I try not to read too much on the Gawker sites, on the grounds that they make me weep for humanity (except sometimes Jalopnik -- I don't know a damn thing about cars, but I do listen to Car Talk, and Moggie is my source for all things Top Gear), but somehow in my feed I've found a link to a story about Aaron Swartz.

I decline to comment on the legal aspect of this case, primarily because I hadn't heard of it before, and the author here is decidedly partisan. I might look it up, and I might not. It depends on how much time I've spent recently railing about how we, as a species, might be too retarded to live. I will comment, however, that from what I have seen of MIT in general, I find the author's characterization of their response to the case believable.

One of the things that really pissed me off about Arizona is that the "bootstraps" mentality seeped into everything. There are still people out in the desert who would sooner watch their entire lives and possibly families burn to death than call THE GUMMINT, a.k.a. the municipal fire department. One of the ways in which this made my life particularly inconvenient is that out there, the prevailing view is that college is a financial investment. One shovels money at an institution in order to get access to their resources, in order that one may do something more directly lucrative with one's life later on. The notion that one may take classes in order to learn interesting things about the way the universe fits together is completely alien -- I cannot tell you how many funny looks and awkward conversations I had with people after telling them I was studying sociology, as they tried and failed to figure out how I could possibly get rich doing that. (Protip: You don't.) And if one has not figured out how to scrape together the money to buy access to any of the university's resources, one was not particularly welcome there at all.

The attitude in Boston is rather different. With the exception of Harvard, which has locked down all of their assorted resource collections, all of the major universities in the area have explicitly declared their libraries open to the public. The people at Tufts gazed at me like I had suddenly sprouted a second head, in fact, when I asked the Information desk whether there was guest access to any of the computers. (I might just look very student-y. The people at the Holyoke Center automatically give me the student discount whenever I pick up a sandwich there. I certainly did not disabuse the Tufts people of this notion the time, about a month after that, I wandered in with an overstuffed messenger bag, mid-SMS with one hand and carrying my shoes in the other. Nobody gave me a second look.) You're generally not allowed to remove anything from the building if you don't have an affiliate account, but they are more than happy to help you find things, and you can scan/photocopy anything you please. The general feeling around here seems to be that someone has gone to all the trouble to hoard all of these books into this one building, and they would be somewhere between baffled and disappointed if you didn't read them.

MIT is a little bit beyond even that. I can't tell from a cursory glance at their library pages whether they give JSTOR access anymore without a Kerberos account, but they give access to a lot of other resources whose owners haven't thrown lawyers at them recently. They're somewhat unusual in that they will let you buy community borrower access to their library system without having any institutional affiliation at all, which isn't an option elsewhere.

I can tell you that their attitude towards wifi borders on maintaining that access to your Gmail is a basic human right. Universities here vary on whether they give guest wifi access. Tufts does not; Harvard does, with a clickthrough Terms of Use page, although the repeaters are not especially well placed and it's dicey picking up a signal sometimes even in the Yard. (Pre-Kindle, I used to sit on the steps of something very large and ostentatiously neo-classical out on Kirkland Street, or a bench on the greens around the base of William James Hall.) MIT just blankets about a square mile of Cambridge with signal. Reception varies, but I've caught the guest network at various places from Kendall Square out to just past the Mass Ave bridge -- I can set the Kindle to wifi and go war walking if anyone is desperate to know exactly where the buildings break it up. The guest network co-exists with a more official MIT setup; the proper MIT network has security and authentication and so forth, but the guest access, when last I tried it, had nothing at all for the initial connection. If you could catch any bars at all, you could get your email. Or if you were me, you could stare at Google Maps for a while, cursing whatever quasi-logical reasoning led the university to label all of its maps with internal building numbers instead of proper Cambridge street addresses.

The general philosophy of MIT in re: letting you play with their toys, is that people are not paying them gazillions for access to information. Information belongs to everyone. They want you to cram random things into your head. What people are paying them gazillions of dollars for is a piece of paper officially certifying that a lot of people at MIT have helped you cram things into your head, and -- more importantly -- have assessed your head-crams when you were done and determined that you have them more or less in the right order, and that none of the important ones have fallen out again. They have put up a shitload of genuine MIT-written cool stuff, to be head-crammed, at your leisure, for free.

This general method of thinking is endemic in Boston, and possibly in the rest of the state. The old building of the Boston Public Library downtown has the legend "THE COMMONWEALTH REQUIRES THE EDUCATION OF THE PEOPLE AS THE SAFEGUARD OF ORDER AND LIBERTY" chiseled straight into its façade, ffs.

Quite a lot of the MIT buildings are open, too, and very interesting -- by which I mean 'slightly wonky, and one of them looks a bit like it was decorated by Mad Madam Mim' -- inside. I mean, I assume that things like their experimental reactor are somewhat better watched, but the libraries, most of the class buildings, and student union-y things are unlocked during the day, and nobody's ever stopped me when I decide to hit up the IgNobel talks or take a shortcut through on my way back to the T. Technically, all of them do have a notice on the door that only authorized personnel are supposed to be in there, but A) I don't recall them explicitly mentioning exactly who had to do the authorizing, and B) if you are the kind of person who is stopped by politely-worded boilerplate 'keep out' signs, even when you're not planning any mayhem, then you are not the kind of person who ought to be poking randomly around the MIT campus.

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