American Library Association honors ACLU-NJ’s Open Governance Project with Eileen Cooke Award

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey’s Open Governance Project today received the American Library Association’s Eileen Cooke Award in recognition of its commitment to the free flow of information. The Eileen Cooke Award, named for the former director of the ALA Washington Office, honors grassroots advocates fighting for the freedom of information with the passion of its namesake. The Cooke award, given on Freedom of Information Day, is the state and local version of the ALA’s James Madison Award, which honors the pursuit of transparency on a national level.

“The recognition of our open government work from the American Library Association, one of the most passionate, most effective defenders of the public’s right to know, comes as an enormous honor,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Edward Barocas. “The ALA and the ACLU have both worked not only to protect the public’s right to know, but also to fight against government surveillance and censorship. We at the ACLU-NJ hope that our future efforts to strengthen the role of public participation continue to uphold the ALA’s legacy of securing accountability and transparency.”

Since its 2009 inception, the ACLU-NJ’s Open Governance Project has distinguished itself as a leading government watchdog in New Jersey. In the five years since the program’s start, the organization has won scores of lawsuits and successfully fought for access to information when government officials took pains to shield records and access from the public. Most recently, the ACLU-NJ called for more transparency at the Port Authority and in the Christie administration in the wake of the Bridgegate scandal.

In 2012, the Open Governance Project wrested details from former Newark Mayor Cory Booker about the $100 million pledge Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg made to Newark’s schools after a protracted tug-of-war. The project has compelled New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to share his calendar with the public to reveal details about meetings with Fox News Chief Roger Ailes, vindicated members of the public wrongly excluded from public meetings, ensured changes to regulations that had created broad exemptions to the Open Public Records Act, and aided in securing meaningful standards for public notice of government meetings, among dozens of other victories large and small.

"We thank the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey for their commitment to improving government transparency, and we are proud to recognize the organization with the prestigious Eileen Cooke Award," said Barbara Stripling, president of the American Library Association.

The awards ceremony takes place at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., as part of the ALA’s National Freedom of Information Day Conference. Past recipients of the Eileen Cooke Award for openness advocacy on the state and local level include Patricia Glass Schuman, founder of Neal-Schuman Publishers, and the Minnesota Coalition on Open Government. Recipients of the national version of the Eileen Cooke Award, the James Madison Award, include Internet freedom pioneer Aaron Swartz, the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold and philanthropist George Soros.