San Francisco Board of Supervisors Unanimously Passes Resolution in Support of Digital Rights For Libraries

San Francisco City Hall from east end of Civic Center Plaza

In a stunning show of support for libraries, late yesterday afternoon the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to support a resolution backing the Internet Archive and the digital rights of all libraries.

Supervisor Connie Chan, whose district includes the Internet Archive, authored the legislation and brought the resolution before the Board. “At a time when we are seeing an increase in censorship and book bans across the country, we must move to preserve free access to information,” said Supervisor Chan. “I am proud to stand with the Internet Archive, our Richmond District neighbor, and digital libraries throughout the United States.”

WATCH Supervisor Chan introduce the resolution:

What’s in the resolution?

The resolution is a powerful statement in support of libraries, beginning:

Resolution recognizing the irreplaceable public value of libraries, including online libraries like the Internet Archive, and the essential rights of all libraries to own, preserve, and lend both digital and print books to the residents of San Francisco and the wider public; supporting the Internet Archive and its public service mission; and urging the California State Legislature and the United States Congress to support digital rights for libraries, including controlled digital lending and the option for libraries to own their digital collections. 

Read the full resolution

Rally on the steps of San Francisco City Hall

Supporters surround Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle and District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan on the steps of City Hall.

Before the vote, supporters rallied outside on the steps of City Hall. Joining Supervisor Chan on the steps were Brewster Kahle, Internet Archive; Cindy Cohn, Electronic Frontier Foundation; Chuck Roslof, Wikimedia Foundation; and author and activist Liz Henry.

“It’s a sad day that we have to be here to talk about the importance of maintaining access to information through libraries,” said Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive. “We must stand firm in our commitment to providing Universal Access to All Knowledge.”

“The Internet Archive and its goal of universal access to all human knowledge represents the best of Technology.” said Cindy Cohn, Executive Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “We must stand up for the privacy of our reading, the digital lending strategies that publishers want to promote violates our privacy and our ability to investigate freely.”

“The work of the Wikimedia Foundation centers around providing access to knowledge for all people, around the world.” said Chuck Roslof, Lead Counsel at the Wikimedia Foundation. “In this mission, Wikipedia doesn’t stand alone. Libraries and archives play a critical role as part of our ecosystem of free knowledge, to ensure that all of us have access to reliable, accurate information about the world around us. The Internet Archive is the internet’s library, and it is an invaluable resource to Wikipedia editors and readers…”

Author and disability justice activist Liz Henry spoke about the importance of digital libraries from their experience as a wheelchair user. “Access to digital lending from libraries and the Internet Archive is a critical lifeline for disabled people and seniors.” said Henry, going on to explain how they used the Internet Archive to research a brick that they found under their house during construction. Using materials from the web, as well as digital books from the Internet Archive and San Francisco Public Library, Henry was able to determine that the brick, stamped C H for City Hall, was manufactured in the 1870s, and was part of the original City Hall structure, which burned down in the 1906 earthquake. Henry completed their research while they were having mobility issues and limited to the house, underscoring the importance of digital access to library materials. You can read more about this fascinating discovery on Henry’s blog. 

Many thanks to Supervisor Chan for being a strong advocate for libraries, and for making San Francisco the first municipality to codify the importance of digital libraries and controlled digital lending in a resolution. Many thanks as well to all the supporters who joined us on the steps and who submitted letters in support of the resolution.

10 thoughts on “San Francisco Board of Supervisors Unanimously Passes Resolution in Support of Digital Rights For Libraries

  1. Stop The Madness

    Remember, these are the same people that agree with changing the content of works by deceased authors to make them “more modern and inclusive”.

    These are also the same people that put drug vending machines in their library lobbies and allow bums (sorry, home challenged) people to sleep outside the buildings.

    I would back nothing they want.

  2. Cheryl Boedicker

    Digital libraries are wonderful. I got a library card for our new library in Port St Lucie St Lucie, FL. Just sign up on LIBBY for any digital device and start borrowing books! It’s the best especially for home bound people like myself!

  3. Brian Irvine

    Outstanding ! It is obvious that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has once again demonstrated courage, forward thinking, and recognizes the limitless value to the public by unanimously passing a resolution in Support of Digital Rights For Libraries.

    Way to go !!! I hope many other private and public organizations will be prompted to get on board because it is the right thing to do !!!!

  4. Gary Broadus

    I haven’t the time to read the resolution in depth but skimmed through it so I don’t fully understand it. Excuse my ignorance but is this resolution fAir to authors who have to depend on their writing for a living ? Is this resolution taking money out of their pockets? I have donated to you before but this may make a difference whether I do so again.

    1. katherine

      It says: “The Internet Archive currently exists and provides these services, and we recommend it be allowed to continue existing and providing these (same) services”.

      As for “fair to authors”, if books being freely available at the library were a threat to authors, one would expect to have seen widespread complaints about it 100 years ago. On the contrary, without libraries, many authors (like me!) would never have even started writing, and without the internet archive my current work would be impossible, as it carries many books from the 1930s~70s that can only be found used for high prices if anywhere.

  5. John Royce

    As an author myself, libraries are a platform for more exposure. I want people to read my work more than I want to maximize profit from it, and I believe most authors feel the same. The worst outcome is to have my books buried in a retail site.

    I’m not sure why this “taking money from authors” argument is so popular when talking about disseminating their work through lending. It never comes up regarding Ebook piracy, reduction of midlist authors, Google scanning books illegally, or the endless “corporate consolidation” that reduces bargaining power by authors. Each sale is really a just a couple of dollars: from a $16 paperback I make just under $2. The majority of the money from a book sale goes to corporate middlemen and agents and booksellers–NOT the author.

    Also, having available means I can access older books for research (I write about history). These are books, often contemporary works, that I could never find OR afford otherwise, as most libraries have “weeded” these seldom-accessed titles long ago. Preventing the lending of these books simply puts them under corporate lock and key, and work that isn’t available is soon forgotten and largely lost.

    Writers are writing to communicate to an audience, and libraries are one of the best avenues to let that happen. If people want to really help authors, promote literacy and a reading culture–and support in this fight!

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