Public Comment

Commentary: In Defense of Library Administration Criticism

By Ben Reitman
Tuesday August 08, 2006

In regard to recent criticism of press coverage of the takeover of the library by a serial carpetbagging, Bush water-carrying, ex-director Jackie Griffin, I must add the information Loren Linnard (Letters, July 21) left out of her unwarranted criticism of Judith Scherr.  

Ms. Scherr reported on ineptitude and counterproductive activities. This reporting occurred after the information had been in our blogs and listservs for a year or more as we who did the research found that Ms. Griffin was being set up in liberal city (Eugene) after liberal city (Berkeley) to do the same conservative purging of valuable and irreplaceable materials of progressive political slant. In the process, between 4,000 and 10,000 books were thrown out by hand-picked unsupervised workers thrust into the role of censors without training but with a clear political and economic incentive to destroy progressive information wherever they encountered it. If you pleased Jackie Griffin by purging “correctly,” you might keep your job. After the purge was completed, she went on a purchasing spree, spending tens of thousands of dollars on the likes of Ann Coulter, William Kristol, David Horowitz, and other equally irrelevant masters of misinformation and worse. Out went Chomsky and in came Falwell. This may be common practice for the dimly lit medulla beyond the Sierras but not here in the cortex of the progressive community.  

In addition Ms. Griffin (in both cities) instituted electronic patron monitoring systems (RFID, radio frequency identification) to track the mind spaces/book choices of library patrons, and without oversight (inadvertently?) made them available for export to the databases at Choicepoint/Checkpoint back east in Ohio and Georgia and Israel. Choicepoint/Checkpoint made the 2000, and 2002, and 2004 phony purge lists for the disenfranchising of Black voters in Florida. Since these are privately held databases comprising 18 billion records of citizen’s worldwide, they are available to the highest bidder to search for little tidbits of political nuance to be twisted and used against activists by the Bush Department of Justice, or worse. They were recently involved in the Mexican 2006 elections. These companies maintain the largest credit, advertising, marketing, and political databases in the world, dwarfing even the National Security Agency, which they are required by statute to cooperate with.  

Choicepoint/Checkpoint (genetically identical through corporate inheritance) is an ultimately an Israeli corporation. Additionally they make computer security back door breaches easy with their “free” Zone Alarm software. A computer with Zone Alarm installed can be entered anytime Choicepoint/Checkpoint wants access to your personal information. When you walk into Berkeley Hardware, the security shield is Choicepoint/Checkpoint which can document the library books you have in your bag and know that you checked them out along with sounding an alarm that you have an unpaid item from the hardware store. When you get your place in line at the post office, you use a Choicepoint/Checkpoint device when you walk into the courthouse, for jury duty you are scanned by Choicepoint/Checkpoint…etc. 

I see these incursions into personal information and business as a threat to personal freedoms.  

When seen with my own deeply held prejudice, Ms. Scherr—although somewhat cautious and slow to warm to the task—did take the responsibility to report the facts thoughtfully and completely. Now that the problem of the incursions by these insidious conservative authoritarians is thankfully recognized by the press, it still remains to be addressed by Mayor Bates and the City Council. The “two-minute speaking periods” at the council meetings did focus the city’s attention in order to get Griffin to resign, but the RFID menace to our privacy remains installed, and the books which were thrown out haven’t been replaced. The only sticking point for the City Council seems to be the amount of severance pay and reward Jackie Griffin is going to receive for having violated the public trust so thoroughly.  

The real story of how Berkeleyans removed the RFID menace and restored their library’s stacks to their former greatness has yet to be told because the story has been dropped from the front pages, and the damage done to the community has not been fully felt.  

Back to the blogs, I guess. 


Ben Reitman is a Berkeley resident.