San Jose, CA — Gloria Won, a medical librarian at the University of California, San Francisco, and library director Gail Sorrough received the Zoia Horn Intellectual Freedom Award on Friday night from the California Library Association for challenging government censorship of reproductive health information.
In her day-to-day work as a medical librarian Won noticed that the word “abortion” retrieved fewer and fewer results in the POPLINE (POPulation Information OnLINE) reproductive health database, which is federally funded. She found out that “abortion” and terms related to it had been turned into stopwords. (For those of you not familiar with stopwords, they are usually limited to words like “but,” or “and” that a database should skip over when processing a search request). In Spring 2008, Won wrote to POPLINE database manager Debra L. Dickson:
Even more troubling is the implications for the average user – eliminating this term essentially blocks access to the reports in the database and ultimately to information about abortion. ‘Unwanted w2 pregnancy’ is not a synonym for abortion.
Radical Reference helped get the word out about this blatant affront to information access, asking concerned librarians to contact POPLINE. The block was soon removed on the terms. Congratulations and thank you Gloria!