The valour of the librarians

Booknotes looks at standing up for intellectual freedom.

Zoia Horn: the first librarian ever to be jailed for refusing to divulge information that violated her belief in intellectual freedom.

Zoia Horn: the first librarian ever to be jailed for refusing to divulge information that violated her belief in intellectual freedom.

Mike Selby

It began with the Harrisburg Seven.

This was a group of Roman Catholic nuns and priests who were awaiting trial in the Lewisburg federal penitentiary for their anti-Vietnam war protests. Adjacent to the prison was Bucknell University, whose library offered minor work/study jobs to carefully chosen inmates. These jobs were supervised by Bucknell’s reference librarian, Zoia Horn.

In the winter of 1971 Horn was visited at home by the FBI. They stated they had uncovered a plot by the Harrisburg Seven to “kidnap Henry Kissinger and blow up heating tunnels in Washington.” They wanted Horn to testify as to the activities and reading material used by the inmates. Horn refused, and soon found herself in front of a grand jury, where she refused to answer any questions. The following year she found herself subpoenaed to the actual Harrisburg Seven trial. Sticking to her professional code of ethics, she once again refused to testify, stating “I cannot in my conscience lend myself to this black charade [of] the government spying in libraries.”

And for the first time in North America, a librarian was jailed for protecting the intellectual freedom of others. Horn spent a full three weeks locked up, until the jury deadlocked and the judge was forced to call a mistrial. One juror stated “I thought the whole thing was kind of funny, the idea of a bunch of priests and nuns zipping off with Henry Kissinger.”

Slow learners, the government again tried to get librarians to snoop on their patrons with the FBI’s notorious ‘Library Awareness Program’ of the 70s and 80s, but they had as much success as their above counterparts.

If anything could make librarians reveal the reading habits of the public, it had to be the monumental force of the U.S.A. Patriot Act. Legislated in response to the devastating 9/11 attacks, the Patriot Act (Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) not only gave law enforcement the right to demand any and/or all patron library records from anywhere in the United States, but anyone who complained about it faced five-years in prison.

Will the government ever learn? The first thing Connecticut librarian Peter Chase did after a visit from the FBI was ‘complain’ about it to his lawyer. He and three other librarians sued the government with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. They were successful, and in the fall of 2007 a federal court ruled that this aspect of the Patriot Act was unconstitutional.

Zoia Horn — now 96-years-old — continues to travel and speak at many intellectual freedom organizations around the world. Far from enemies, the FBI works closely with librarians every day in matters of patent fraud, book theft, and cultural destruction.

Mike Selby is Reference Librarian at the Cranbrook Public Library

Just Posted

The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League met for their AGM and announced a number of new initiatives, new awards and changes in their executive committee, as well as the starting date for the 2021-22 season. Paul Rodgers file.
KIJHL announces start dates for 2021-22 season

Season set to begin Oct. 1 with league still following all health guidelines

Calvin Dickson photo.
Severe thunderstorm watch in effect for East Kootenay

Conditions favourable for the development of thunderstorms, hail and heavy rain

The Independent Investigations Office of BC is looking into a Castlegar incident. File photo
Police watchdog investigating Castlegar incident

IIO: Woman sustained a reportedly self-inflicted injury

Mount Baker Secondary School in Cranbrook.
Graduation ceremony in the works for MBSS Class of 2021

The Mount Bake Secondary School Class of 2021 will have a graduation… Continue reading

After being forced to cancel in 2020 due to the pandemic, the Wasa Triathlon is being organized for August. Bulletin file photo.
Information released for Gerick Sports Wasa Triathlon scheduled for August

In 2020 the COVID pandemic forced the Gerick Sports Wasa Triathlon to… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Websit back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials watching U.K.’s Delta variant struggles, ‘may need to slow’ restart plan

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

210615
The auto and the bike: A paean to them both

One becomes an extension of one’s self. The other offers the sensation of flight.

Highway notices like this come down effective June 14. Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and commercial operation have hit local businesses in every corner of B.C. (B.C. government)
Province-wide travel back on in B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan

Gathering changes include up to 50 people for outdoor events

Calgary Stampeders’ Jerome Messam leaps over a tackle during second half CFL western semifinal football action in Calgary, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
CFL football will be played this summer in Canada

Governors vote unanimously in favour to start the ‘21 campaign on Aug. 5

Most Read