Agents' visit chills UMass Dartmouth senior

A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."
Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program.
The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.
The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a "watch list," and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further. More


Very interesting! The most significant factoid in this article about a Dartmouth student being visited by the Feds is the mention, by the Feds to the student, of the Mao book being on a "watch list." A book watch list has ben noted in LISNews before. Check out the LIS news item from July 2004: mentions a "watch list" of over 800 books. Some people's comments of that time ridiculed the idea the feds have a book "watch list". In light of this incident at Dartmouth, I wonder how the ridiculers and neo-conservative symps will rationalize this now that a watch list had been confirmed. And it's sure to be the tip of the iceberg. The tyranny is getting much closer, folks and fellow lobsters in the slowly boiling pot called the U-nited States of America!

It's not LOC spelling, it's pinyin transliteration. Libraries (including LC) used to use Wade-Giles, and most have gone back and changed it to pinyin, but not all. Either way, there would probably be a cross-reference to the Wade-Giles spelling used in the article.

I work at a university library. We have beeen trying to get away from using SSN as identifiers but we are not 100% successful. It requires that a student come in to the ID card office and officially request a new number if their old number was their SSN. Not every student does this, there are students who are oblivious to the universities plea's for them to do so and there are people who are just too lazy to do so. I should know, I am one of the lazier ones and I haven't gotten over there yet to change mine (no lectures please).

Of course, you were reading so carefully that you failed to note that the student was interested in a particular edition/translation of The Little Red Book... many many reasons exist for the patron to ILL a copy of a TITLE 'owned' by the institution...

None of which actually deals with the issue of the inconsistencies in the article. And NOPLACE other than the South Coast paper is covering the event, according to a quick and dirty google search...

The story is now circulating featuring a different university (U of Cal/Santa Cruz) and two different profs--minus student name. Looking fishy, it is. I've emailed one of the profs for comment.

I totally agree. There's something not right. I have been hit with this story from every library listserv I'm on and yet the story appears nowhere but this tiny little newspaper. The story was vague to say the least and a simple visit to the UMass library site contradicts many aspects of the story.

I'm one step away from just contacting the library to find out the truth behind this. I'm waiting to hear more.

What concerns me the most is that we're the professionals, the people who know how to filter information and conduct research. Yet everyone seems to accept this is as truth. Even if I believe a story I like to verify it's facts first. Why are so few folks doing so?

Well, finally someone understands! :)

I believe every word of it.

So now that we can see that this is a complete fabrication do you want to retract your obnoxious comments?

What you call speculation I call checking the facts, such as the requirement for a SSN and the availability of the book locally. While you may want there to be some secret government plot to manage what you read, this is not Cuba where they imprision librarians, but the United States where we are free to read whatever we want no matter how nutty it may be.

A lot of ILL departments track their requests online these days through such vendors as, say, OCLC. FYI.

It must be nonsense because you said so, and you have double secret security clearances and know everything.

"Although The Standard-Times knows the name of the student, he is not coming forward because he fears repercussions should his name become public. He has not spoken to The Standard-Times."

Emphasis mine. Before this particular neocon makes any arguments I think I'll wait until I know the story is accurate.

"I tell my students to go to the direct source, and so he asked for the official Peking version of the book," Professor Pontbriand said. "Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring inter-library loans, because that's what triggered the visit, as I understand it."

Apparently the Professor is not also a Librarian because even ILL Librarians can't always keep track of all the ILL loans. I don't see how the Feds would be doing it.

Indeed, ILL libs. cannot often keep track of their ILLs, having done that work when I first entered librarianship many moons ago. However, libarians also normally don't have access to unimaginally powerful electronic surveillance systems with worldwide reach, such as Echelon. Surely you have heard of it? In case you haven't, check out these links: and . Finding mentions of watchlist books and who ordered or ILL'd them would be child's play for such a system. Welcome to Orwell's world.

I don't believe a word of it. SSN for an ILL, hardly. If that was his student number he should have asked for one that wasn't his social security number. Few colleges use that anymore so I doubt ( and being a librarian and concerned with accuracy and authority I checked a U Mass site) they don't use the 9 digit social as a student number. In fact they use an 8 digit number- for more info look here.

I have a copy of Mao's Little Red Book - don't go all nuts I have the Little Brown Handbook (which is indeed little and brown) and the Joy of Sex somewhere too but I don't often refer to any of the three.

If he wants a copy and agrees to mail it back I'll lend him mine. However, I fail to see why someone would ILL a book the library he is using owns. Perhaps he failed to contact a librarian who could have searched the correct title rather than Mao's Little Red Book. The Quotes of Chariman Mao is available at the Dartmouth library according to their catalog (the library webpage and catalog are a nightmare in my opinion... a prime example of how not to design a web page.)

Also since the library uses the LOC system it might have helped if the author of the article used Mao, Zedong as the spelling so that curious readers could discover for themselves the availablility of the title. I have consulted three style manuals and all agree with the LOC spelling.

So to be blunt, I think this is bullshite, I doubt the student requested the book through ILL, I doubt he used his SSN, and I doubt anyone from any federal agency - even the post office- showed up to question him.

Unfortunately we can no longer rely on newspapers as fact as they are taken in as easily as anyone else these days and it seems that journalists fail to fact check their stories.

Please place this story in my complete BS column.

Oh and if he really wants it right away it is available here but it is complete nonsense.

"However, I fail to see why someone would ILL a book the library he is using owns." You fail to see this becuase it doesn't occur to you that the book may be missing off the shelf (misshelved or stolen), so he decided to ILL it.

I am a librarian. If this story is true, I am very concerned about how the Dept. of Homeland Security obtained a library patron's records. It is a violation of principle III of the American Library Association Code of Ethics to provide a library patron's records to anyone without the patron's consent. If the story is true, I would like to see the American Library Association take disciplinary action against librarians responsible for the release of these records. And what if it is true and OCLC provided the records to DHS???

So the other points about the ubiquity of what is commonly called "Mao's Little Red Book", the non-use of SSN as an identifiier at UMASS, the failure of the writer to use the LOC spelling, the availability of the text online for free, and the apparant inability to verify the claims concerns you not?

I'm glad you're not my librarian.

If this story is true I am as appaled as you are and I am a right wing, Bush supporting, Catholic, abortion opposing, death penalty opposing, Masters Degreed librarian.

If however is the operative term. and I believe little of it. See my previous post about what nonsense it seems to be.

You're just speculating about local variables and contexts that you don't know anything about, and giving weight to things arbitrarily chosen without any basis in fact. Proves nothing. Until there is some more grounding in the reality of the situation, you might as well speculate about the possible role that Red Chinese commies or CIA agents might have had in this incident, or any one of a million other possiblities. Maybe you ought to consider a different career, like movie screenwriting.

I did call them earlier today and confirmedit as true. Happened to 4 students she told me. Call them yourself. This is a true story and quite scary.

Subscribe to Comments for "Agents' visit chills UMass Dartmouth senior"