Archive for the ‘Collection Development’ Category

“Librarians” and “Pornography”

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009 has drawn to the attention of the Intellectual Freedom Round Table listserv to the story Librarians Won’t Give Child ‘Porn’ Book on the web site for WTVQ-TV in Lexington, KY. The story involves two “librarians” at the Jessamine Public Library who were dismissed last month for refusing to give a book they considered pornographic to an 11year old girl. The book was one of the volumes of Alan Moore’s series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Alan Moore is a graphic novelist of high repute and the author of such works as Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and From Hell. He writes graphic novels for an adult audience. Indeed, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s ideal reader would be an adult with an encyclopedic knowledge of popular literature from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Moore’s vision of the world is bleak and that translates into stories that can be violent and often entail sexual violence. I have a friend–a fellow librarian–who is a graphic novel enthusiast, but who has quit reading Moore because he objects to the frequent occurrence of rape in his works.

That being said, the two “librarians” did not follow the policy of the Jessamine Public Library that “the responsibilities of the child’s reading must lie with the parents and not the Library.” Instead, they chose to remove the book from a hold shelf so it could not be picked up by the 11 year old girl. The Jessamine Public Library is to be applauded for its stand on parental responsibility. The two “librarians” deserved reproach for their decision.

Now, if you go to the story on the WTVQ-TV web site you’ll see that many of the comments on the story are by librarians who are quick to point out that the two staff members probably did not have masters degrees in library science and hence were not really librarians. Of course, from the point of view of anyone not employed in a library or a library school, they were librarians. Everyone in the library except the cleaning staff is a librarian.

The assumption behind this careful restriction of the title is a belief that true librarians would not have made the same error. I also think that the readers of the ACRL Intellectual Freedom blog might assume the academic librarians would certainly not make such an error. I disagree. I think all librarians (both in the strict and loose definitions of the title) at all levels of librarianship need to be reminded of our commitments to intellectual freedom and that the reminders should be repeated frequently.

In 1992, when Madonna published her book SEX, I remember the book on the approval plan shelves. We all, of course, gave it a look. If you have never seen it, you have missed nothing. It is a silly attempt to shock. The text is trite and the photos are a stale imitation of the work of Robert Mapplethorpe and other artists who truly explored the limits of sexual depiction. What has always stuck in my mind about the book is not any of its pictures or text, but a note a librarian left on the book:  “Please please don’t buy this trash for the collection.” The note was left by a librarian I deeply respect, but who had a strong personal reaction to the work. The sociology selector who was responsible for collecting materials on sexual expression and erotica ended up having a long talk with the concerned librarian. They discussed the role such a work would play in the collection and its likely importance as an artifact of the period and came to an agreement that it was appropriate for the library. In fact, two copies of SEX were ultimately purchased: one for a special collection on human sexuality and the other for the circulating collection (albeit the volume was kept in the closed stacks so it would survive intact and could be circulated).

All librarians reach these points in building collections whether our reaction is to sexual content or violence or hatred or gross human stupidity. We all, therefore, require reminders of our principles so reason will keep our feelings in check, so we will do the job of protecting intellectual freedom.

—Paul Beavers

Celebrating Banned Books at University of Arizona

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

Well we didn’t ban any books at the Banned Books Week event at the U of A this week. We tried to come up with titles we would want to ban, but always found a reason not let them be.  For the most part, the best reason we could come up with for not censoring is that we didn’t like them.

And that really is the point of Banned Books Week. It is easy to celebrate challenged books that are wonderful literature like Lolita and Catch-22. But we aren’t a free society if we don’t also support those books we disagree with.

– Dan Lee

Alternative Media Reception at ALA Annual

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

from the Alternatives in Media Task Force and the Alternative Press Center:

On Monday, July 13, from 7-10 pm, the Alternative Media Reception (ALA Annual, Chicago) will join forces with the SRRT 40th Anniversary Celebration in a not-to-be-missed event featuring great food, drink, and music as well as books, zines, and other materials from progressive publishers in Chicago and all over North America.

The location is at Experimental Station, in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Experimental Station takes its name from a 1901 Frank Lloyd Wright speech, “The Art and Craft of the Machine”, and is occupied by various collaborative projects in independent publishing, contemporary art, experimental music, organic gardening, bulk food purchasing, ecological initiatives and youth education. The event is accessible via public transportation; the Metra Electric Line departing from Millennium Park Station (Michigan Ave. and Randolph St.) services the 59th Street (University of Chicago) Station, a quick walk from Experimental Station. The CTA bus #6 Jackson Park Express also runs from The Loop (via State St.) to Hyde Park.

The all-you-can eat buffet is a reasonable $20, payable at the door. See your old friends, make new friends, catch the latest in independent perspectives, and wish SRRT another 40 years of happy activism!

For more information, contact Lyn Miller-Lachmann (; 518-729-3976)

Access to Information as a Social Responsibility

Friday, February 6th, 2009

Recently, I’ve come to the realization that Intellectual Freedom, as envisioned by this committee and ALA in general, is a social responsibilities issue. For librarians, providing access to all types of information is a fundamental responsibility, and one that is taken very seriously.  This responsibility is one we have to all patrons, regardless of their backgrounds and regardless of what kind of library we are working in. Of course, we are all limited by budgets and collection development policies, and seemingly simple words like access and information can get bogged down by things like scope and value considerations, but this cornerstone of librarianship prevails.

For a librarian to include a variety of information sometimes means including more information than might be proportionately available. This also involves sometimes including material in a collection that has been proven to be wrong (or is highly contended), in order  to fully demonstrate the spectrum of information made available on any one subject.  These aspects of collection development are known and discussed. Also discussed is the fact that an individual librarian’s (or library’s) views should affect the provision of this variety of information.

One aspect of collection development I have never heard discussed is this:

For a librarian to most honestly provide the greatest degree of access, must the bibliographer’s biases be made known at a certain point, so that patrons (and/or supervisors and colleagues) may have more knowledge and information with regards to what informed certain purchases? If excellent service is being provided, does it matter? Does knowing a librarian’s opinions vary from your own make one more likely to put the collection under greater scrutiny? Or is the reason I haven’t heard this discussed because we, as a profession trust one another to allow our commitment to this responsibility to transcend our individual politics?

-Xima Avalos

Google Book Settlement

Friday, January 30th, 2009

There has been some recent activity and commentary around the proposed settlement of the two cases involving Google Book Search. First, Tim Vollmer from ALA’s Washington Office has pulled together an extensive list of blog postings and other commentary. This is a great resource and I hope Tim continues to keep it up to date.

Also, over at Talking Points Memo’s TPMCafe Book Club there has been an broad ranging discussion of the settlement (or at least in mid-January there was). The discussion is organized around Randall Stross’ recent book Planet Google: One Company’s Audacious Plan to Organize Everything We Know. The discussion then really takes off with separate posts by Nicholas Carr, author of the Atlantic piece “Is Google Making Us Stupid?,” NYU law professor James Grimmelman, who posted several suggestions for changes to the settlement the trial judge should insist on in his own blog The Laboratorium, David Vise, author of The Google Story: Inside The Hottest Business, Media and Technology Success of Our Time, and Siva Vaidhyanathan who is preparing his own Google book on his blog The Googlization of Everything.

Much of the conversation raises concerns about Google’s market dominance and their exclusive provision of access to the contents of publicly funded libraries. So far we have little evidence of any bias in the presentation of the scanned books. However, we need to be wary of leaving so much of our documented culture in the hands of a single corporation who may intend to “Do no evil” but who are still primarily responsible to the financial benefit of their shareholders. Remember, Google already gave in to the Chinese government and offers a censored version of search within the borders of the country. The monopolization of the commons could be their next (mis)step.

Robert Darnton makes a similar point in his delightful piece for the New York Review of Books where he too questions the commercialization of content of our library collections and wonders if this may lead to what has happened with scholarly journals since WWII. He also raises concern over the likely result of the settlement to set an extremely steep barrier for any other entrants into this market.

At the recent discussion at ALA’s Midwinter meeting, Dan Clancy from Google said a lot things that should give us more confidence that many of these concerns are over blown. But many questions remain. This is a story worth keeping an eye on.

— Dan Lee