Tag Archives: American Library Association

Banned Book Week September 22-28

We’re halfway through the week, but it’s not too late to “celebrate” Banned Books Week (September 22-28).  Though the First Amendment deserves constant vigilance, it is wise – particularly in these times – to acknowledge and reflect that censorship is alive, well, and a bit quirky.   Banned Books Week is one of the ways we pause to refresh our commitment to free speech in whatever form and environment.  More important, it is a time to actively celebrate the freedom to read and learn, express and allow others to do the same.

Banned Book Week has its roots in the early 80’s when a surge of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries burst forth.  Today the week is sponsored by a coalition of booksellers, librarians, publishers, journalists, teachers ad readers committed to the freedom to “seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”

Sponsors of BBW are clear about the distinction between “banning” and merely “challenging” a book or other resource.   “A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.  A banning is the removal of those materials.  Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.”

The list of books challenged in 2012 gives a flavor of what’s being banned these days.  Here are the top five titles that some folks find offensive.

  • Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
  • Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
  • Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group
  • Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James.
  • Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
  • And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson.
  • Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group
  • The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini.
  • Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit

You get the idea.  There are always new titles, while some chestnuts, such as the work of Toni Morrison, are perennial favorites of the banners.

Basics of BBW are on the website at http://www.bannedbooksweek.org.  One of the eye-opening resources you’ll find there is a listing of the 100 most frequently challenged books listed by decade.  One reaction is the realization that the more then things change, the more they remain the same.  The other is the wonderment about what in heavens name someone found offensive in the challenged book!

The American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom offers some clarification on that question.  The top three reasons given for challenging materials are 1.the material was considered to be “sexually explicit”
2.the material contained “offensive language”
3.the materials was “unsuited to any age group”

Lest you think the bibliophiles are stuck in the world of print, BBW 2013 is a definite social media extravaganza.  For example, PEN American Center sponsored a live “hangout on air” with Sherman Alexis on Monday (Sorry to say it’s too late for that, but…

There are Twitter parties, one scheduled for Wednesday September 25, 1:00-3:00 CDT – Hashtag  #bannedbooksweek.

Local independent bookstores, educational institutions, libraries and others are sponsoring events, exhibits and promotions to remind the public of the subtle, sometimes not-so-subtle, challenges to the fundamental right to read, learn and express ideas.

Sponsors of BBW include these national organizations and institutions:


Librarians Face Digital Dilemmas with Principles, Experience & Concern for Patrons’ Rights

As the nation grapples with the Faustian choice between the right to know and the right to privacy, librarians should have a place at the table.  From time immemorial they have struggled to balance the rights.  Librarians have staunchly fought for open government and gone to jail to protect their patrons’ privacy against over-zealous government snooping.  The fact is that librarians think a lot about information; as one observer writes, they are “information connoisseurs.”

Thousands of librarians are gathered this week in Chicago where they will find grounding in traditional principles honed in a print environment to face the challenges of a digital world.   Though the ramifications are incalculable, none is more center stage than those that juxtapose the dilemma between access and privacy now challenging the nation.

Unreconstructed advocate for open government that I am, I am proud of the library profession for its staunch commitment to privacy.  Wise professionals have anticipated the threats to patrons’ privacy.  Towards this end the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom maintains a robust library of digital resources devoted to the principle that the preserving “the freedom to read and receive ideas anonymously is at the heart of individual liberty in a democracy.”

In a recent position paper the Office of Intellectual Freedom directly faces the tension between the right to access and the right to privacy.  The report makes the clear distinction between personal and public information.  At the same time OIF anticipates the confusion facing Americans in the wake of leaks of government and attendant charges and challenges:

When the right to privacy is eroded or stripped away, people are more likely to abandon or curtail their exploration of unpopular and unorthodox points of view.  This chilling effect puts the intellectual development of our citizenry at risk.  The very character of the American mind, which is premised on open inquiry, is thereby robbed of the free flow of ideas that makes innovation possible.

In the past, closing a curtain, sealing a record, or simply choosing not to share one’s information could protect privacy.   But emerging technologies are compromising privacy rights and changing social norms.  Computers, online networks and databases collect and store personal information, which may then be freely traded among government offices, corporations, and law enforcement agencies without an individual’s knowledge or consent.  Few people protest when they are required to give away their personal information Identity theft and data breaches are occurring more frequently – confirmation that individuals can no longer feel confident that the institutions holding their information are treating it with due care and consideration.

Other privacy rights are equally at risk.  Concerns about national security and crime have spurred political interest groups and law enforcements agencies to question traditional expectations of privacy.  These groups are now advocating changes in the law that diminish stator privacy protections and permit the government to peer into personal lives.

 Librarians who have their professional fingers on the pulse of the public and of the technology know that in a digital age Americans must be responsible for their own information privacy.   As usual, they know that ultimate responsibility for protection of individual rights an informed public.  The concern is that many people who routinely use public access facilities are unaware of the potential intrusion on their right to privacy. As part of Choose Privacy Week 2013 the ALA posted a useful tip sheet for patrons entitled Protect Your Privacy While Using Public Computers & Wi-Fi appropriate for libraries or any other public setting.

The usual suspects – politicians, propagandists and pundits – would do well to update their stereotypes and pull up some chairs for the librarians who have spent their professional lives cogitating digital age dichotomies long before they went viral.


Even Better than the 2013 ALA Conference

Buried deep in the heart of every recovering librarian lies the certain knowledge that the faithful are gathered this week in Chicago, mecca of American librarianship, for the annual conference of the American Library Association.  Not to worry, Josh Hanagame, author of The World’s Strongest Librarian, offers literary solace.  USA Today asked Hanagame to comb the genre to suggest his five favorite books about libraries.

Though most library types would disagree with the or any list of books, Hanagame’s selections offer fodder for discussion for the bereft who are not joining the much-touted pilgrimage to the Windy City.

Here’s Hanagame’s list with comments, prime material for explication, analysis, review and comment, even reading….

  • The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco.  “I’ve always wanted to visit the labyrinthine library in The Name of the Rose, if only to see if I could find my way out.  I’d probably forget I was in a maze and just sit down and start reading.”
  • A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books, by Nicholas Basbanes.  “My favorite book about books, the people who collect them, and libraries of all kinds.”
  • The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss.  “The scenes where Kvothe is poking around the Archives are some of my favorites in the series to date.”
  • Matilda, by Roald Dahl.  “’Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea.  These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message.  You are not alone.’ Enough said.”
  • The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova.  “I’m a sucker for anyone chasing forbidden knowledge around the stacks of old library, and if it means you get chased by vampires, so be it.”

That’s Hanagame’s list.  Every bibliophile will have a personalized variation on the theme.  Try asking the question at the next book club gathering.  Come up with your own short list.  Any matches?  Assure yourself that they’re probably not talking about this stuff at ALA anyway.

Margaret Mann Citation Honors Librarian Edward Swanson

Some weeks ago, when Edward Swanson died  prematurely, my first thought was to reflect on his contributions to the Quatrefoil Library and to our collective understanding of GLBT literature and writers. That tribute recalled a minor snippet of Edward’s contribution to the library profession he loved throughout his life.  (The rumor persists that he actually joined the Minnesota Library Association when he was still in high school!)

Recemt;u we have learned that the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services (ALCTS), a division of the American Library Association, will honor Edward for his lifetime of professionalism by awarding him posthumously with the distinguished Margaret Mann Citation.  The Citation is conferred by the Cataloging and Classification Section of ALCTS. Too many acronyms, but the message is that Edward will receive a major award from the professional association he served so well.

In truth, the fine points of cataloging and classification have always intrigued me for their complexity.  I have long admired the commitment of librarians who choose cataloging and classification as their career path.  They exemplify uncanny understanding of and unswerving commitment to the vagaries of the inscrutable and unpredictable human being on a personal information quest.

The Margaret Mann Citation and Edward’s commitment to organizing information with the user in mind leads me now to learn more about the passion of these outstanding professionals.  This leads me to reflect on the ways that, in the rush to spew forth ever more information, the technology  revolution has seemed to render irrelevant that zeal for organization, access and the proclivities of the individual on an information quest.

My growing concern is that it is at our peril that we construct Digital Towers of Babel  destined to overwhelm and thus confound the hapless user. Useful as they may be, tags, full-text search engines and their endless progeny have yet to master human interaction with knowledge –  the skills, tools, and discernment of a librarian toiling behind the scenes to catalog and classify information and ideas for a community of users whose interests and search habits know no bounds.

As so I go back to contemplating the life and legacy of Margaret Mann.  Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1873 Mann was an independent learner – and. it would seem, an all round independent person.  After two years of study in the Department of Library Economy at the Armour Institute near Chicago, Mead stayed on to work at Armour, following the Institute as it was transferred to the University of Illinois at Springfield.

At the end of the 19th Century, Margaret was swept into the fray when, at the end of libraries experienced rapid change, moving from institutions that focused on organization and preservation to public resources that opened their doors and collections to the world at large. (Think Andrew Carnegie or Gratia Countryman!)

As libraries reached out, Margaret Mann moved up; in spite of her limited credentials she was recognized as an administrator and as a teacher who shared freely her knowledge, experience and perceptive interpretation of cataloging and classification.  To her rules were not ends in themselves, but well-wrought aids to assure standards and clear definitions, building blocks of today’s interoperability, shared resources, skills and communication in a digital environment.

At her core, Margaret Mann was driven by a motivation to share recorded and human information.  In fact, Mann spent most of her professional life, from 1926 until 1948, as a Professor of Library Science at the University of Michigan.  Under her tutelage, hundreds of graduates of the School of Library Studies experienced her vision and learned from her the elegant intricacies of describing and organizing information to assure retrievability. (That’s 21st talk for cataloging and classification).

During her time at Michigan Margaret Mann wrote prolifically on a broad range of topics including what was then known as “special librarianship” and today is called by whatever title works for HR professionals stymied by what to call an employee who locates, retrieves, evaluates, filters, tailors and otherwise makes timely and reliable information useful for management.

Mann also wrote about her personal interests including government publications, subject analysis and children’s literature.  Her magnum opus, was a textbook familiar to – though not necessarily beloved by – every graduate of a program in library or information science program.  Mann’s  Introduction to Cataloging and Classification, first published in 1930,  is a classic that remains today a major guide to the principles and philosophy of cataloging and classification.

Though she retired from teaching in 1938 Mann’s spirit lives on, best expressed in her own words.   Public service, Mann writes, is the goal towards which  “one turns his attention not to gratifying his own hunger for literature, but to the far broader task of studying, recording, and interpreting books so that they may reach the thousands of readers who are in search of reading matter of various kinds and for various persons.”

Mann’s mention of the book dates the quote.  Still her philosophy – and the contributions of those honored with the Margaret Mann Citation — meet the test of time.  Though information and telecommunications technology have reconfigured the format of recorded knowledge and redefined “ the task of studying, recording, and interpreting books” the challenge endures, to “reach the thousands of readers who are in search of reading matter of various kinds and for various persons.”

This was Edward Swanson’s  contribution to the profession of librarianship which was, in truth, his life’s work.  This, then, is the reason that his professional colleagues honor Edward, his professional forebearer, and a noble profession with the 2011 Margaret Meat Citation.

Saint Catherine University Master of Library and Information Science Program Accredited

There is good news this week for a brilliant and committed cadre of information professionals, aka librarians.   The basic announcement is brief and to the point:

January 12, 2011

The Master of Library and information science (MLIS) Program faculty and staff of St. Catherine University are delighted to announce that we have received initial accreditation from the American Library Association. We want to thank all of our students, alumnae/i, friends, and colleagues for their ongoing support and encouragement. To say that we are ecstatic would be an understatement. All of the St. Kate’s community has worked hard to make this happen for all of us. Please stay tuned for more.

Not mentioned here is that essential fact that this is also great news for this community that appreciates and needs the contribution these professionals will make..  The St. Catherine University Master of of Library and Information Science program is the only graduate professional library school in Minnesota.  As of now the program and its graduates are accredited and recognized by the American Library Association.  To some, that is a blip on the screen, to the students, graduates and the profession – not to mention the community – this is good and essential news.

For several years I served on the Committee on Accreditation of the American Library Association.  I know what an accomplishment accreditation is.  I applaud those who played a role and appreciate the work they have done to create a solid and sustainable program that deserves accreditation.  Most important, the St. Catherine University program looks to the future of life in the information age.

My primary concern is that we might well perish for lack of the skills, attitudes and deep understanding that the graduates of this program will contribute to this community.  It means clashing with the outrageously outdated stereotype of librarianship, carving out a niche in overpowering information age, understanding the organization of information and, far more important, the needs (today and future) of users.

Traditionally, the graduates of the SCU Library Science program have set a pace of excellence and service.  The graduates of this accredited program will have an easier row to hoe because they will have “the accredited degree.”  This augurs well – they’ve accomplished rung one, and from that vantage point they will rise high and contribute essential wisdom and class to the information age.

Full disclosure – I was once a librarian, not a graduate of the St. Catherine University MLIS program.  I fell into the profession, a plummet I have seldom regretted.