The Librarian’s Role as Public Educator in Cyber-Crime, Cyber-Terrorism, and Open Access

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The library is a safe place. It is known as a haven for all people, both because it provides access to free information and because it allows a significant peace within its doors; there are employees whose jobs are to simply help patrons find what they are looking for, teach them how to locate items themselves, and also provide anonymity and discretion when seeking information.

In the last election cycle the term, “fake news” became a phrase that was invented, co-opted, and spread across the media and through political avenues like wildfire. Because of how widely it was used, it made it nearly impossible to quote sources without the option of the receiver of the news to say that it was not truth, but merely “fake news.” In this event, many libraries started classes and set up seminars to let the public know how to identify legitimate news sources and fodder created and intended to distract, confuse, and ultimate spread falsehoods. Disinformation is real, and although it is not new, it generated a real problem within the election itself.

Like these librarians who made themselves experts on fake news vs. real sources, the public library system can make themselves educators on cyber-crime and cyber-terrorism. I know that some have already begun classes on identity theft and how to protect yourself, but there are steps to further this idea. Does the public know the difference in cyber-terrorism, a word that is bandied about and threatened as a reason to survey our phones, our bank accounts, our internet history, and cyber-crime, a phrase that presents a more real threat to everyday people and their involvement with the internet?

Setting up ways to discern against real threat would be a good education topic for the library. Showing people how to protect their smart phones from invasion, their personal information, their smart houses, their private browser history, their data-mined social accounts, all of this is a world that most know nothing about but use causally with all the technology that families can buy at a store, set up, and use. Are they aware they allow surveillance because they are worried about cyber-terror, but cyber-terror isn’t as real a threat as to allow over-reaching access from the government into their personal lives?

In the same vein, and on a personal note because I have been studying Aaron Swartz, open access at libraries are important. To educate the public on the resources available, and for free, from the library and how to use them from their home is crucial. Showing the patrons how to use the databases to follow their path of inquiry, and giving them the tools rather than just performing the search for them is part of the role of the information professional. It gives them the keys to continue on their search and with ultimate discretion. Making sure to provide service with respect, and on all areas of the topic asked is part of public service as a librarian. Using the personal computers at the library also should be anonymous, private, and protected.

Also, when people are prosecuted because of whistleblowing or hacking, librarians can provide information about what they have done, who this affects, and whether there is a social justice angle, a free market angle, a surveillance angle – give the real news, the real information – to the public. What about computer programming classes? No, the library shouldn’t sanction hacking, per se, but giving classes to teach people to write their own scripts and programs and understand the technology that resides in their own homes is a worthwhile mission for libraries.

When crises have happened in the past, in the rubble or amongst the turmoil, the library stands as a place to go to for organization, information, and access. If something were to happen in the vein of cyber-terror, the local branches would no doubt stand up and mobilize. They would gather information, gather food, figure out how to contact the politicians or leaders involved, help with the lost, sick, or needy. People would know they could go to their local library to find help, no matter what.

One of the many wonderful things about library professionals is that when there is a topic or need in the air, they first educate themselves about it, then they acquire more data about it to share with others, then they find a way to spread the information in a palatable way. Just point your local librarian in the direction you want to learn; they’ll figure it out for you.

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