Tag Archives: Office of Intellectual Freedom

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.