Banned Books Week in retrospect

Banned Books Week was last week

I’m aware that I have punted on Banned Books Week this year, but I’m okay with that. Seems like a lot of people did. Here are some of my old posts just for the record: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2007; guess I skipped it in 2005 also.

The Banned Books Week eponymous website, owned by ABFFE looks sort of the same as last year, only with new events. I really appreciate the effort they put into a nice-looking site, but in 2008 a few pages with links to other pages and one scrollable list of events worldwide seems a little flat.

ALA has been busy launching their new website and Banned Books Week didn’t even appear on the front page the last few times I looked. Their Banned Books Week pages have a slick logo (yay!) but no page titles and they’re still using our browsers to resize images which means the pages still load like crap for people in dial-up land. I know it’s picky, but I do think it’s impotant in the same way that I think ala.org/bbooks is a nicer URL to see in my address bar than any of the ones I wind up looking at. The pages I linked to on ALA.org from my 2006 post are all gone.

Additionally there’s the fact that it’s a month and change before the US elections and I’m tired of fighting with people about Sarah Palin, tired of defending the ALA against people who don’t believe in intellectual freedom for minors (when I have my own beefs with ALA, but that is not one of them) and tired, as always, of people using holiday-type events as a time when they tell me it’s okay and even patriotic to shop for things.

I worry somewhat that not wanting to have the same fights every year makes me susceptible to self-censorship, as this post by Anirvan contemplates. I also worry that nitpicking over the differences between “banned” and “challenged” books — though I think it’s real and important — obscures the real issues which to me are the continued corporatization of everything, and the shift from content owning to content renting as a librarianship model.

As an example, I have been working with tiny libraries using Overdrive for years now and I’m sorry their product is no good by any standard other than “well it’s the best we can do for now” and this hits especially hard out here in digital divide land with libraries with five-figure budgets. I’m aware that there always has to be a balance and I go to the supermarket [or the farm stand] for my food rather than grow it myself so I really do understand why labor-saving devices and services are important and possibly worth money.

So, the threats to our intellectual freedom and our freedom to read are not just people who want to harass the librarian into handing over a computer or removing a book from the shelf. They’re also people who get us to accept licenses that bind us unfairly and give away our rights, or the people who let us show movies, but not use their names in public advertising. People who make us afraid to photocopy a book chapter. People who act like we’re possibly thieves when we watch a video at home with a few people. People who flash warnings on our computer that we don’t understand that make us and our patrons feel that we’re unsafe. People who make us buy digital content twice in two different file formats. People who want us to buy an entire 10 CD set again because one of them got scratched. People who blur the line between necessary security upgrades and enhancements we don’t need. People who make us feel that filters are actually “protecting” us from anything. People who have a vested interest in us not understanding our own technology.

So I think I understand the steps for keeping books on the shelves at my local library — have a policy, make sure everyone understands it, be civil and respectful to everyone because you’re everyone’s librarian — and even how to deal with a search warrant. What I’m not sure of is who I talk to when I’m concerned about content ownership models and legislation unfavorable to libraries and ultimately to citizens. I know a few good places to start — the EFF, the ACLU, the CDT, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse — but I can always use more. Happy Last Week Was Banned Books Week Week.

16 Responses to “Banned Books Week in retrospect”

  1. Amy Ranger Says:

    “So, the threats to our intellectual freedom and our freedom to read are not just people who want to harass the librarian into handing over a computer or removing a book from the shelf. … [they're also ... ] People who have a vested interest in us not understanding our own technology.”

    Whoa! When you put it like that, sister, well, it reminds me of the book title by Maurice Sendak: “We’re all in the dumps with Jack and Guy.” Thanks for reminding us why we do what we do, Jessamyn. Now we need to work together to ask content producers to be reasonable in their expectations of what libraries can/should pay, before our country becomes more stupid than it is now.

  2. Elaine Says:

    Are there any decent alternatives to Overdrive? (Also, awesome post!)

  3. agathafrye Says:

    I endorse this post. I’ve been thinking a lot about crappy library products lately, and why the library industry can’t compete with the rest of the world of internet technology (I’m talking to you, Overdrive, Gale, Ancestry, Reference USA…). I think we as librarians are being too passive in our expectations for products that cost us exorbitant amounts. If it were any other product, we would be up in arms. Thank you for reminding us that we have a vested interest in this, Jessamyn.

    PS- as an aside, why doesn’t itunes have special library deals for their audiobooks? I thought they were all pro-education and shit.

  4. Matt B. Says:

    This is the first year that I received an invitation to help ban a book during Banned Books Week. The subject line of the email was “Inappropriate books at Ridgeview and other middle schools.” It seems like school libraries bear the brunt of “challenged” content. So for me, this year, the basic fight of keeping information and literature free felt renewed and real and still mostly about fighting ignorance and crusading moralism.

  5. rtha Says:

    Yes, yes, yes!

    Part of my job is to help people who want to reprint some of my work’s reports/charts/data etc. We don’t charge for reprint permissions, and it’s generally a rubber-stamp process. But I see an increasing number of emails from college students that say “Please, can I have permissions to quote a paragraph from report [Name]?” And I write them back and say, you don’t need reprint permission for this, it’s fair use, and here’s the title, publication number etc. so you can cite it properly. Then they write me back and say “But my professor said I have to ask for reprint permission.”

    Then I want to tear my hair out.

  6. Librarian.net ├╝ber die Banned-Books-Week « Nur mein Standpunkt Says:

    [...] UNTERSCHREIB [...]

  7. ahniwa Says:

    Great post! Just quick note to respond to Elaine (and perhaps for your own small libraries). OverDrive was the boss on the scene, but competition is finally beginning to step up.

    NetLibrary is on a new platform and still (as of last week, anyway) partnering with RecordedBooks to deliver good public library content. RecordedBooks may or may not be going with their own platform as well; they’ve been dodgey lately when I ask them. Ingram Digital is coming out with their own product, but they keep pushing it back (they’re shooting for ALA Midwinter now).

    Maybe OverDrive will start playing nicer when they’re not the only kid in the pond anymore, too. You never know.

  8. Auntie Nanuuq Says:

    Thank-you so very much for pointing out such RIP-OFFs as: Overdrive, being able to screen a movie but not advertise it by title, having to replace an entire set of BOCD/Tapes, and “filters”.

    I am so sick of being held hostage by these companies…and it’s even worse that huge library systems with multi-million dollar budgets kow-tow to these companies! I’d prefer to have nothing than foist an inferior product onto my customers, as if they are too stupid to know the difference!

    Thank-you again.

  9. Chris Turner Says:

    Great photo, by the way. And I was late to get my Banned Books Week going too, only got my display up in the middle of the week, busy visiting English and journalism classes chatting up banned books.

  10. Dan Kleinman Says:

    What an excellent banned books picture associated with this blog post. May I have permission to use it on my blog in a positive light or in humor? Thank you.

  11. jessamyn Says:

    Dan, no please don’t. Thank you.

  12. Michael Biltz Says:

    Acutally, I am quite pleased with Overdrive. What’s wrong with it?

  13. Banned Books Was Last Week Says:

    [...] seemed to be a fair bit of grumbling on the web about Banned Books Week this year. Jessamyn West didn’t write about it, until this week, a week too late. And the reason was, she’s much [...]

  14. Adrian Says:

    In this picture, the ring is in your left nostril, but in your site-wide photo, the ring is nestled in your right. What gives?

  15. jessamyn Says:

    Adrian – looks like my sitewide photo is reversed [Photo Booth does this, you can correct for it which I did in this photo] and I just now noticed. Funny!

  16. Cathy Says:

    I just learned about fact that when we pay an extra large fee for public performance rights we can’t use the title of the film in ads. What a rip-off!

    And I’ve just listened to an excellent webinar by Wesley Blakeslee from Johns Hopkins about fair use which has me thinking about things in a different light. Policies will be reviewed. But next week.