Freedom of speech is for everyone, and includes the freedom to say “I don’t think this belongs in the library,” just as it also includes the freedom to say “sorry, but the library is for everyone in the community, including people who find this book useful” or “I can understand that you wouldn’t want your child reading books on that subject, and I can respect your opinion, but some parents do want their children reading books on that subject.”
It’s time for my semi-regular round up of Banned Books Week websites. You can look at past posts on this topic by checking out the bannedbooksweek tag here or here is a list of the annual posts More on the Chicago Defender.
Here are my old Banned Books Weeks posts: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. I skipped 2005.
As usual, you get a neat real-time look at what’s going on by following the Twitter hashtag. As usual there are two “main” sites the ALA site at ala.org/bbooks and the bannedbooksweek.org site. ALA has their usual site, links to shopping, links to the main site (which is a 404, oops), links to advocacy materials. They decided to do a virtual read-out instead of an in-person event and I’ve been clicking through some of the YouTube videos on the BBW channel. All the stuff I’ve seen so far seems like it would be what we call SFW [safe for work] and I’m vaguely curious if there could be something so racy that you’d get one of those “You have to be 14 to see this video” warnings up because, hey, that’s its own form of limiting speech. But I think that stuff is only for photos of people in their underwear, or maybe self-reported. The Banned Books Week main site has been up and down today and seems to mostly be pointing to the same stuff. They have a Twitter account but have never used it. The design gets better every year.
Here is the list of organizations who are co-sponsors. Let’s look at their websites.
- American Booksellers Association – hasn’t mentioned Banned Books Week on their site since 2009 if the search is to be believed. BBW does not show up under “advocacy” or “news” however a link to their blog does have news about their ongoing auction for BBW which appears to be a project of ABFFE. There are other BBW posts but no tag to find them all, though this listing is close.
- American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression – has a wordy page with information about the Read-out and the auction and a link to their Twitter feed which is mostly about the auction.
- American Library Association – has that clicky slide show on their home page, in which #4 is a link to the Banned Books site on ALA.org. None of their “news” links to banned books news.
- American Society of Journalists and Authors – linked to their Banned Books Page which has a nice little summary of the things their organization did in 1982 to raise visibility of Banned Books. Their Twitter has a link to a place where you can buy buttons.
- Association of American Publishers – they’ve been really busy with Kindle lending announcements and meeting with ALA. Their website has a news story about BBW highlighting the read-out and linking to some of the things their publishers are doing.
- National Association of College Stores – nothing, as usual.
There is also the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress who endorses Banned Books Week (though no link on their site?) as well as a few organizations who have signed on as sponsors
- Comic Book Legal Defense Fund – has this post on their site, as well as this chilling case about someone getting in trouble at the Canadian border for having explicit comics on his laptop.
- National Coalition Against Censorship – has a lot of good information on its website and their blog is always a good read.
- National Council of Teachers of English – has a front page link to the BBW site and a little more activity on its Facebook page, nothing on Twitter.
- PEN American Center – has a neat podcast between children’s book Robie H. Harris and Susan Patron. You can see a few more posts from their blog under the banned books week tag.
So I’d cautiously call this an improvement over last year. More coordinated programming, better talking between sites. I’m still looking for a good Banned Books Week Twitter list [i.e. with the sponsors] and if I don’t see one I guess I’ll make one. I’ve been enjoying the YouTube videos. My own tastes this year go to ebooks and thinking about, with the additional layer of middlemen in the ebook world of buying, licensing and lending, what it really means to be banned or censored an an ebook universe. Look for a post about pirates later in the 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.
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.