Should it be okay to sue librarians for saying your books are bad?

Learned about this story two days ago and by the time I could put something together it has zipped around the internet already. Long story short: blogging academic librarian (and librarian.net favorite Dale Askey) makes negative probably-factual statements about a publisher. Publisher sues librarian and his current employer (who was not his employer at the time of the blog post) for millions of dollars for libel. Not okay, right? While the suit will probably prove groundless, it’s a waste of people’s time and money and an assault on the idea of academic and intellectual freedom. Please inform yourself and spread the word about Edwin Mellen Press’ wrongheaded decision to sue a librarian for writing about his negative impressions of their products.

  1. I first read about this here. Additional links including the “notice of action” are here.
  2. Specifics at Inside Higher Ed here
  3. Read the deleted-but-archived blog post in question here.
  4. McMaster’s public statement is here.
  5. A very nice “What can be done” assessment. In short: consider removing any automatic purchases from Mellen Press
  6. Dale’s blog and his twitter feed
  7. BoingBoing and Gawker have taken notice.
  8. If you are the petition signing type, please sign this petition.

Banned Books Week as seen through its funders’ eyes

More on the Chicago Defender.
Here are my old Banned Books Weeks posts: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. I skipped 2005.

It’s time for a review of Banned Books Week. This year most of my BBW information comes from Twitter. Amusingly BBW on Twitter can mean two very different things. This is the note I put on Twitter yesterday.

“Oh look an actual attempt at, well not book banning exactly. Weird old Pentagon. http://bit.ly/cqg9PL Happy [sort of] Banned Books Week.”

Pretty sketchy story. The Pentagon bought up the entire first printing of a book published by St Martin’s Press because it “contained information which could cause damage to national security.” The second edition has come out, heavily redacted. This is one of the closer “government is telling you what you can’t read” stories that I’ve seen this year. Here’s another look at the websites that are linked from ALA’s offical BBW website ala.org/bbooks, a page that is linked from the front page, but only as one of the six “slides” that revolve through the top of the page. So, Banned Books Week is sponsored by these organizations. Let’s see what their websites look like.

One of the interesting thigns to note about the ALA list of challenges is how many of the public library challenges seem to be centered around just a few library systems. Most of these stories are ones that hit the national news and so I’ve heard about them and you probably have also.

There are also good websites to go to to learn about censorship and the larger (to me) issue of chilling effects on people’s right to live free from fear and free from silencing. Here are a few things I’ve been reading lately

Join me in a rousing song celebrating free expression, won’t you?

what’s happening from the middle of “banned books week” websites

Here are my old Banned Books Weeks posts: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008. I skipped 2005.

I’ve been down with The Crud for the past few weeks. Not really sick, but not having a lot of extra energy to get involved in things outside my own library and jobs. Banned Books Week started on Saturday and runs through this week. I’ve been invited to an evening with readings from banned books tomorrow night and I think I’m staying home.

I’m not sure if I’m getting complacent, sick of this holiday, sick generally, or there really is a lot less enthusiasm this year from years previous. The ALA page is usually my starting point and it seems a little less lively than usual. Their calendar of events is Chicago based (wouldn’t it be great if they were an aggregator to BBW activity worldwide? Does such a thing exist) and indicates to me that they still haven’t learned to resize images before uploading them. The ALAOIF blog hasn’t posted yet this week though they did link to this cute video put out by ALA which I enjoyed. The main ALA BBW page doesn’t even link to the Banned Books Week page which is supposedly the “go to” page for current information — and does have a calendar of sorts — which has a broken stylesheet declaration which makes all the pages look like they were designed in 2003.

As usual, I clicked through from the ALA web page to the home pages of all the organizations who are co-sponsors of Banned Books Week. Here’s what I found.

Even ALA’s home page doesn’t mention Banned Books Week except on page six of their slide show where they tell us what we can buy to support it.

I wonder a little bit if this is what a post-Judith Krug ALA looks like? On a brighter note, let’s look at some Banned Books Week web pages that are useful and/or interesting

While I’m talking about this, I’d also like to mention the data on the PBS page.

According to the ALA there have been 3,736 challenges from 2001-2008:

* 1,225 challenges due to “sexually explicit” material
* 1,008 challenges due to “offensive language”
* 720 challenges due to material deemed “unsuited to age group”
* 458 challenges due to “violence”
* 269 challenges due to “homosexuality”
* 103 challenges due to “anti-family”
* 233 challenges due to “religious viewpoints”

I think we need to look hard at this list and draw some conclusions about what sort of people believe that restricting access to books for these reasons is both a good idea or a reasonable thing to expect to be able to get away with. And then, if we want to get serious, I think we need to hit these points directly and ask people why they’re afraid of sex, or gay people (or penguins), or swearing. It’s nice to say that “free people read freely” but it’s another to be in a situation where your institutions are getting pressured by people who are intolerant and thinking that speaking truth to power is all you need to do. I’ve talked a little more about this in the MetaFilter thread about Banned Books Week, it’s always a reflective time of year for me.

Also, ALA knows that BBW means something else, right?

a few new interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights

While I wish, as per usual, that the URL and the web page were friendlier and that I could see what changes were made, ALA has released a few more council-approved interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights, two new, two revised, one new from Midwinter. I’ll link to the new stuff individually as well.

Some discussion in the comments over at LISNews.

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.