Freedom of Information Day 2018: Liberty and open access to all

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On March 16, we celebrate the anniversary of former President James Madison. But that day, we also celebrate the legacy he and the founders of this country left us – open government.

Madison, known as the Father of the United States Constitution, once wrote that a “popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps, both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

It is only natural that libraries, which promote open access to information for all, join in the celebration.

Each year, the American Library Association presents the James Madison Award and the Eileen Cooke State & Local Madison Award on Freedom of Information Day to recognize those individuals or groups that have championed, protected, and promoted public access to government information and the public’s right to know.  This year’s James Madison Award goes to U.S. Representatives Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Mike Quigley (D-IL). The Eileen Cooke Award goes to Florida’s First Amendment Foundation. Both awards honor individuals or organizations who have championed, protected and promoted public access to government information and the public’s right to know how it functions.

ALA President Jim Neal will present the 2018 awards during a National Sunshine Week preview event that will be livestreamed from from the Newseum’s Knight TV Studio in Washington, D.C.

headshots of Darrell Issa and Mike Quigley
U.S. Representatives Darrell Issa (R-CA-49) and Mike Quigley (D-IL-5) are the 2018 Madison Award recipients.

This marks the 30th year ALA has presented the James Madison Award. As co-founders and co-chairs of the Congressional Transparency Caucus, Representatives Issa and Quigley have shown bipartisan leadership to ensure the core democratic value of government transparency is more than just an ideal in Washington. In addition to co-founding the Transparency Caucus, both Congressmen have introduced legislation that requires federal information to be freely accessible, and advocated for new initiatives that support transparency, including:

  • FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2016, updating the 50-year-old Freedom of Information Act; introduced by Rep. Issa and enacted in 2016
  • Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA), introduced in 2013 by Rep. Issa, enacted in 2014
  • Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act, introduced by Rep. Quigley in 2017
  • Equal Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Act of 2017 (H.R. 2335), cosponsored by Rep. Quigley
First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen will accept the Eileen Cooke Award on behalf of the Foundation. (AP Photo/Phil Coale)

The Eileen Cooke Award, named after past ALA Washington Office Director, will be presented to Florida First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen. Its small staff is known throughout the state as a tireless powerhouse of information and inspiration that equips its vast network of local advocates to hold their government accountable. The Foundation was founded in 1984 by The Florida Press Association, the Florida Society of Newspapers Editors and the Florida Association of Broadcasters to ensure public commitment and progress in the areas of free speech, free press, and open government. A highly visible source of information and expertise in Florida, the Foundation holds numerous educational events for government officials, citizen action groups and journalists and regularly publishes a variety of resources on Florida’s sunshine laws.

The Madison Award was established in 1986. Last year it was won by Sen. John Tester of Montana. Tester was honored for his advocacy for public access to government information.