Conflicts that pit our professional stance in favor of intellectual freedom against citizen pressure or our own impulses to suppress “inappropriate” expression is the oldest challenge librarianship faces. When the modern library movement was born, librarians thought they were gatekeepers. Early debates over whether fiction should be banned ultimately morphed into the profession’s current position: no one has the right to tell anyone else what they are allowed to read.
On May 16 U.S. District Judge John J. Tharp Jr. dismissed a second amended complaint filed by Bridget Bittman, former public information director of the Orland Park Public Library (OPPL), IL, against New Jersey–based blogger Dan Kleinman, who describes himself as a “library watchdog” on his website SafeLibraries
A recent Harris poll on attitudes about book banning and school libraries revealed that out of the 2,244 U.S. adults surveyed in March 2015, the percentage who felt that certain books should be banned increased by more than half since the last similar study conducted in 2011. In addition, more believe that some books deserve to be banned than movies, television shows, or video games.
The administration at Crafton Hills College, a community college in Yucaipa, CA, recently denied a student’s request to remove what she considered objectionable material from a college course on graphic novels. After enrolling in the course and purchasing her books, Tara Schultz was surprised to learn that some of the titles included mature material. “I expected Batman and Robin, not pornography,” she told the Redland Daily Facts (RDF). The four books on the syllabus she found objectionable included: Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin, 2006); Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1, by Brian Vaughan (Vertigo, 2003); The Sandman, Vol. 2: The Doll’s House, by Neil Gaiman (1990, DC Comics); and Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon, 2004).
On May 8 the Library Association of the City University of New York (LACUNY) Institute held its annual one-day conference, “Privacy and Surveillance: Library Advocacy for the 21st Century,” at New York City’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice in honor of Choose Privacy Week 2015, May 1–7, sponsored by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (ALA OIF).
I recently watched the film “The Monuments Men,” which tells the story the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archive program that was established under the Civil Affairs and Military Government Sections of the Allied armies. This program was tasked to rescue fine art pieces before the Nazis had a chance to destroy or steal them during World War II. Sadly, the program ended in 1946. It is very much needed today.
At Illinois’s 99th General Assembly on February 29, State Representative Peter Breen (R-District 48) introduced House Bill 2689, which would create the Internet Screening in Public Libraries Act (ISPLA). The act provides that every public library in the state of Illinois must have a “technology protection measure,” such as filtering software, in place on all public computers “to prevent the display on a public computer of any visual depictions that are obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors.” The library may disable the technology on request for an adult engaged in legitimate research. ISPLA contains no definition of “legitimate research.”
Librarians and libraries are essential to discourse about intellectual freedoms. Now we have more work to do in light of violent efforts to curtail such rights, perhaps most notably the January 7 attack on the offices of Paris’s weekly Charlie Hebdo. For me, these events brought our work to date into high relief but also intensified a sense of urgency about what librarians can do to defend a richer understanding of the value of freedom of inquiry and expression.
The 2014 American Library Association (ALA) annual conference in Las Vegas this week set the stage for Banned Books Week, scheduled for September 21-27, 2014. This year, Banned Books Week will shine light on banned and challenged comic books and graphic novels. On the show floor, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF), which provides legal support and expertise to readers, authors, and librarians, debuted a new handbook offering rundowns of commonly challenged comic titles, myths about banned books, and ideas for programming around Banned Books Week.
Controversy over reading selections at a pair of colleges in South Carolina last year has reared its head again, and this time it may result in budget cuts for the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina Upstate. The budget committee in the state House of Representatives recommended budget cuts totaling $70,000 for the two schools, which assigned incoming students and others to read literature about LGBT issues last year.