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Bravo Gloria and LibraryLand!

News sources report that Gloria Won, a health librarian at UC San Francisco, played a key role in alerting LibraryLand that POPLINE, a federally-funded health database, was blocking the word “abortion.” Won, noticing that her search results weren’t retrieving anything for “abortion” (an odd result in a database for “reproductive health”) had written POPLINE.

The word “Orwellian” gets flogged to death, so (in honor of Fahrenheit 451) let’s call the following squib from the New York Times Bradburyan:

“We recently made all abortion terms stop words,” Debra L. Dickson, a Popline manager, wrote [in her reply to Won]. “As a federally funded project, we decided this was best for now.”

Ms. Dickson suggested that instead of using “abortion,” librarians could use other terms like “fertility control, postconception” or “pregnancy, unwanted.”

Oddly enough, this answer didn’t appease Won or her colleagues. (Perhaps for “manager” Dickson could substitute “shill” or “apologist.”)

Won’s boss told NPR, “It just spiraled after that.” NPR writes that “medical librarians wrote to the media, contacted women’s groups and went online.” POPLINE has since unblocked the word.

I know a lot of people think “reference is dead.” Walk-up desk reference is definitely in steep decline, and no wonder — it’s a pre-computer model. But look at the professionalism of Won and her colleagues as they lived out the values of information advocacy and intellectual freedom.

Reference isn’t a set of tasks; it’s a state of engagement. Reference is dead. Long live reference!

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