Fighting librarians

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Librarians are not people to be trifled with. Those tempted to resort to the usual stereotypes should think again. Yes, many librarians are women, and some do indeed encourage extremely low voices when in the presence of books.

But they are thoroughly modern and relentless when it comes to ensuring that as much information as possible gets into people's hands.

One might assume, for example, that librarians – who gathered this past week at the American Library Association's annual meeting – would expect to offer every patron an actual book, ripe with texture and heft. But technology presents possibilities that can quickly override any lingering affection for paper. Numerous libraries are offering free online access to books; some are exploring paying annual fees to providers to gain access to a variety of electronic volumes. Publishers' copyright concerns don't phase them – although at least one publisher is suing a firm that offers such a service, and many are vocal in their dislike for such electronic lending.

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At the same time, librarians are working Capitol Hill, opposing legislation that would give greater copy protection and prevent the copying of protected digital files.

Librarians have also made their voices heard on the Children's Internet Protection Act, which would have required federally funded libraries to place pornography-blocking filters on their computers. This month, a panel of judges declared CIPA unconstitutional – handing librarians a victory over a requirement whose technological limitations could have restricted access to protected speech while trying to bar illegal content.

Maybe it's the year of the vocal librarian. If nothing else, it's evidence that this group feels quite at home in the information age.

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