book burning threat makes headlines in WI challenge dispute

I read this CNN article about a group in Wisconsin who has been fighting with the West Bend Community Memorial Library over the group’s desire to have a long list of YA books moved to the adult section of the library. Their challenge failed, but there’s a lawsuit pending.

The news article has the predictable all-over-the-place approach to the issue but it seems that this is one of those fights that has everything including outraged parents, a beleaguered library board whose members don’t have their terms renewed, assertion of First Amendment rights, threats of book burning, and a lot of homophobic-sounding nastiness. The article, though on the web, also doesn’t seem to understand the usefulness of hyperlinks to telling a story that is playing out on the web so I have added them here

I really wish the library or the city had more accessible public statements about this whole ongoing mess.

Judith Krug, 1940 – 2009 champion of intellectual freedom

We’re starting National Library Week on a bittersweet note with an obit in Library Journal for Judith Krug. Judith Krug was a huge personal inspiration for me since before I even started library school. She had been the head of the ALAs Office for Intellectual Freedom since before I was born. She was a no compromise defender of intellectual freedom, and a very politically minded and savvy woman who showed us all how it’s done. She had to put up with an incredible amount of nonsense and vitriol by people who did not agree with her positions and yet she kept fighting for the rights guaranteed by the Constitution includng the rights of children. Here are a few links to neat things by/about her that you might want to read and reflect on.

Her energy, humor and tireless spirit will be sorely missed.

Topeka Library Board Restricts Access to Four Books

Library Journal put up a quick article about the Topeka Library Board’s decision from yesterday to restrict access to four books with sexual themes. I was following most of the meeting, in realtime with photos by keeping an eye on David Lee King’s twitter feed (starting about here) as I was in my all day meeting. Here’s the brief story from the AP Wire. I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this story.

One lawyer at the meeting told the newspaper he had already been approached by potential plaintiffs. “Because it would take these books off the shelves and place them out of reach of patrons browsing the shelves, the proposed policy is unconstitutional,” warned the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri in a letter to the board.

ACLU: Internet content filters, not for governments to decide

“Government imposed censorship is very different from censorship imposed by a parent.”
“Internet content filtering does in fact have flaws… It overblocks.”

Thanks to Sarah for the heads up and kudos for the ACLU using your research. I find that numbers, not emotional appeals are what are going to really help make the case against governmentally-mandated filters. Here’s hoping.

…also talked about a record for a penis.

Michael Sauers starts a small blog discussion about the Guinness Book of World Records causing trouble in school libraries based on a longer back and forth on the SYSTEMS mailing list including this interesting comment. [thanks david]

On Fact Checking and Sarah Palin and Book Banning

Hi. A lot has gone on since I posted the thread linking to the Time Magazine article about Sarah Palin. I would like to explain some things to possibly staunch the flow of emails I have gotten asking me about Comment Eleven, the supposed list of books Palin wanted to ban. That list is not in any way linked to Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin did not ban any books. She did, however, have many interactions with the Wasila librarian concerning the library’s collection and possible censorship/challenges/banning. Specific information about titles has not made it to any media report I’ve read and probably won’t. The librarian was fired, reinstated and ultimately resigned much later but not necessarily because of that incident. She is still a librarian in Alaska.

That information comes from the New York Times, ABC news and factcheck.org. There is a lot of misinformation about this entire situation and very few concrete facts. The list of books can be found other places on the Internet, and most recently on Snopes. Please go to Snopes if you need a site on the Internet to send people to who are still sending you that list.

Now, let’s look at what we do know. I actually got an email from the guy who left that comment on my blog. I’ve removed his last name because he asked me to. It would be easy enough to find elsewhere. Please do not repost it here. His assertion is that someone at his school was playing a trick on him leaving that comment and his email address. I verified that he lived in the same place where the IP address of the comment came from. I made him friend me on Facebook so that I was certain the person who sent me the email was in fact the person (or at least had an identical name and email address) who left the comment. The man on Facebook is a real person and if this is some sort of nefarious scheme, it’s a dense and complicated one. I think it’s just a weird throwaway comment that happened at an exact time and place to gain traction and become a big deal.

I think I followed decent procedures both commenting multiple times in-thread and leaving a disclaimer on my original post that I didn’t think the list was accurate. Other people commented similarly in the thread as well. But you know what? People don’t read comments. Many of them didn’t read the post before or after I’d amended it. Or, they got the list over email, see it attributed to librarian.net and wrote me an email asking did I write it or was it accurate? I wrote back to every single person who asked me this (including people you may have heard of, interestingly enough) saying that there was no truth to the list and giving some backstory. The question I ask myself was and is: where does my responsibility for this begin and end? It was clear by the comments and the email I received that many people didn’t think I went far enough. I got at least a few SHAME ON YOU emails and comments from both sides of the Palin debates. I find those sorts of emails and comments disturbing.

Not that it matters particularly, but this weekend was also my birthday.

I’ve also been keeping an eye on several Palin threads where I work at MetaFilter (one with well over 4000 comments), so I simply didn’t have more time and attention to give to this thread on my blog and I closed the comments. I also created a comment policy of a sort, to give me a better leg to stand on if there’s a runaway thread like that in the future. My basic policy is as follows: I will not edit or delete other people’s comments (unless there’s a privacy or stalking-type issue) at the request of another reader. I may delete comments that are off-topic, abusive or just plain crazy. I’m fine with people disagreeing with me or other commenters. I’m less fine with people using my blog as a place to post anti-topic screeds and/or harass and insult other readers or me.

So, I encourage people who are still interested in the topic to find a place on the Internet that makes them happy and go find people to talk to about this topic. I’ll be leaving comments open here unless this thread just fills up with more PALIN SUCKS/OBAMA SUCKS type of talk. There are two librarian-oriented sites out there about Palin: Librarians Against Palin and Librarians For Palin that I would suggest keeping an eye on in the meantime.

I think this topic generally is important, but I don’t want to turn this blog into a political shouting match. I’d encourage you all to do your own research, impart your findings as honestly as you can, and be prepared when new information may come out that changes the way the playing field looks to you. It’s going to be a long few months in the US and we could use good fact-checking more than ever. Thanks, in a general sense, for all your attention.

Banned Books Week is next week

Banned Books Week is next week. ALA has nifty little web badges that they have made freely available and, in typical ALA fashion, given a bunch of instructions for how you’re supposed to use them (link to this URL, include this ALT text, etc.). If it were me, I think I’d just put the images on my own server, give people the HTML to include the image on their site and use some handy stats-tracker to keep track of how many people had been viewing the banned books buttons, maybe even in realtime. That would be cool. Oh wait, I can do that.

Want to use it? Copy this HTML (and mind the line breaks): <a href=”http://newprotest.org/details.pl?495″><img src=”http://librarian.net/tempo/bbw.gif”/></a> and thank the folks at newprotest who made it originally.

If it were me, I’d definitely make sure that the main Banned Books Page was a bit better at explaining why Banned Books Week exists, rather than just linking me right to the ALA store. ALA’s Action Guide is probably a better place to start.

Each year, the American Library Association (ALA) is asked why the week is called Banned Books Week instead of Challenged Books Week, since the majority of the books featured during the week are not banned, but “merely” challenged. There are two reasons. One, ALA does not “own” the name Banned Books Week, but is just one of several cosponsors of BBW; therefore, ALA cannot change the name without all the cosponsors agreeing to a change. Two, none want to do so, primarily because a challenge is an attempt to ban or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A successful challenge would result in materials being banned or restricted.

So this is saying two things really: one, they can’t change the name; two, they wouldn’t change it if they could. Couldn’t you just say that? Why is this explanation so obtuse? “none want to do so because…” because why? I’d be much happier if they’d just said “Look, we sank $5000 into t-shirts that we haven’t sold yet. We’re keeping the name” And if this question is asked every year, shouldn’t it maybe be on the FAQ by now? Since ALA talks so much about its cosponsors, let’s look at what they’re doing this year

Since ALA is really the main go-to organization for this “holiday”, maybe it’s time they had more of a destination site (ireadbannedbooks.org is taken, sadly) instead of just cramming all their information into the ALA template and enduring terrible URLs (link goes to “quick and easy” guide to BBW for librarians, wouldn’t you like to write down that URL and share it?) This would beat pseudoparticipatory pages like the Vote for Your Favorite Banned Book page which is clearly geared towards the YA crowd which asks you WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CHALLENGED BOOK (PICK ONE) (emphasis theirs). It also highlights the thing we know about Banned Books Week that we don’t talk about much — the bulk of these books are challenged by parents for being age-inappropriate for children. While I think this is still a formidable thing for librarians to deal with, it’s totally different from people trying to block a book from being sold at all.

My plan is to spend this year’s Banned Books Week reflecting on the nature of intolerance, predjudice and flat-out anxiety, motivators that causes people to want to control the ideas and issues that other people can have access to. Libraries and schools are two places that this happens in the public sphere, but we all know there are many more. So buy a bracelet if you want to, but don’t kid yourself that you can shop your way out of this problem. You can’t buy a ticket to freedom, not one that works anyhow.

update: 1,272 4,785 hits on the image so far!

intellectual freedom: yours mine and ours

I’ve been slow on posting lately. There have been big topics that I’ve been chewing on and haven’t known quite what to do with. One of the stories that I keep hoping will get more in the way of legs is the the Scott Savage/OSU story. Savage is an Ohio State University librarian. The undisputed facts of the situation read like this

Scott Savage, an OSU research librarian, was on a committee selecting a book for incoming freshmen to read. Savage, a Quaker, thought the books that were initially suggested all have a liberal bent, so he proposed four conservative ones, including The Marketing of Evil by David Kupelian.

More detail is here. What happened next is the subject of the dispute. Two professors objected to Savage’s strenuous support of a book that they felt was antagonistic towards gay people and filed harassment charged against him. You can read the official complaint here [large pdf]. There were a lot of angry reports of censorship mainly on conservative sites but the story didn’t get picked up by national media in any big way. Savage wrote about the incident for American Libraries but declined to edit it when they said they would not publish his article in full. I emailed him to ask him about the situation and the email I got from him was odd and not clarifying. According to Library Journal and American Libraries, the matter is mostly worked out and harassment charges [not sexual harassment] have been dropped, though the ACRL blog claims that Savage is now filing a complaints against his accusers. One participating faculty member has outlined his interpretation of events including stating that this is not the first time that this librarian has provoked controversy by promoting anti-gay literature.

But the news media’s coverage has missed a crucial point: the discrimination reports did not focus on the book suggestion so much as the librarian’s unyielding defense of the book, even after the revelation of its bigotry, his disparagement of faculty expertise and his forwarding of others’ e-mails to an outside organization. The claim that his proposal was tongue-in-cheek is belied by the fact that when he was employed at Lakeland Community College in 2004, he displayed an antigay book prominently, provoking controversy there, as well.

I was sort of waiting to see if the “hive mind” of the blogosphere would chew on the facts of this issue and arrive at some wisdom-of-crowds type conclusions that both sides could get behind but it seems like that is not going to be the case so I figured I’d just link it up and write it down here.

I go to Utah for all my porn, you?

The biggest laugh of my talk was probably when I was discussing classes I’d like to teach but can’t. I mentioned where to find the really good porn and people thoughtit was funny, something about a sort of frumpy library lady saying that made it double-plus-good, even though I really do know where it is… Thanks to Utah’s new censorware law, maybe we can just get the list of good porn sites from them.

out of town

I’m out of town until Tuesday. Anyone in the Raleigh/Durham area feel free to come to my talk Monday at 2 pm at UNC, details here.