New York Library Association. - The eBulletin

Proprietary Freedom

by Christi Sommerfeldt, MLIS Canton, NY

In April, I attended a lecture called the “Free Software Movement” by Richard Stallman. After listening to Mr. Stallman’s speech, I contemplated how vulnerable we all are in the world of technology. We rely on computers and technology that - mostly - utilize proprietary operating systems and software to help organize and convey information for patrons in our libraries.

As librarians, we are sensitive to privacy and confidentiality and pride ourselves in giving patrons the freedom and protection to access any and all information. Anything hindering or threatening that freedom interrupts our principles and obligation to patrons.

Lack of privacy and confidentiality chills users' choices, thereby suppressing access to ideas. The possibility of surveillance, whether direct or through access to records of speech, research and exploration, undermines a democratic society.1

In proprietary operating systems, back doors exist that allow the licensing company to make changes to the software without the user’s knowledge, which means that they can access other information as well. For instance, Apple’s iPhone has a back door allowing them to erase apps. Amazon’s Kindle has one allowing them to remotely erase books.2

Breaking away from proprietary operating systems and software is daunting and not many have the time or knowhow to successfully manage that choice. But there are those who make it a little more possible by providing free files and programs that allow users to accomplish the same tasks
as they would using costly, vulnerable programs. The Free Software Foundation has a list of resources for those curious about this movement.3 Although many of us will never move away completely from proprietary operating systems and software, at least can be aware of the risks
involved and other options available to us.

1 "Privacy and Confidentiality." American Library Association, 2014. Web. 18 July 2014. <
2 "The Right to Read - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation." Free Software Foundation, 12 Apr. 2014. Web. 18
July 2014. <>.
3 "Free Software Resources." Free Software Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 July 2014. <>.