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Archive for the ‘library associations’ Category

2 Pennies: Amy Sonnie on ALA’s ‘Most Frequently Challenged’ List

In censorship, intellectual freedom, LGBTQ issues, libraries, library associations, library profession, open access on April 19, 2011 at 5:23 pm

I’m reposting this interview I did today with my current publisher, Melville House. Read the full original post on their very cool blog MobyLives, covering all things literary, popular, unpopular, intellectually notable, common sense, illogical and … you get the gist.

Jason Bennett/MobyLives: Last week the American Library Association (ALA) released their Top Ten List of the Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2010. As we mentioned in our report, Melville House author, librarian, blogger, and activist Amy Sonnie (Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times) was #9 on the list for her book Revolutionary Voices, which was originally published by Alyson Books in 2000.

Curious about what all this means–and excited I could talk to someone who’s both a librarian and an author on this list–I decided to ask Amy a few questions about free speech in libraries, how books are “challenged,” and how it feels to keep company with Stephenie Meyer.

What does this list say to you about the state of free speech in this country and libraries’ ability to circulate books with sensitive topics?

It tells us something very profound: People either love or hate vampires and gays, especially those wayfaring penguins. Oh, and true stories. People either love or hate the truth. This year was an especially bad year for reality with my book and Ehrenreich’s exposé on minimum wage work causing such controversy.

But more seriously, I don’t think we should look for reliable social data in a list like this, but I do think ALA’s annual roll call provides a useful pulse-check. First, it reminds the majority of us who oppose censorship that there are real challenges in our own backyards. Most people I talk to don’t know this happens.

Second, the list and Banned Book Week give people a chance to really talk about democratic principles and action. To ask: freedom to do what, for who and where? Most people say they oppose censorship, but they apply ‘free speech’ and ‘open access’ differently, with children vs. adults for example. Many books on the annual list, like mine, are geared toward teens. This opens a needed debate about youth rights and free expression. Our society is pretty inconsistent in how we treat young adults. Courts debate this everyday when they sentence juveniles to adult prisons or let schools limit students’ Internet access. So why not gather the controversies and raise the issue for public debate? More importantly, why not ask young adults themselves? In my work with teens, that’s exactly the discussion I used this list to generate even before I was on it. Oops, I just revealed my bias toward young people having rights. (Gasp!).

What do you think about your own book’s inclusion?

I was shocked actually. I knew about the local challenges, but it was surprising because the book is ten years old! Why now? One obvious reason, I think, is the growing backlash to the small gains of gay rights advocates over the last 15 years. And I really mean small. We have a long way to go. It was kind of cool, though, to be on the same list as The Hunger Games. Those books are amazing. I wonder what Katniss would say about all this?

If ALA weren’t drawing attention to this issue by publishing an annual list, do you think libraries would be more likely to cave to advocates who want these books banned?

I guess it’s worth mentioning here that I am a librarian, in addition to an author/editor. I enjoy kind of a great vantage point. Do I think libraries would cave to the pressure without it? Some would. Most, I hope, would not. I have faith in libraries’ commitment to strong professional ethics. I know librarians who faced incredible odds to stand up for those values. My optimism shows here, though. In one of the cases involving my book, it was a library director who removed it from the shelves. Concerned local residents and librarians got the word out and turned up the pressure for a while. ALA’s public education just assures a broader audience finds out so they might be better prepared if a challenge comes their way.

With all the fanfare surrounding the ALA’s Top Ten List of the Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2010, I think a lot of people (myself included) are confused about exactly what it means for a book to be challenged. Can you explain a bit about the process and why it’s significant when a book is officially challenged?

Challenges are significant because they intrinsically elevate the objection of one person to the level of community-wide muzzle. What one parent objects to, another may not. If a public library removes the book, they remove it for everyone. This makes any challenge an issue of broader public concern regardless of whether it results in a ban.

Most libraries have a process for community members to state their objection to a particular book, movie, etc. This is usually a written “Request for Reconsideration of Materials.” It is what it sounds like — a resident or parent asks the library to reconsider keeping something on the shelf. Libraries typically take the removal of an item very seriously. Most often, there are already policies in place to guide what they purchase and keep. This policy is informed by broader professional standards, like the Library Bill of Rights, as well as localized needs, such as an explicit commitment to maintain multilingual materials, or — in the case of schools – a focus on educational value and age appropriateness. These can be fuzzy areas to apply and that’s where many challenges gain ground. Separately, if the library has a process outlined for reconsideration requests they are supposed to follow it. This may involve a committee meeting to weigh the needs of the broader community against one person/group’s request to restrict access.

Based on what’s reported to ALA, we know that most decisions uphold libraries unique role as a place of free, unfettered inquiry. But sometimes the materials are actually removed – this year in 53 cases that we know about. Two of those bans were on my book.

Finally, how does it feel to beat out Twilight on this list?

This might disappoint some people, but Twilight and my book actually had the same number of challenges. So, the love-drunk vampires and outspoken queers are tied. Take that, Mr. Falwell.

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CLA 2010 Conference: Day 1 Highlights

In libraries, library associations, library profession on November 13, 2010 at 6:00 am

I’m tweeting from the California Library Association’s annual conference, “Navigating the New.” Follow along @bannedlibrarian

Week to Watch USA PATRIOT Act

In intellectual freedom, libraries, library associations, privacy on January 25, 2010 at 3:22 pm

There’s going to be a lot of movement around the PATRIOT Act in the next week or two. Maybe not the movement we’d like.

Here’s one update from the American Library Association’s recent Midwinter Meeting: “Bad News from Washington on Patriot Act.

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee is also planning a Lobby Day in Washington for February 3rd. See, Lobby Day to Stop the PATRIOT Act.

If you can’t make it to D.C., you can also sign BORDC’s letter opposing the PATRIOT Act reauthorization, or call your senators and reps using the ALA’s Legislative Action Center.

Calif. Library Association Asks Congress to Do What Judiciary Did Not

In intellectual freedom, libraries, library associations, privacy, public policy on October 13, 2009 at 11:43 am

October 13, 2009 • SACRAMENTO, CA — The California Library Association (CLA) has just announced a resolution calling on Congress to dramatically revise the up-for-renewal USA PATRIOT Act, passed hurriedly in the weeks following the 9/11 attacks.

Librarians have been front-line opponents of certain provisions of the PATRIOT Act since its passage. The Act has made it possible, under Section 215, for the FBI to request and obtain library records for large numbers of individuals without reason to believe they are involved in illegal activity. This jeopardizes the basic ethics of the library profession, expressed in the Library Bill of Rights of the American Library Association.

Expanding on the American Library Association’s PATRIOT Act resolution last July, the CLA resolution goes further to address imminent First and Fourth Amendment concerns with Section 505. This provision grants the FBI broad authority to sidestep constitutional safeguards though use of National Security Letters to obtain information.

CLA Intellectual Freedom Committee chair, Mary Minow, a leading expert on library law, said, “It’s past time for the blatantly unconstitutional aspects of this legislation to be removed from the books, and now is the opportunity for Congress to act.”

Two sections of the PATRIOT Act are currently up for reauthorization, with sunsets at the end of December 2009, and librarians across the country see this as an opportunity to correct those provisions that attack basic civil liberties. CLA’s resolution calls for Congress to allow Section 215 to sunset, to amend Section 505 to “include a clear exemption for library records,” and in general to intensify Congressional oversight of the use of the Act.
* CLA Resolution on 2009 Reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act (PDF, 481k)

For more information, please contact:

Mary Minow, Chair,
CLA Intellectual Freedom Committee
408-366-0123

Amy Sonnie, Member,
CLA Intellectual Freedom Committee,
415-823-0497

or cla_ifc  [a t]  earthlink [dot]  net

Global Justice Values in Librarianship from Bibliotek i Samhälle

In information access, intellectual freedom, library associations, social movements on December 16, 2008 at 7:45 am

Bibliotek i Samhälle (Libraries in Society) is a socialist library organization in Sweden founded in 1969. You can read more about them, or join their listserv here. Their platform for global justice librarianship is reposted below (Just call it my way of celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights last Wednesday, 12/10):

1. We shall work towards an international agenda as the basis of common action of librarians everywhere actively committed, as librarians, to social justice, equality, human welfare, and the development of cultural democracy.

2. We will unite librarians and information workers in opposition to the marketization of public goods, to privatization of social resources and to outsourcing of services and will oppose international treaties and institutions which advance destructive neo-liberal policies.

3. We insist upon the equality of access to and inclusiveness of information services, especially extending such services to the poor, marginalized and discriminated against, including the active solidarity-based provision of information assistance to these groups and their advocates in their struggles.

4. We shall encourage the exploration of alternative models of human services; promote and disseminate critical analysis of information technology’s impact on libraries and societies; and support the fundamental democratization of existing institutions of education, culture, communications.

5. We shall undertake joint, interdisciplinary research into fundamental library issues (e.g. into the political economy of information in the age of neo-liberalism and corporate globalization) in order to lay the basis for effective action in our spheres of work.

6. We will support cooperative collection, organization and preservation of the documents of people’s struggles and the making available of alternative materials representing a wide range of progressive viewpoints often excluded as resources from the debates of our times.

7. We will investigate and organize efforts to make the library-as-workplace more democratic and encourage resistance to the managerialism of the present library culture.

8. We will lead in promoting international solidarity among librarians and cooperation between libraries across borders on the basis of our joint commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related covenants which create a democratic framework for constructive cooperative endeavours.

9. We will organize in common with other cultural and educational progressives, to help put issues of social responsibility on the agendas of international bodies such as IFLA and UNESCO.

10. We shall oppose corporate globalization which, despite its claims, reinforces existing social, economic, cultural inequalities, and insist on a democratic globalism and internationalism which respects and cultivates cultural plurality, which recognizes the sovereignty of peoples, which acknowledges the obligations of society to the individual and communities, and which prioritizes human values and needs over profits.

Librarian Gets Award for Protecting Reproductive Rights

In activism, censorship, intellectual freedom, libraries, library associations on November 17, 2008 at 6:53 am

censorship buttonSan Jose, CA — Gloria Won, a medical librarian at the University of California, San Francisco, and library director Gail Sorrough received the Zoia Horn Intellectual Freedom Award on Friday night from the California Library Association for challenging government censorship of reproductive health information.

In her day-to-day work as a medical librarian Won noticed that the word “abortion” retrieved fewer and fewer results in the POPLINE (POPulation Information OnLINE) reproductive health database, which is federally funded. She found out that “abortion” and terms related to it had been turned into stopwords. (For those of you not familiar with stopwords, they are usually limited to words like “but,” or “and” that a database should skip over when processing a search request). In Spring 2008, Won wrote to POPLINE database manager Debra L. Dickson:

Even more troubling is the implications for the average user – eliminating this term essentially blocks access to the reports in the database and ultimately to information about abortion. ‘Unwanted w2 pregnancy’ is not a synonym for abortion.

Radical Reference helped get the word out about this blatant affront to information access, asking concerned librarians to contact POPLINE. The block was soon removed on the terms. Congratulations and thank you Gloria!