Most people have heard the news that on Saturday, the two-year anniversary of his arrest, 26 year old Aaron Swartz killed himself. I didn’t know Aaron well though I was lucky to have crossed paths with him a few times, we were on the same team during the MIT Mystery Hunt and we were both involved, him much more than me, in some of the early days of Open Library one of my favorite websites on the internet. Thanks to Aaron, and a short list of other people, that site exists and continues to grow.
Though not an ALA Think Tanker, Aaron had more of a Make It Happen ethos than anyone I knew. This was true even if what had to happen went against the current legal zeitgeist and/or conventional wisdom. I don’t think he was a lonely rebel type, but I think he was often willing to go further than others were comfortable with and we as a culture, and we as a library culture, have gained a lot of good things from that. We need to continue to step up, as many have always been stepping up, to ensure our citizens’ rights to access to the information that they need and want in an environment that is increasingly becoming monetized, silo-ized and just generally commoditized.
It’s a problem; we are now and have always been the solution. Please go liberate a public domain document and leave a wish or a thought in Aaron’s memory. And then let’s get back to work. Here’s a quote from Bibliographic Wilderness’ post about Aaron, linked below.
Librarians and libraries have professional knowledge that portraying Swartz’s activity as a million-dollar-plus profit-movitated larceny, and prosecuting it as such, is ridiculous. And librarians and libraries know that the inequity in access to scholarly content that offended Swartz is a real problem. However misguided his approach to addressing the issue, Swartz was on our side — or at least, we should have been on Swartz’s side, writing the prosecutor and court with our professional expertise that this was not the sort of crime it was being portrayed as.
Articles, tributes and links to other things you might want to read about Aaron.
- MIT Tech news: What did Aaron actually get in trouble for doing anyhow?
- Alex Stamos, to be Aaron’s expert witness: The truth about Aaron’s “crime”
- Library Journal Article: Did Aaron have anything to do with JSTORs decision to make some of their public domain documents available?
- Bibliographic wilderness: We should be taking more steps to ensure access the way Aaron did.
- Lawrence Lessig: Aaron was bullied by the legal system.
- Memorial website including a statement from his family and girlfriend.