SLA Takes Stands against Diversion of Information

Where does information go when it leaves a library or information center? In the past three weeks, the Special Libraries Association has taken two public stands against the diversion of information from its intended audiences—in both cases, diversion by government decree.

On July 23, SLA issued a news release calling on China to cease removing books written by pro-democracy dissidents from libraries and bookstores in Hong Kong. The book removal resulted from the enactment of a new security measure that enshrines new crimes, including separatism and subversion, in Hong Kong’s legal structure. Several works by pro-democracy dissidents have been removed from library and bookstore shelves, ostensibly to verify their compatibility with the new security law.

“Information and ideas are the currency that powers a free, vibrant, and just society,” says 2020 SLA President Tara Murray Grove, librarian for Germanic and Slavic languages and literatures at Penn State. “We oppose attempts to limit access to information and ideas, and we call on China to cease punishing the people of Hong Kong by forcing libraries and bookstores to remove literature written by their fellow citizens.”

On July 27, SLA published another news release, this one urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to withdraw a directive it issued requiring hospitals, hospital laboratories, and acute care facilities to report COVID-19 data to HHS rather than to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

In a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, SLA joined more than 25 other organizations, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Union of Concerned Scientists, in arguing that reporting COVID-19 data to HHS will reduce transparency and accountability because it restricts access to such data by those who most need it—namely, scientists, doctors, and researchers.

The letter also questions whether HHS will be able to ensure the confidentiality of patient data collected from hospitals and other affected entities, given that the department is using two outside vendors—one with a history of performing data mining and analysis for government entities—to manage the COVID-19 data.

“The CDC was established as a data-driven, nonpartisan entity to, in part, coordinate responses to public health threats,” the letter states. “The CDC has the necessary infrastructure, expertise and preexisting relationships with hospitals to lead federal efforts on coronavirus monitoring and surveillance. Requiring hospitals to report patient information to a central database at HHS shifts this key data collection effort away from the CDC to HHS, a more political entity… This creates new opportunities for political appointees to conceal coronavirus patient data, delay reporting, or worse, facilitate the politicization of data in an attempt to keep concerning trends from public view.”

One of SLA’s core competencies for information professionals is delivering authoritative information resources to meet the needs of a particular audience, cover a certain topic, field, or discipline, or serve a particular purpose. Ensuring that such information resources reach their intended audience(s) is central to that competency.

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