On Friday, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) posthumously awarded internet activist Aaron Swartz the American Library Association’s (ALA) 2013 James Madison Award during the 15th Annual Freedom of Information Day in Washington, D.C. According to the American Library Association, “Swartz will receive the award for his dedication to promoting and protecting public access to research and government information.
“Aaron loved libraries. 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,” said Robert Swartz, Aaron’s father in reaction to the award. “Aaron's goal was to make knowledge freely available to everyone and we can all further his legacy by making this happen.”
Before his suicide in January, 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.
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.
The James Madison Award honors individuals who have championed, protected and promoted public access to government information and the public’s right to know national information. ALA has long been a supporter of open access policies that increase the amount of research made available to the public.
"We are honored for Aaron to become the first person to win the James Madison Award posthumously. 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,” said Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Swartz’s partner. “I hope that Aaron's death and this award can serve as a wake-up call to the US Congress and the federal government: We must no longer allow corporate greed to be the bottleneck to people's access to academic knowledge."
“We are pleased to honor Aaron Swartz, a young man who was dedicated to promoting and protecting public access to research and government information,” said Maureen Sullivan, president of the American Library Association. “He embodied the ALA principles that valued transparency and equal, unrestricted access to information.”