Archive for the ‘Threats to Intellectual Freedom’ 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

What Books Would You Ban?

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

I have agreed to be on a panel for a program sponsored by the local chapter of the Progressive Libarians Guild during Banned Books Week.  I’m thinking of doing something to test intuitions by getting people to think about what they might be tempted to ban, censor, or remove from the shelf. I’m looking for examples to prompt the thought.

So what books would you ban? Any ideas?

–  Dan Lee

The Way to Address Controversy

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

On September 9, I contributed a posting on the controversy over the Taylor and Francis Groups refusal to publish a special issue of The Journal of Homosexuality. I called their treatments of the scholars involved shameful. I think Robert Wright’s handling of a controversy at stands in marked contrast to what we saw from Taylor and Francis. is a video blog offering eight to nine split-screen dialogs (called diavlogs) each week between journalists, scholars, scientists, and others in the know. The editor in chief, Robert Wright, and his associates do an outstanding job of finding challenging pairings representing wide ranges of opinions and beliefs.

Most of the diavlogs concern politics and political punditry, but not all. Percontations offers weekly diavlogs encompassing philosophy and psychology, and Science Saturdays offers diavlogs on topics ranging from cosmology to linguistics, from chasing lightening to string theory.

Science Saturdays has been very successful in drawing both practicing scientists and accomplished science journalists. The participants clearly see their role as communicating the nature of science and scientific investigations as well as explicating the specifics of recent research.

All this merits mention on our Intellectual Freedom blog because of a recent controversy that arose when Paul Nelson, a young earth creationist, and Michael Behe, an advocate for intelligent design, were invited to participate in diavlogs.

To say the least, neither the viewers of nor the regular contributors to Science Saturday were pleased. Discussions of evolutionary theory and its place in K-12 science education are frequent on Science Saturdays. Giving a place at the table to proponents of pseudo-science felt like as a slap in the face to many. Two of the contributors to Science Saturday–Sean Carroll and Carl Zimmer–have publicly disassociated themselves from and have vowed never to participate again.

The manner in which Robert Wright handled the controversy stands in marked contrast to how the Taylor and Francis Groups treated Beert Verstraete and his associates.  They were, you’ll remember, simply told that the publisher had decided not to proceed. No explanation for the decision was offered. The material was handled as though it had simply come in over the transom and not as an issue that the editors had been encouraged to compile. Verstraete was left feeling that they had deceived him, getting him to withdraw Bruce Rind’s article from an earlier issue while feigning interest in later addressing Rind’s research on “sexual intimacy between adult and adolescent males”.

Robert Wright, in contrast, came forward and offered his explanation in a Science Saturday diavlog called Mistakes were Made. Wright makes quite clear that he takes responsibilities for any mistakes. He is also clear about what he is and is not willing to do to address the controversy.  On the page containing his diavlog, he also provides links to Sean Carroll, Carl Zimmer, and other contributors’ statements as well as to the two diavlogs in question. Everyone gets to have their say. Nothing is suppressed.

Wright also articulates his policies on how such controversial topics will be handled in the future without yielding to pressure to ban such representatives of pseudo-science from In fact, Wright explains that such people will appear when the context is appropriate. Intelligent design advocates and creationists (of either the young or old earth varieties) had not been invited in the past because they need to be paired with scientists who can discuss the foundations of evolutionary theory in a manner that is both accessible and absolutely solid. does after all want to have viewers and conveying the details that support evolutionary theory might well result in a diavlog that is more treatise than discussion. A diavlog that will be watched by no one benefits no one.

Wright also explained that both the controversial diavlogs were going to remain available on After asking the participants to expend the efforts to record their discussions–discussions that were precisely on the topics they were asked to address–he wasn’t about to throw their work away. The controversy concerning the piece with Michael Behe broke out when Wright was on a meditation retreat and incommunicado. During this period, Behe’s interlocutor asked that the diavlog be taken down. The moment Wright returned he had that the diavlog restored to the web site; a request from one of the participants was not sufficient to have the piece suppressed.

Have a listen to the diavlog or a look at the supporting materials. I particularly recommend the piece by John Horgan.

–Paul Beavers

Shameful Treatment of Scholars

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

A number of you will by now be familiar with this affair.  This is my personal take on the situation.

Dr. Beert Verstraete and Dr. John De Cecco guest-edited what was to have been a special issue of The Journal of Homosexuality. The issue addressed the theme of “Sexual Intimacy between Adult and Adolescent Males” and was built around a revised version of a paper by Dr. Bruce Rind of Temple University.  This paper was originally to have been published as part of an earlier special issue of The Journal of Homosexuality. Verstraete and De Cecco asked Rind to expand that paper and enlisted other scholars to contribute papers critiquing and reacting to Dr. Rind. They did so on the specific suggestion of Haworth Press, the publisher of the journal.

The issue of The Journal of Homosexuality in which the Rind paper was originally to have appeared addressed the theme of “Same-Sex Desire and Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity and in the Classical Tradition of the West.” Beert Verstraete was one of the editors.  Rind’s research in pederasty has long been controversial and his contribution of an article, “Same-Sex Desire and Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity,” quickly became a cause célèbre in WorldNetDaily, a conservative news service. Haworth Press reacted to this by tacitly canceling the issue.  The academic community–including librarians–brought pressure to bear on Haworth, and they ultimately agreed to publish the issue without Bruce Rind’s paper.

Dr. Verstraete and the other editors of that issue were, however, encouraged to make Rind’s paper the center piece of a subsequent thematic issue. Indeed, John De Cecco, who was then the General Editor of the Journal of Homosexuality, agreed to edit the volume with Dr. Verstraete.  Though neither man seems to have realized it at the time, they were not promised publication. Once the manuscript was submitted, the Taylor and Francis Group (who had purchased Haworth Press in the intervening months) reviewed it and “decided not to proceed.” There was no hint that it contained inferior scholarship or that it had deviated from the original suggestion for the issue. Dr. Verstraete’s willingness to compromise on the earlier issue of the journal had led him to place faith in mere suggestions. What had been a source of anxiety to the publishers in 2005 was completely out of the question in 2009.

This is yet another instance of publishers that refuse to distinguish between scholarship that addresses controversial issues and those issues themselves. Dr. Rind’s scholarship on pederasty (or “intergenerational sex” or whatever terminology one might choose) addresses issues about which most of us have strong feelings and moral convictions. I have no reason to believe that I would agree with Dr. Rind’s conclusions. Indeed, I might even be angered by what I’d read. But that’s not to say Dr. Rind should be prohibited from researching this subject or publishing his findings. If such academic freedom is not available, research cannot advance on controversial issues. The freedom of scholars to take positions and draw conclusions with which others disagree–the freedom to challenge established points of view and our settled moral convictions–is essential.  Such challenges strengthen arguments and, yes, on occasions cause the modification and growth of settled points of view and convictions.

Of course, for-profit publishers have their eyes on the bottom line and like so many corporations are leery of controversy, especially when it touches upon hot button issues like pederasty. They are also adept at drawing fine distinctions between legally binding agreements and persuasive suggestions that could perhaps just conceivably be misconstrued. But–in my personal opinion–it is shameful thing to waste the efforts of so many scholars with such a ploy. I am also deeply concerned when a publisher of academic journals proves so lacking in courage and unwilling to stand on principle.

—Paul Beavers

Intellectual Freedom in the News

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

The Oak Park, Illinois, public library has opened a transgender resource collection.

The ACLU has settled out of court with two Tennessee school districts that banned access to GLBT sites, but allowed access to “reparative therapy” sites.

A Federal Court has found that RealDVD, a software company that provides a means of copying DVDs and maintaining digital copies on the user’s hard drives, violates the DMCA.

The US Marines have banned social networking on the Marine Core Network.

ACRL & ARL have sent a letter to the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division stating that the lack of competition for the Google Books project “could compromise fundamental library values such as equity of access to information, patron privacy, and intellectual freedom.”

You can see FCC Chaiman Julius Genachowski’s remarks on braoadband at the eGovernment and Civic Engagement Workshop here.

The Freedom to Read Foundation is urging the Supreme Court to reject a 1999 ban that would make it a crime to create, sell or possess any photograph, film, video or sound recording in which an animal is harmed or killed — even though these materials are First Amendment protected.

An Oregon rule that could go into effect as soon as September would require all milk producers that advertise their milk as hormone-free must also include a disclaimer next to the label that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found no significant difference between milk coming from cows treated with the hormone and those that are not. Two industry giants have filed lawsuits.

“Expert reviewers” appointed by the Texas state Board of Education have recommended the removal of César Chávez and former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall from the state’s Social Studies curriculum on the grounds that Chávez is an “unfitting role model for students” and Marshall is “not an appropriate historical figure.”
— compiled by X. Avalos

Audience Comments & Concerns from “Academic and Intellectual Freedom Climate on Campus”

Friday, July 24th, 2009

On July 11, 2009, the ACRL Intellectual Freedom Committee held the program “Academic and Intellectual Freedom Climate on Campus: Are Our Freedoms Secure in the Next Generation?”  As part of the presentation, we asked the audience members to jot down the top three concerns or threats to intellectual freedom on their campuses. Twenty-two of the seventy audience members did so. The committee members used these comments as inspiration for questions for our three speakers–James Neal, Barbara Fister, and Shawn Healy. The IFC will also use them in planning future programs and projects.

The responses we received are attached to this posting. They are well worth giving a look. Some provide frontline details from librarians grappling with these issues. Others are more suggestive. Both offer substantial food for thought.

In the quick analysis the committee performed while the program was in progress, the most prominent threats to campus intellectual freedom seemed to be

  • Apathy
  • Absence of an intellectual climate (higher ed as job preparation)
  • Conformity (intolerance for diverse opinion)
  • Internet filtering and monitoring
  • Concern of campus administration with public relations and controlling image

I think these five comments will merit discussion here in the weeks to come.

—Paul Beavers

Audience Comments from ACRL IFC Annual Conference Program, Chicago 2009