44-49, 122-23).  All of the aforementioned non-aligned meetings focused on various aspects of mass media and information policy across member states.  The Mass Media Declaration that resulted emphasized national sovereignty, noninterference, the growing inequality between developed and underdeveloped nations regarding the circulation of information, and the need to achieve a balance in information exchange (Nordenstreng, p. 213). In Nairobi, the United States told the non-aligned countries that it understood their feelings and aspirations and offered interested countries what Kroloff and Cohen referred to as a “Santa’s bag” of development assistance programs and projects, diverting those countries’ attention from the incorporation of mass media and information policy requests clarified in the Mass Media Declaration (Kroloff & Cohen, 1978, p. 31).

But the U.S. offer was just a subterfuge.  In the background, the draft declaration on freedom of information prepared by an intergovernmental group of experts carried with it a draft amendment proposed by the Yugoslavians which equated Zionism with racism (Hajnal, p. 245).  The U.S. found that equation unacceptable, and, along with programs and projects it offered, convinced enough delegations to postpone a vote on the actual declaration and instead, to defer the decision by referring it to a study group (Hajnal, p. 245), which postponed the vote until the next session in 1978.

Another contributing subplot in Nairobi was the growing gap between the African countries and the Arab and Asian countries (Kroloff & Cohen, p. 26).  The Africans, led by then UNESCO Director General Amadou-Mathar M’Bow, from Senegal, were simultaneously upset over African/Arab conflicts in Western Sahara, Chad, and Ethiopia/Somalia, lured by United States offers of programs and projects mentioned above, and disappointed by Arab oil states’ broken promises of financial and developmental assistance.  The Africans voted as a 40-member bloc to delay the vote in Nairobi (Stevenson, 1988, p. 44-45).  The agenda was again shifted.  Late in 1976, Director General M’Bow created the International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems and appointed Irish jurist and legal scholar Sean MacBride as its chairman.  One of several papers prepared in 1978 for the Commission, a draft by the Tunisian Secretary of State for Information, Mustapha Masmoudi, more or less coined the term “The New World Information Order.”  In it, Masmoudi delineated political, legal and technico-financial imbalances requiring the creation of a new world order for information (Masmoudi, 1978. pp. 3-10).

Politically, Masmoudi listed the imbalance between two-way flow of information from the developed to the developing countries and vive-versa: he cited the information resource inequality resulting in an absolute monopoly of the news by five major transnational news agencies, all in the developed world; and he highlighted the vestiges of the former colonial system enshrined in the present-day information system through selective reporting (Masmoudi, 1978).  On the legal side, Masmoudi addressed individual and community rights, freedom of information and its corollary, freedom to inform, the right to access information, imbalances in copyrighting practices, and inequities in the distribution of broadcast spectrum and use of satellites and other telecommunications (Masmoudi, 1978).  Technically and financially, he drew attention to the inequities in telecommunications infrastructure, tariffs and taxing structures held over from the colonial era, transport and logistics imbalances and other regional distinctions that put the developing countries at a distinct disadvantage (Masmoudi, 1978).  The focus of the New World Information Order came to be known as the “4 D’s,” democratization (just flows of information and just allocation telecommunications infrastructure), decolonization (cultural identity), demonopolization (regulation of multinational corporations), and development (national communication policy and journalism education) (Carlson, 2003).

UNESCO published MacBride’s final report in 1980, “Many Voices One World: Towards a New More Just and More Efficient World Information and Communication Order.”  The MacBride report combined information culled from several separate studies, including the Masmoudi draft. It represented a broad consensus of UNESCO’s membership, although the giant superpowers had separate and distinct problems with the language of the final report, centered primarily on the “perceived” anti-commercial bias of the Commission.  (Hajnal, p. 248-249)

The MacBride report was detailed and comprehensive (MacBride, 1980).  By all appearances, the problems, the imbalances, the inequities in information and communications, well-researched and documented, were on track to being addressed at the global level.  But perhaps in keeping with Kingdon’s multiple stream approach to policy formulation, an issue will only gain traction on the policy agenda when the problem stream, the policy stream and the political stream all coincide with a window of opportunity where political entrepreneurs see an opportunity to move forward their personal agenda (Cohen-Vogel and McLendon, 2013).  But the necessary coincidence of the aforementioned streams with a window of opportunity was not to be in this case.

Several environmental factors contributed to the postponement and eventual removal from the UNESCO agenda of the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) initiative.  The U.S. and the U.K. both opposed the final text of the MacBride report and even threatened to withdraw from UNESCO.  The UNESCO director general, sensing pressure from external criticisms of mismanagement and corrupt practices within UNESCO, attempted to appease his critiques by postponing a vote on adoption of the MacBride findings (Preston, W.  1989).  Concern about heightened tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union resulting from the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan diverted much of the attention of the New World World Information Order’s strongest advocates.  An evolution within UNESCO itself, resulting in a dilution of attention to the thony issues of information policy and an increase focus on easy-to-understand and agree upon programs of assistance and development also diverted attention.  Finally, the early 1980’s saw a general weakening of the Non-Aligned Movement, the strongest bloc of support for the NWICO (Carlsson, 2003).  By 1985, the United States had withdrawn from UNESCO altogether and the New World Information Order had disappeared from UNESCO’s annual conference agenda.


            Ronald Diebert wrote that the world of international politics was being transformed by the advent of high tech telecommunications, which he referred to as the “hypermedia environment” (Diebert, 1997, p. IX).   Medium theory, first articulated by Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan (who was to have been the Canadian representative to the 1980 MacBride Commission until illness prevented his travel), sought to explain the evolutionary path to hypermedia by examining the effects of different modes of communication on the way information was stored, transmitted and distributed at different times in history.  For example, changes in the human vocal tract and development of the spoken word resulted in a great leap forward in human development over 35,000 years ago; the invention of writing accompanied the development of the first civilizations along the Nile and in the Tigris Euphrates Valley; the development of the Alphabet accompanied the Greek enlightenment; and development of printing and movable type occurred simultaneously with the Renaissance and modernity as we know it (Diebert, pp. 1-3).  One can speculate that the development of a global information and communication order, similar to what was attempted in UNESCO in the 1970’s, may well be the necessary and sufficient condition for peace between the nations of the world.

Since reading this Blainey (1973) passage over thirty years ago, I have found it to be haunting:

A pioneer of sociology, Georg Simmel, while lecturing in philosophy at berlin in 1904,set out a sad truth about international relations. He argued that the most effective way of preventing a war was to possess exact knowledge of the comparative strength of the two rival nations or alliances.  And this exact knowledge, he wrote, ‘is often attainable only by actual fighting out the conflict.’ (Blainey, p. 118)

Imagine if the nations of the world, all the sub-groupings, all the regional alliances could agree to adopt a global information policy, that, among other things, promoted transparency about military strength in each country.  Perhaps humankind could then attain the world peace we claim we seek, without engaging in conflict.  Without putting too strong a spin on it, it may be that the New International Information and Communication Order proposed by UNESCO in the 70’s was on this path.  We can only speculate.

A report to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) in 1977 (when the new information policy was being considered) begins, “Whether we like it or not, there will be a ‘New World Information Order’” (Kroloff and Cohen, 1977. p. 1).  Today, with new technologies for creating, acquiring, disseminating, evaluating, and organizing information, globally and practically instantaneously, we must acknowledge that we already have a new world information order in operation, in fact, we have several orders, several overlapping global orders.  But these global information orders are not governed nor held accountable by states or international organizations like the UN or UNESCO, nor even by the superpowers like the United States, Russia, China, or the European Union.  They are governed by multinational corporations like Google, and single government agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA), and regional and global communications networks like CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera.

That same SFRC report ends, “Today the computer is vaguely considered a factor in the “New World Information Order.”  Tomorrow it could be the factor.” (Kroloff and Cohen, 1978, p. 38).   The writers of that report could not have been more prescient.


Blainey, G.  (1973). The Causes of War. New York: The Free Press.

Buckland, M.  (1997). What is a “Document”?  Journal of the American Society for Information    Science 48 9.  pp. 804-809.  Retrieved from https://blackboard.cua.edu.

Carlsson, U.  (2003). The Rise and Fall of the NWICO.  Nordicom.  Goteborg University. Retrieved from www.nordicom.gu.se/common/publ_pdf/32_031-068.pdf

Chancellor, R.  (2013). Information Policy, Copyright & Intellectual Property Law.  Retrieved      from https://blackboard.cua.edu.

Cohen-Vogel, L. and McLendon, M.  (2009). Multiple Streams.  Retrieved from http://politicalframes.wikispaces.com/Multiple+Streams.

Diebert, R.  (1997). Parchment, Printing, and Hypermedia. Communication in World Order Transformation.  New York: Columbia University Press.

Gunter, J.  (1978). The United States and the Debate on the World “Information Order.”

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557 Current trends paper #2

Current Trends Essay 2 – Filtering, Selecting and Censoring Online Information

June 16, 2013

             The ethical issue of filtering/censoring access to online information will be crucial to information professionals for some time to come.  In this essay, I briefly define the “micro” elements of the ethical question at issue, tracing the history of the cause of censorship as well as the development of ALA institutional responses to it.  I address a few of the “macro” determinants, focusing on the First Amendment and two possible legal derivations, and I conclude with future prospects based on historic antecedents and potential technological developments.

Wars raise public awareness and create the tendency among some in society to attempt to restrict information that might otherwise have not been restricted, under the guise of national defense.  Laughlin (2003, p. 226) reported that World War 1 saw a rise in concerns about and calls for censorship at libraries, but that it was also the World War 1 that saw the first attempt by librarians to cite the First Amendment in an effort to protect their collections and patrons.  (Just as an aside, the terrorist attacks of 2001 that resulted in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan unleashed a torrent of censorship efforts embodied in the Patriot Act.)  The librarian at Princeton wrote:

“The fundamental right and absolute need of democracy is the right to know all that can be said for or against any question. There is no right, and rightly no right, of which we are so sensitive as this right of knowing both sides an d of the right to know the truth. . . . This was no matter of theory with the founders of America or the framers of the constitution. In America the people are sovereign. They have a right to know, and information cannot be withheld from them which would be kept of subjects [under a monarchy]. (Laughlin, 2003, from Geller, 1984, p. 226)

           Let’s first establish the direct link between books and online information.  OK, done.  Now let’s look at the link between filtering (selection) and censoring in books and documents.  From the Asheim article (Asheim, 1953) we know that a librarian selects books for a collection based on space, cost, and standards (Asheim, p 64).  Standards can consist of the author’s intent, literary excellence, literary standing, the presumed effect on the reader, and customs of the community (Asheim, p. 65).  The difference between selection and censoring, according to Asheim, is the positivity and inclusion of the selector, versus the censor’s negativity and bias to exclusion (Asheim, p. 66).  The selector looks for reasons to include a book, the censor looks for reasons to reject it.  The selector says if there is anything good about a book, keep it, while the censor says if there is anything bad in the book, reject it.  The censor judges books by external characteristics; the selector looks at internal values.  Ultimately, selection is democratic, while censorship is authoritarian (Asheim, p. 67).

Rubin (Rubin, 2010) cites fundamental reasons for censoring material, such as sexual content, violent content, offensive language, and concern for children (Rubin, pp. 381-3).  These concerns are obvious, and of course transfer over to on-line material.  But most of these concerns can be mitigated at minimal expense and with minimal intrusion.  Rubin also cites the foundational efforts of the American Library Association (ALA) to enable librarians to protect the rights of citizens, rights to privacy, rights to protection against government-ordained censorship, rights to free access to information and ultimately, to free speech as enshrined in the Constitution, through the Library Bill of Rights adopted in 1948, the Freedom To Read Statement adopted in 1953, the Intellectual Freedom Statement, and the Freedom to View Statement adopted in 1979, all reinforcements to the First Amendment clause guaranteeing free speech (Rubin, pp. 389-92).

And what of the First Amendment?  I heard on WAMU’s The Diane Rehm Show (Rehm, 2013) just today that the founding fathers were ready to approve the new Constitution without a Bill of Rights, but that then Ambassador to France Thomas Jefferson refused to join consensus without it, insisting that the people required protection against their government.  But is the government the only entity the people need protection against?  Tim Wu, in a collection of essays, “Constitution 3.0 (Rosen and Wittes, 2011),” highlights two separate trends or traditions of free speech that might inform our discussion (Rosen and Wittes, pp. 84-87).  The central free speech narrative, also known as the first free speech tradition, focuses on the free speech rights of the individual.  The second tradition focuses on the exercise of free speech by “concentrated, private intermediaries who control or carry speech” (Rosen and Wittes, p. 85).  In the second tradition, private intermediaries, not the government, may act as censors, particularly of on-line material.  Rosen notes, in a chapter aptly entitled, “The Deciders: Facebook, Google, and the Future of The Privacy and Free Speech,” that,

“… the person who arguably had more power than any other to determine who may speak and who may be heard around the globe is not a king, a president, or a Supreme Court justice.  She was Nicole Wong, the deputy general counsel of Google.   …it was Wong who decided what controversial user-generated content went down or stayed up on YouTube and other applications owned by Google, including Blogger, Picasa, and Orkut.  Wong and her colleagues also oversee Google’s search engine…”   (Rosen and Wittes, pp. 78-79).

            Future librarians and information professionals will continue to have to deal with Government efforts as we move further away from 2001 and as public calls increase to reduce the onerous over-reach of elements of the Patriot Act.  Additionally, they (we) will have to consider the potential invasion of privacy and effects of information filtering by large scale providers of on-line information like Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Facebook, among others.  Today’s news flash, “Google builds new system to eradicate child porn images from the web (Barrett, 2013),” sounds wonderful on the surface but may bode ill for the future of internet control and freedom.


Asheim, L.  (1953). Not Censorship But Selection.  Wilson Library Bulletin (R) 28 S 1953.    Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/basics/notcensorship.cfm

Barrett, D. (2013, June 15).  Google builds new system to eradicate child porn images from the web.  The U.K. Telegraph.  Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/10122452/Google-builds-new-system-to-eradicate-child-porn-images-from-the-web.html

Laughlin, G.K. (2003). Sex, Lies, and Library Cards: The First Amendment Implications of the Use of Software Filters to Control Access to Internet Pornography in Public Libraries.  Drake Law Review.  Vol. 51.  Retrieved from http://students.law.drake.edu/lawReview/docs/51-Laughlin.pdf

Rehm, D.  (2013, June 16).  The Diane Rehm Show [Radio Broadcast].  Washington, DC: NPR.

Rosen, J. and B. Wittes. (2011). Constitution 3.0: Freedom and Technological Change.  Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

Rubin, R.  (2010). Foundations of Library and Information Science.  New York, NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers.