Look Back, Move Forward: Five women who stood up for the public’s right to know.

ALA President Patricia Schuman speaking at the Rally for America's Libraries at the 1991 ALA Annual Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo from The American Library Association Archives.

ALA President Patricia Schuman speaking at the Rally for America’s Libraries at the 1991 ALA Annual Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo from the American Library Association Archives.

Sunshine Week—a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information—is on the horizon (pun most certainly intended). Held on March 12 through March 18, Sunshine Week occurs annually, coinciding with James Madison’s birthday and National Freedom of Information Day on March 16.

During Sunshine Week, hundreds of libraries, media organizations, civic groups, nonprofits, schools, federal agencies and other participants engage public discussion on the importance of open government. The purpose? To highlight the fact that government functions best when it operates transparently and that the public has the right to access information from the government.

In honor of this upcoming library holiday—and the start of women’s history month—TBT to these five women who advocated for the public’s right to know.

1. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)
Over the course of her long career, Lofgren has consistently sponsored legislation that strengthens the public’s right to access information and her opposition to legislation that impedes First Amendment rights. Among her many activities, Rep. Lofgren is well regarded for her work on patent reform, copyright issues, digital rights and net neutrality. She successfully fought to initiate the E-rate program that provides affordable internet access for schools, libraries and rural health centers, and she is the author of legislation that would allow the unlocking of cellular phones and other digital devices to give owners more control over their devices.

2010-2011 ALA President Roberta Stevens presents Meredith Fuchs, former General Counsel National Security Archives the Madison Award.

2010-2011 ALA President Roberta Stevens presents Meredith Fuchs, former General Counsel National Security Archives the Madison Award.

2. Meredith Fuchs
As Vice President and General Counsel of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, Fuchs lead the National Security Archive though the litigation of Armstrong v. Executive Office of the President in 1989—the first White House e-mail lawsuit. The case led to numerous important precedents, including: e-mail can be defined as a record; certain contextual data associated with e-mail records must be preserved; and the public has a right to enforce the Federal Records Act. In her words: “Records of decision making at the White House, in both the federal record and presidential record components, have long been viewed as some of the most valuable records to historians and researchers.”

Records of decision making at the White House, in both the federal record and presidential record components, have long been viewed as some of the most valuable records to historians and researchers.

3. Hazel Reid O’Leary
Nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1993, O’Leary became the seventh United States Secretary of Energy and the first African American woman to serve in that office. As Secretary, O’Leary changed the department’s Office of Classification to the Office of Declassification, created an Openness Advisory Panel and encouraged the Clinton administration to end nuclear testing in the United States (nbd).

Eileen D. Cooke, second from the right, helping to hoist a "Welcome ALA" banner at the Library of Congress.

Eileen D. Cooke, second from the right, helping to hoist a “Welcome ALA” banner at the Library of Congress.

4. Eileen D. Cooke
Cooke began her career with ALA in 1964 as assistant director of the Washington Office and assumed the director position in 1972. For thirty years, she led the organization and, during her tenure, played a major role in the development, renewal and funding of key library legislation, including the Library Services and Construction Act, the Higher Education Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Medical Library Assistance Act, the Copyright Revision Act and the establishment of the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. Cooke was instrumental in planning ALA’s National Library Legislative Day, helping to ensure that library voices were heard loud and clear by our elected officials.

5. Patricia Glass Schuman
As the 1991-92 president-elect of ALA, Schuman launched a nationwide media campaign to focus public attention on threats to the public’s right to know—including library funding cuts, censorship and restricted access to government information—and the need to support libraries and librarians. More than 500,000 Americans called a special toll-free number or signed petitions to Congress supporting full funding for libraries. During her presidency, Schuman implemented a program of media training for ALA chapters and division leaders and founded ALA’s first Speaker’s Network.


Join us on March 15 for the 2017 James Madison Award Ceremony!
Named for President James Madison, this ALA award is presented annually near the anniversary his birth to honor individuals or groups who have championed, protected and promoted public access to government information and the public’s right to know at the national level. The 2017 James Madison Award will be presented by ALA Past President Sari Feldman at the Knight Studio at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. You can find more details about the event here.

About Emily Wagner

Emily Wagner is the Information Manager for ALA's Washington Office. She earned her B.A. in Literature from Mount Holyoke College and her M.S.L.I.S. from The Catholic University of America. She can be reached via e-mail at ewagner@alawash.org.

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