Librarians notice “abortion” stop word, take action

“The world’s largest database on reproductive health, POPLINE, has been blocking searches using the term “abortion” since late February. The block was removed Friday afternoon…. The search block was discovered by medical librarians doing routine searches.” More on this story from Wired. Johns Hopkins who hosts the database made a strongly worded statement against the blocking of this term.

As near as I can tell, a few things happened in a row. USAID, who funds the database, complained about finding items in the database that did not “fit the criteria” of what the database was created for, items that were apparently pro-abortion in some way. From the Wired article

Sandra Jordan, director of communications in USAID’s office of population and reproductive health, could not identify the documents that prompted her office’s complaint, but said the publications were one-sided in favor of abortion rights. “We are part of the Bush administration, so we have to make sure that all parts of the story are told,” says Jordan. “The administration’s policy is definitely anti-abortion, and the administration does not see abortion as a part of family planning policy.”

The database administrators then dealt with the complaints by making searches for the term “abortion” come up blank, effectively making abortion a stop word in the database. Loriene Roy the president of ALA released a statement supporting Johns Hopkins removing the term from the stop word list.

I find this whole incident exceptionally creepy. While I’m pleased that the outcome was ultimately favorable to open access, the demonstration of the chilling effect of complaints about an information resource and the perhaps well-meaning but utlimately censorious actions of the database administrators is concerning. [thanks sven!]

The high cost of everything

This is one post about a few disparate topics that all congeal on one issue: money. See if you can follow it around this thread.

  • Brian talks about the high cost of databases. In all my thinking about what database access costs — a difficult number to really hone in on because of the bundled pricing and difficulty getting concise statistics like the ones in his post — I never thought we were talking about several dollars per session. Now Brian works in a mid-sized public library so maybe there are economies of scale with larger libraries or consortiums but still. When your patrons wonder where the money goes, you can tell them what you’re being charged for databases.
  • Meredith has a crabby post about the costs and expenses associated with giving conferences and speaking at conferences. Again the real interesting part, to me, is in the comments where we find out that the TX library association is billed “$995 for a day for hard-line (internet) access for the presenters.” No that is not a typo. How does something like this happen? A thousand dollars? To plug into a wall? Unless I am missing something, this is unconscionable and library associations should immediately stop paying these extortionate fees. I realize that sometimes are hands are tied when we are purchasing services from vendors and conference service providers, but I think we can all look at that dollar amount and the service provided and say “This is too much.”
  • A little tooting my own horn by association, Dan Chudnov talks about speaker’s fees and I chime in a little. I love public speaking and it helps me get the word out, but this year I’ve also started saying “no” just a little. Steve and Dorothea and Sarah also have fine posts on the topic.

    My take on the speaker thing is more along the lines of Dan’s in that I don’t feel the need to speak anywhere, but I often enjoy it, get to travel a bit on my otherwise low income, and get to talk to people who haven’t heard it all before. I have fees that I consider “hassle expense” which is more compensation for travelling, getting up early, not sleeping in my own bed, and getting someone else to fill my birdfeeders. I like giving talks so much they could pay me in sand and I’d still do it, but getting on a plane to do it, that’s what I like some compensation for. This year I’m doing much more local speaking which is lower-cost from my end and less-compensated from a strictly money angle and it’s just fine with me.

    I realize this doesn’t address the larger issue of people who get invited and are then asked to pay (a bad practice imo) or the weird in-state/out of state divide (also a problematic minefield) or the “we are going to invite you to give two talks in two days for us and will offer two nights hotel but we’re five hours away from your home” almost-right offers because I’m not sure what to think, honestly. It’s a diffcult issue to discuss because for every nitpicky issue I have about having to pay for my own wifi, there is someone else who is saying “hey I’d be happy to come talk and I promise to be lower maintenance and lower cost and just as interesting” and you know what, they probably can be. Until we decide what roles speakers are playing at these conferences — paid high profile talent, experience for newer professionals, skillsharing with experts, honors for esteemed colleagues — we’re going to have a hard time figuring out what people are “worth” to us.

a cautionary tale about electronic resources

Karen posts about the unpleasant discovery she made that her library was paying twice for an electronic resource because of one small mistake. If someone as tech-sharp as Karen is having these sorts of troubles, imagine how daunting electronic resources can be to someone who is still new to the vast world of subscription services.

This scenario shows just how confusing electronics resources can be. Particularly if you have too many people responsible for different parts and communication doesn’t take place. Mistakes happen but the most important thing is that we learn from them. What I’ve learned from the experience is that electronic resources require a strict attention to detail, planning and constant evaluation. Hopefully by thorough analyzing our resources and keeping a stricter eye on them we will be able to plan more effectively and acquire resources to meet our needs.