WikiLeaks, Or How the Sad Story of Librarians’ Uncritical Attitude Toward Governmental Information Continues

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Reading the recent extensive interview with Julian Assange in ”Der Spiegel” I cannot help remembering ”The Sad Story of Librarians’ Uncritical Attitude Toward Governmental Information” (see BTS blog July 24, 2015). And vice versa: Anders» blog-entry inevitably makes me think about WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks is a giant library of the world’s most persecuted documents. We give asylum to these documents, analyze them, promote them and obtain more. WikiLeaks has more than 10 million documents and associated analyses now,

notes Assange in the middle of the Spiegel interview. Well, what do we find in this ”giant library” of WikiLeaks, if not the digital equivalent of megatonnes of governmental information (sometimes bundled with corporate files and emails)? In The Library, however, the efforts that WikiLeaks has put in promoting these documents, although widely noted by the media and in governmental circles, have so far not been crowned with success. No, the librarians have showed a hypercritical—actually a more than critical—attitude; they have ignored and rejected the governmental information from WikiLeaks. (In some cases they have even actively blocked access to it through their libraries; click here for an example.)


I suppose, no, I know that many individual librarians deeply deplore the meekness and subservience of their institution toward the powers that be, because in private, in their hearts, they, too, tend to be ”crude moralists” (Anders) toward their own profession. But the question, which poses itself in the everyday life of our institution, The Library, is not—at least, does not seem to be–”What is to be done?”, but rather ”What can we do?”.

Yet it is not very difficult to tell what the librarians ought to do with the gigantic collection of documents that WikiLeaks has, at least in principle, put at our disposal: They should, of course, add it to their collections! Which means that they should acquire, order, classify, catalogize it, and put it on display. In other words, they should make the WikiLeaks records accessible and guarantee their availability over time. A long time!

In the autumn of 2010, in the wake of the ”Iraq War Logs”, the ”Collateral Murder” video, the ”Afghan War Diary” and ”Cablegate”, the issue of supporting adding WikiLeaks and adding its documents to the library was in fact discussed on BIBLIST (a mailing list on topics in Nordic research library user services). Not unexpectedly, the discussion soon focussed on the information technology and, more precisely, on this question from one of the participants:

I’m still a student and do not really know how it looks among the libraries. Do the libraries have the power over their data servers, or is it some college/university or municipality data department which has control over their use? Could this method that Mikael refers to [I had proposed that the libraries engage in ”mass-mirroring” of the WikiLeaks website, which, at the time, was being blocked by various governments and corporations] be implemented among Swedish Libraries?”

So it became a question of server space, and of a library which ”lacks the technical and administrative power to offer server space to anybody”, as somebody put it.

And, sadly, there it has remained, although the servers have since gone up to the clouds.

Mikael Böök

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