Today, the American Library Association posthumously awarded activist Aaron Swartz the 2013 James Madison Award for his dedication to promoting and protecting public access to research and government information. ALA President, Maureen Sullivan presented the award to Swartz’s family during the 15th Annual Freedom of Information Day in Washington, D.C.
Before his untimely death in January, Swartz was an outspoken advocate for public participation in government and unrestricted access to peer-reviewed scholarly articles. Swartz was a co-founder of Demand Progress, an advocacy group that organizes people to take action on civil liberties and government reform issues. Swartz was also a leader in the national campaign to prevent the passing of the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill that would have diminished critical online legal protections.
“Aaron loved libraries,” said Bob Swartz, Aaron’s father. “I remember how excited he was to get library privileges at Harvard and be able to use the Widener library there. I know he would have been humbled and honored to receive this award. We thank you. Aaron’s goal was to make knowledge freely available to everyone and we can all further his legacy by making this happen.”
“We are honored for Aaron to become the first person to win the James Madison Award posthumously,” said Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Swartz’s partner. “Librarians have always understood the importance of open access better than anyone, and they were great friends to Aaron. Aaron fought to ensure that the corpus of human knowledge would be available to anyone who wanted to learn, not just those with the privilege of access to a major research university.
“He saw the revolutionary potential of the internet in this regard. I hope that Aaron’s death and this award can serve as a wake-up call to the U.S. Congress and the federal government: We must no longer allow corporate greed to be the bottleneck to people’s access to academic knowledge.”
Swartz was revered as a gifted computer programmer long before he became a public activist. He helped to develop the web feed format RSS, the website framework web.py and the social news website Reddit. As a teenager, Swartz designed the code layer for the Creative Commons licenses.