Further thoughts on the POPLINE debacle: what went right?

Rachel Walden’s follow-up post on POPLINE has given me a kick in the pants to get moving on my own follow-up post. (Yes, the one that I alluded to months ago…)

I’ve been thinking about the POPLINE debacle. While Rachel rightly points out that all is not perfectly resolved, and we await more answers, in general I’ve been wondering about what went so darned right.

Yes,I know I’ve been one of many ranting about what went wrong – i.e. USAID anti-abortion policies interfering with access to information – but what went right is a different question all together. Considering the positive is something I don’t get to ponder a lot on this blog, so indulge me here.

To recap, for anyone not following along in April: A librarian noticed that abortion was no longer a searchable term in the database and sent out an email about it. The email was passed along on various health librarian and feminist listservs and public outcry was raised. Who-knows-how-many of us emailed the POPLINE admins and blogged it with outrage, and within two days the dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health issued a public statement assuring the world that this would be rectified and investigated.

Wow.

So…as I asked before, what went right here? Why were we successful in calling attention to this issue, and getting it addressed so swiftly? Why did this work fairly well, when in comparison the Canadian Health Network was shut down after months of protest by health librarians, a petition, multiple high-profile newspaper articles, and various other media attention? I’ve been pondering this, trying to figure out what we can do in the future to make our information resources more like POPLINE and less like the CHN, and these are the elements that I’ve come up with thus far:

  • US vs. Canada: The US is generally more political & inflammatory, and Canadian librarians will jump on a US database issue, while 99% of the US generally forget that Canada exists or is within the scope of the ALA
  • POPLINE is housed at/maintained by a single institution with important people who could be embarrassed at the top of the chain of command vs. the CHN, which was, as I understand it, purposively built on a distributed model
  • Specific interest vs. general resource: It’s hard to argue than another resource could easily replace POPLINE, as there aren’t really other reproductive health focused databases like it (are there?), and – however their scope or quality (attirbutes understood by librarians but not everyone) may vary – there are other websites that aim to be broad consumer health resources. It may also be significant that POPLINE is not really for everyday use of the general public, but more for scholars and health professionals.
  • The scope of POPLINE, while specifically focused, had broad interdisciplinary appeal (while reproductive rights info access was damaged by CHN removal, as shown in my previous “ABC” post, POPLINE is obviously related to reproductive rights, and thus feminists signed on the campaign en masse: POPLINE was discussed on WMST-L, while the CHN never was)

I know there are more differences that may have been important in determining how things went down. Feel free to tell me what I am missing. My mind is now spinning on how future projects can be built in a way that helps a threat play out in a POPLINE manner, not a CHN one.

-Greyson

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1 Comment

Filed under censorship, gender, Health, The Profession

One response to “Further thoughts on the POPLINE debacle: what went right?

  1. Excellent post, Greyson.

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