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Take One: February 18, 2013 (judging and being judged)

I’m not sure whether you are following the case of a publisher suing a librarian for his negative comments about the quality of the publishers’ output. As reported in the February 8 edition of Inside Higher Ed, Edwin Mellen Press is charging librarian Dale Askey and his current employer (McMaster University) with libel and claiming damages of over $4M. The case is bizarre on a number of fronts. First, Mr. Askey’s comments about the quality of the publisher appeared on his blog several years ago when he was employed at Kansas State University as a tenured associate professor responsible for collection development in the library (KSU librarians hold faculty status). While the blog is no longer live, you can access Askey’s original posts on the Wayback Machine http://web.archive.org/web/20110630153231/http://htwkbk.wordpress.com/2010/09/22/the-curious-case-of-edwin-mellen-press/. I’ve read through his blog and the subsequent comments, which were mostly from authors describing their experience with Mellen Press. IMHO, the exchanges seem fairly benign. Second weirdness. Mellen Press did not file its lawsuit until June 2012 and named the Canadian university, McMaster, in its suit, claiming that it was “vicariously liable” because the blog was still live when Askey moved there to assume a new position. Third, McMaster did not publicly come out with a “commitment to academic freedom” statement until February 8--the same day the Inside Higher Ed article appeared, fully 18 months after Mellen Press pressured the University to repudiate Mr. Askey’s blog posting. Fourth, Rick Anderson, Interim University Librarian at the University of Utah, wrote in The Scholarly Kitchen on February 11 about his experience with the press’ owner, Herbert Richardson http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2013/02/11/you-probably-think-this-song-is-about-you-edwin-mellen-press-vs-a-critical-librarian/. Anderson claims that Richardson grilled him about the role Dale Askey had played in the University of Utah’s decision to stop buying books from Mellen Press (Richardson is the figure behind the lawsuits against Askey and McMaster). ARL and the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL), among other groups, have issued statements in support of Askey and McMaster http://www.arl.org/news/arl-news/2614-arl-carl-joint-statement-in-support-of-dale-askey-and-mcmaster-university. Meanwhile a petition has been mounted on Change.org calling for Mellen to drop the lawsuit as an “egregious assault on academic freedom.” As of this writing, nearly 2,600 librarians, professors and others have signed the petition. Will Mellen recant their suit? What are the long-term ramifications for collection development librarians in exercising their professional judgment if Mellen were to prevail in this case? Ironically Dale Askey’s original September 22, 2010 post ended with this bit of foreshadowing: “Given how closely Mellen guards its reputation against all critics, perhaps I should just put on my flameproof suit now.”

Have a healthy and productive week,
 
Anne R. Kenney
Carl A. Kroch University Librarian
Cornell University Library

201 Olin Library
Ithaca, New York 14853-5301
t. 607.255.6875
f. 607.255.6788
e. ark3@cornell.edu
www.library.cornell.edu

Take One: January 28, 2013 (happy birthday human sexuality collection)


The donation of the papers of feminist and sex writer Susie Bright and her visit to Cornell last week made the front page of The Ithaca Journal on Thursday. Two days earlier, the Arts Section of The New York Times ran a front page article on the Bibliotheque Nationale de France’s efforts to acquire a Marquis de Sade manuscript written in 1785 when Sade was imprisoned in the Bastille for assaulting women and girls. Even while acknowledging the work as “the most impure tale that has ever been told,” the Bib Nat has convinced the Foreign and Culture ministries of the manuscript’s importance and is petitioning the Commission of National Treasures to declare it a “national treasure.” Controversial stuff? Yes, definitely. Historically important? Yes, definitely. And what these two newspaper articles demonstrate is that the preservation of such materials is being viewed as legitimate as collecting, say, the papers of politicians, or businessmen, or literary figures. I well remember when the Human Sexuality Collection was founded twenty-five years ago as I had the honor of serving on the original collection development advisory committee. The collection was the brainchild of David B. Goodstein (Cornell '54), longtime publisher of The Advocate, and Bruce Voeller, scientist and early leader of the National Gay Task Force. They both believed that society would benefit greatly from increased research and understanding of the complex cultural and political contexts of sexuality. With their generous support and the approval of Cornell's Board of Trustees, Cornell University Library established the Human Sexuality Collection in 1988. As David Goodstein noted in arguing for this archive, "It is as if this most vital of human concerns is filled with too many dangers to allow it to be studied seriously." Today this is no longer the case and I was proud to learn that the Library of Congress has just approved Cornell’s suggestion of adding “Butch and femme (Lesbian culture)” to LCSH. Happy birthday, HSC, you’ve come a long way.

Have a healthy and productive week,
 
Anne R. Kenney
Carl A. Kroch University Librarian
Cornell University Library

201 Olin Library
Ithaca, New York 14853-5301
t. 607.255.6875
f. 607.255.6788
e. ark3@cornell.edu
www.library.cornell.edu

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