Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Judith Krug, ALA's First Amendment Leader, Dies

Click here for the New York Times obituary for Judith Krug. She was the woman who helped found Banned Books week. She also led the ALA in its struggle against forcing public libraries to filter the internet for youth. And she was one of the leaders in the fight against provisions of the USA Patriot Act that would require libraries to give circulation records to the FBI.

In 1967, Ms. Krug became director of the library association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, which promotes intellectual freedom in libraries. In 1969, she was appointed executive director of its Freedom to Read Foundation, which raises money to further First Amendment issues in court cases.

The issues have changed over time. In December 1980, Ms. Krug’s observation that complaints about the content of books in public libraries had increased fivefold in the month since Ronald Reagan was elected president was widely reported. In an interview with The Times, she said that many of the complainants identified themselves as members of Moral Majority, a strongly conservative group, but the Rev. George A. Zarris, chairman of Moral Majority in Illinois, denied there was any organized effort.

But the situation illustrated a frequent conflict in issues over library censorship. Ms. Krug pushed what she often described as a pure view of the First Amendment against what her opponents often said was the democratic will.

“What the library associations are trying to do is make the voice of the people null and void,” said Nancy Czerwiec, a former primary school teacher who led the fight to ban a sex education book from the Oak Lawn Library in Illinois.

That controversy was settled when the library agreed to lend the book only to adults.

Ms. Krug later became a leader in fighting censorship on the Internet, an issue taken up by libraries because many people with no computers at home use library computers. The question involved not just a limited number of books for a particular library’s shelves, but efforts to keep theoretically unlimited amounts of indecent material from children by means of technological filters.

In 1997, an alliance of civil liberties groups, with Ms. Krug a principal organizer, persuaded the Supreme Court to strike down the indecency provisions of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

Jerry Berman, founder and chairman of the Center for Democracy & Technology, which promotes free speech on the Internet, said in a statement, “Her legacy rests in the constitutional challenge that secured the free speech rights for the Internet that we exercise today.”

More recently, Ms. Krug fiercely fought a provision in the USA Patriot Act that allows federal investigators to peruse library records of who has read what. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft dismissed protests about the law as “baseless hysteria.”
From the Los Angeles Times,
Director of the American Library Assn.'s Office for Intellectual Freedom since it was founded in 1967, Krug started Banned Books Week in 1982 to promote the right to read stories and express opinions without interference from censors.

"She was a force of nature, fiercely determined to make sure that censorship wouldn't triumph in the library or the larger world," said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom.

Krug worked directly with librarians across the country who were engaged in censorship battles. She enlisted allies from fields that are affected by 1st Amendment attacks, such as publishers and journalists, said Robert Doyle, executive director of the Illinois Library Assn.

"She was concerned about the gamut of expression, so that people could go to the library and encounter the full marketplace of ideas," Doyle said. (snip)

In 1992, Madonna's ode to kinky intimacy, "Sex," led to an outcry from those who felt it was too racy for libraries. A 1st Amendment absolutist who felt libraries should be allowed to carry any material that was legal, Krug defended the entertainer's book -- or at least the right of libraries to stock it.

"The book is sleazy trash, but it should be in every medium-sized library in the United States," Krug told the Chicago Tribune.(snip)

Krug once told Caldwell-Stone that the importance of her work was made clear when she read "And Tango Makes Three" to her granddaughter's class.

The book is often the target of censors because it's about two male penguins that "adopt" an unclaimed egg. When she was finished, a girl she later learned was being raised by two women stood and applauded.
Jessamyn West at has a great obit post here, with links to articles, video clips and an interview. From the John Berry editorial link there, in Library Journal, dated June 15, 2005,
She's been director of the American Library Association (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) since its founding in 1967. Her service to intellectual freedom, without doubt ALA's most important cause or, if you like, core value, has been tremendous. Under Krug, OIF became one of the nation's most important agencies engaged in the fundamental work of protecting the rights of Americans to free expression, freedom of inquiry, and privacy in their pursuit of information. More than any other activity, ALA's work on intellectual freedom—including that of the sibling Freedom To Read Foundation, also headed by Krug—has captured national attention and given ALA and librarianship huge prestige throughout the world.

While that effort is laudable enough, my own respect and admiration for Krug was magnified and deepened by two encounters with her. Krug is one of the few leaders in ALA and the library profession who has been able to convince the association that it should put its money—lots of money—where its mouth is. The old ALA has always found it easy to dish out lip service to a host of causes, but when it came time to spend money—especially endowment money guarded by its Endowment Trustees as if it were their own—forget it. That money has always been next to impossible to get at or to spend. Until Krug, ALA had never before come through at such a price or for a cause as crucial to the profession's values.

It cost millions, and the victories have been sometimes simply moral ones, but ALA has fought multiple cases of Internet censorship in state and federal courts. ALA even achieved a partial victory in the June 2003 Supreme Court decisions regarding the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Proponents of filtering wanted total filtering on library computers, except for "bona fide research," a term that would engender endless debate. The court said CIPA was constitutional, but, in a crucial concurrence, two justices said that libraries should turn off the filter if an adult requested it. Most of the credit for getting ALA to put up more than a million dollars to take that case to the nation's highest court must go to Krug. She fought that battle with her usual vigor, despite many critics who said it was too expensive for a case we couldn't win. The legal triumph was small, but the victory for principle was huge.
So, in many ways, Judith Krug is the mother of the modern librarian's reputation. Both as a trouble-maker, and as a guardian of the public good. They are two sides of the same coin.

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