longer version of Emily Waltz's Indypendent story

This version of Emily's story is almost 500 words longer than the piece published in the Indypendent.

More than 150 library workers fled the stacks during the Republican National Convention to join a protest-support group doing what they do best—answering questions. The self-titled "Radical Reference" librarians answered queries online and on the streets at protests from demonstrators in need of a little academic anti-Bush ammunition (or directions to the nearest public bathroom). They assembled to promote truth and access to information to convention-goers and even the curious Republican, members of Radical Reference said.

But as demonstrators and Republicans abandoned Manhattan after the convention, the librarians discovered one group of people that still needed reference assistance—the media.

So the librarians, library workers and library science students of Radical Reference now plan to hold fact-checking workshops as an outreach to independent journalists.

Jenna Freedman, a reference librarian at Barnard College in New York and a co-founder of Radical Reference, said that part of the group's original purpose was to help control rumors on the streets at protests. "It can be difficult to tell what is really going on when you're out there," she said. "We were there to track down the truth by calling back to librarians with web resources."

Now that the convention is over, the librarians have narrowed their focus. "The corporate media is one of the top dangers in the world," Freedman said. "By supporting the independent media, we are supporting the fight for democracy and all that librarians hold dear: truth, access to information and the struggle against censorship."

Even if President Bush loses the election, the librarians said they will still stay together to fight for library patrons' rights and free and truthful information. "Besides, have you seen Kerry's platform?" Freedman said. They have work to do.

Kerry voted for the liberal librarian's nemesis, the USA PATRIOT Act. The Act, established under the Bush administration, includes broadly worded sections that can be interpreted to allow the FBI to search library patrons' circulation records and internet usage during terrorist investigations.

To fight back against the Act and to alert activists of their services during the protests, the Radical Reference library workers scrapped the traditional librarianesque role of shushing patrons, and instead, led protesters in chants for freedom of information.

The librarians also touted the letter "i" for information on their hats, patches and signs. They carried lists of delegates' hotels and supposed war profiteers—in case anyone wanted to heckle them—and helped people find public bathrooms and subways. Back at their reference desks, other library workers found information online and relayed it by phone to librarians on street reference duty.

The group also created a website five weeks prior to the convention that served as a question/answer service. People posted inquiries such as "at what age are you old enough to be put into an adult cell when you are arrested?" and "where can I find the Republican party platform?" and received responses from the librarians within a day or two.

The switch to fact-checking workshops, Radical Reference members say, falls within their goal to relay the truth. They will also offer instruction on source evaluation and public resources available to journalists. "I'd like…every member of Radical Reference to become at least acquainted with, if not integrated into, the Independent Media Center nearest them," Freedman, the co-founder, said.

But librarians didn't create Radical Reference merely to answer questions and teach beginner journalists. They are passionate about information and the right to access it, unmonitored by the government. They are so passionate, in fact, that one Radical Reference librarian got arrested while protesting the re-election of a president whom he believes is taking away that right.

M (name removed by request) a, a senior librarian for the New York Public Library, was riding his bike in Critical Mass, an anti-Bush demonstration held four days before the convention began, when he was captured. The police drew orange nets across the street near Union Square, corralling M and a group of cycling protesters into buses headed for detention cells, M said. Police said they arrested 264 people at the demonstration that night and collected 237 bicycles, M's Specialized Hybrid mountain bike included.

Although it couldn't save M from jail, the librarians' intricate communication system allowed Freedman, the co-founder, to dispatch nearby street reference librarians to his holding cell to check on his release. They used cell phones, a group text messaging system, their website, an instant messenger system and e-mail to communicate.

The librarians' intricate communication system seemed to extend beyond Radical Reference, however, to a sprawling inter-library information cabal—a club for those who are literally in-the-know. Librarians everywhere heard about the group through librarian e-mail lists and websites, and contributed information.

One of the most important tips Radical Reference received came from a library employee of the New York Historical Society. The informant hinted to Radical Reference that Laura Bush would attend a luncheon at the Historical Society on the Wednesday of the convention.

The first lady represents what Radical Reference librarians consider a shameful hypocrisy—she was once a librarian, with a masters in library science and a job at a public library, but she married a man who advocates the USA PATRIOT Act.

To remind Bush of her librarian days, six Radical Reference library workers and students gathered outside the Historical Society on Central Park West, chanting with cardboard signs for more than 30 minutes: "Money for books and education, not for war and occupation," and "Stand up, fight back, against the USA PATRIOT Act."

Police and secret service barricaded the entire block on the back side of the building, preventing the demonstrators from catching Bush as she entered through the back door.

Although the first lady won't find them chanting outside her luncheons, leaders of the American Library Association share a similar perspective to Radical Reference on the USA PATRIOT Act. A spokeswoman for the library association said the organization is non-partisan, but it "considers sections of the USA PATRIOT Act a present danger to the constitutional rights of library users." The spokeswoman, a press officer named Larra Clark, said the library association has no official statement concerning Radical Reference.

But not all librarians agree with the American Library Association. One librarian at the Billerica Public Library in Massachusetts who described himself as conservative, started a website called "Librarians For Bush" in direct response to Librarians Against Bush, a subgroup of Radical Reference. "They are blowing the PATRIOT Act out of proportion," Greg McClay, the creator of Librarians For Bush, said in a phone conversation. "They don't take into consideration that we are at war."

Some librarians also accuse Radical Reference of violating the librarian's Code of Ethics established by the ALA. The code states that library workers should not let personal convictions interfere with the information they give to patrons. An anonymous invective posted on lisnews.com (Library and Information Science News) contended that by protesting and assisting protesters with information, Radical Reference librarians let their personal biases influence their professional work.

But Radical Reference librarian Adrienne Strock pointed out that the ALA's Code of Ethics also states that librarians must protect each library user's right to privacy with any information sought or received, which, she said, the USA PATRIOT Act infringes. "Why can't I, as a librarian, advocate for America's libraries on my own time?" Strock said. Some members of Radical Reference, however, admitted that they contributed to Radical Reference while on duty at work.

Radical Reference evolved and group leaders redefined their goals several times before the convention began, and they are still evolving. At a planning meeting two weeks before the convention, the group had not yet decided whether or not they would answer questions from Republicans. But as the convention neared, the organization's leaders clarified that they would answer questions from anyone.

Now they envision themselves as promoters of truth and information through the independent media. They may have put away their "i" hats and returned to the annals of the Dewey Decimal system, but Radical Reference will continue to promote their mantra: freedom of information. As their slogan goes, "we have access to hundreds of expensive subscription databases, and we're not afraid to use them!"