ILWOL Books of Korea has published a Korean translation of Ed D’Angelo’s Barbarians at the Gates of the Public Library: How Postmodern Consumer Capitalism Threatens Democracy, Civil Education and the Public Good. The book was previously published in Japanese translation in 2009 by Kyoto University. D’Angelo’s book has been one of our better selling books at Library Juice Press since it was first published in 2006. Chapters one and two are available online.
You will probably be hearing more about Weibo, a Chinese social networking site that combines aspects of Twitter and Facebook and presently has, at a minimum, 140 million users, which is nearly three times the user base of Twitter.
The interesting news at present is that the Chinese government, which shut down access to Twitter some time ago, has sent out mass messages on Weibo warning people that two recent posts were false. Here are accounts of the story from The Atlantic and The New York Times. My friend Anne Mostad-Jensen, a user of the site, sent me this screenshot of the government’s notice on the site (though if you can read Chinese, chances are you’ve already seen it).
Some of my colleagues in the Progressive Librarians Guild used to complain that Banned Books Week was an unfortunate distraction from the greater problem of a propagandistic media system. I shared that view and still do, but it is not the objection that I want to explain today.
My problem with Banned Books Week is one that is probably shared by some conservatives, and it has to do with the loose definition of what a “banned book” is, and what a “challenged book” is. Over time, as I have come to understand my own politics better, I have realized that what I care about is rational discourse as the basis for a democratic society. In rational discourse, as I see it, it is important to be clear about what you are actually saying, to ask critical questions with a patience for detail, and to reject strategic communication and to minimize rhetoric. The Banned Books Week project, well-intended as it may be, is a propaganda exercise that fails to model good standards for democratic communication.
Here is what I mean.
The history of book banning is a history of inspiring stories, stories of mass suppression of ideas, copies of books collected so that they can be burned, publishers incarcerated, often ultimately to no avail as the power of an idea proved greater than the power of the state or of a fascistic party. Book banning, good people agree, should be fought against, and is a source of inspiration to fight for what is right. Banned Books Week taps into people’s response to these historical narratives and aims to prevent the suppression of ideas from recurring. A noble intention and a narrative resource.
The problem that I see with Banned Books Week is that what counts as a “banned book” is actually a “challenged book,” and what counts as a challenged book is something quite different from an effort to prevent a book from being published, sold, or even made available in a library. Most of the cases of challenged books that are reported as a part of Banned Books Week are cases where a parent of a child objects to a book being a part of their child’s school curriculum, or at other times in the school’s library, on the grounds of “age appropriateness.” Defenders of intellectual freedom, to my dismay, have an unwritten policy of never addressing the question of age appropriateness, leaving it as an unstated assumption that anything selected for the curriculum by educators as opposed to by parents is automatically age-appropriate, as though educators are incapable of error.
School districts have policies in place for reviewing challenges to books on the basis of age-appropriateness. Challenged books are reviewed and evaluated by committees that are charged with that responsibility, and then the school district makes an official decision regarding the book. Regardless of what the school’s decision turns out to be, regardless of its reasonableness or unreasonableness, and regardless of the objectivity or bias within the decision-making process in a specific case, all challenges to a book by a parent get counted as an attempt at book banning.
Personally, I agree with intellectual freedom orthodoxy that says that one family should not have the right to determine what other students are taught, and this is part of what public education is. But when a book is challenged and reviewed on the grounds of age-appropriateness, it is ultimately not the family that brought the challenge that makes the decision. The decision is made by the educational institution itself. We can hope that more often than not these decisions are well-informed and based more on educational psychology than they are on pressure from an ideological community group. They may not always be. But the decision about whether a book should remain a part of the curriculum or not is ultimately made by the public institution that put the book in the curriculum in the first place, which means that book challenges happen as a part of a process that the institution puts in place in order to get feedback from the community on the curriculum. (In some other areas, we on the left are fighting for more opportunities to influence local policies to meet local needs.)
What I want to emphasize about this is that the “book banning” that is the subject of Banned Books Week is not book banning as we understand it historically but part of the cultural fight over the school curriculum. Now, I am prepared to fight hard to keep rationality and science and humanism in the school curriculum, against the theocrats who seem to be making incredible progress in rolling back not only 20th century liberalism but the values behind the Constitution itself (i.e. secular democracy). But in fighting that fight over the curriculum, what I am ultimately fighting for is rational discourse as opposed to irrationality. If I give up basic standards of rational discourse and resort to strategic communication and propaganda… well, as we said about Al Qaida during the debate over the PATRIOT Act: “They have won.”
Daniel Ellsberg spoke at the American Library Association Annual Conference in New Orleans this summer, about the current world situation and libraries. ALA’s Leonard Kniffel followed up with this on-camera interview.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility is coming to the defense of biologist Charles Monnett, who is being hounded by the Interior Department because of a 2006 publication that communicated alarming news about the effects of global warming on a polar bear population. Since the publication was in a peer-reviewed scientific journal and the investigators have not raised any specific questions about its scientific validity it seems to be an effort to suppress a finding for political reasons. Read more on the website of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Thanks to Fred Stoss for sharing this information.
Call for Proposals
The 2012 Joint Conference of Librarians of Color, JCLC 2012: Gathering at the Waters: Celebrating Stories and Embracing Communities will take place from September 19-23, 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri. The mission of JCLC is to advance the issues affecting librarians of color within the profession and to also explore how best to serve the incredibly diverse and changing communities that use our libraries.
The Joint Conference of Librarians of Color is a conference for everyone and brings together a diverse group of librarians, library staff, supporters, trustees and community participants to explore issues of diversity inclusion in libraries and how they affect the ethnic communities who use our services. JCLC deepens connections across constituencies, creates spaces for dialogue, promotes the telling and celebrating of one’s stories, and encourages the transformation of libraries into more democratic and diverse organizations. This groundbreaking event is sponsored by the five ethnic caucuses: the American Indian Library Association (AILA), Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA), Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA), Chinese American Librarians Association (CALA), and the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking (REFORMA). JCLC 2012 follows the first gathering in 2006 in Dallas, Texas.
The 2012 JCLC Steering Committee invites you to submit a proposal for a presentation at the conference. Proposal submission deadlines are listed below.
JCLC Tracks and Topics
JCLC 2012 seeks conference session presentations in all areas of diversity, including, but not limited to, the topics below. Ideal sessions will either provide insights, skills, tools and strategies that stress solutions, implementation and practical applications; highlight exemplary programs, approaches and models; facilitate constructive dialogue, interaction, and understanding around significant issues affecting conference constituencies; or discuss efforts to create more inclusive environments, programs and curriculum.
• Advocacy, Outreach and Collaboration
Marketing; outreach to diverse populations; community collaborations; user spaces; public policy; health education; using census data and other government information; cultural programming; services to and rebuilding of communities hit with disaster; research; undocumented, urban, rural and low-income communities; etc.
• Collections, Programs and Services
Ethnic and multicultural collections; film and music; information literacy; children’s, youth and adult programming; programs for diverse populations; reference; instruction; grant funded programs; technical services; archives; preservation; documenting traditional knowledge; research; cataloging/subject headings/controlled vocabulary; etc.
• Deep Diversity and Cultural Exchange (understanding and valuing differences)
Increasing awareness and tolerance of “minorities”; disabilities; gender; celebrating elders; religion; sexual orientation/LGBT populations; nationality; sharing traditional knowledge; serving the incarcerated; immigrant and refugees; cross cultural issues; transnational communities; multiculturalism; best practices and model programs; etc.
• Leadership, Management and Organizational Development
Administration; staff development/training; recruitment and retention; leadership; organizational culture; management; cultural competencies; mentoring; assessment; mid-career strategies; staff and paraprofessional issues; conflict resolution and mediation; re-organization and re-structuring; leading during tight economic times; institutional change; research; fundraising; etc.
Technology and Innovation
Teaching and learning; emerging technologies; e-repositories; social networking applications; digitization; equal access for users; library tools; e-books; mobile devices; widgets; mashups; online learning and collaboration; open access movements; social aspects of technology and implications for use; videos; etc.
All sessions are 75 minutes long and may take one of the following formats:
· Individual Paper/Presentation
· Poster Session
**JCLC will also accept proposals in different formats (other than those listed above) that will excite, engage and create a new learning environment for conference attendees**
All proposals must be submitted to the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color website at: www.jclc-conference.org
All proposals must be received by midnight PST on September 15, 2011. No late submissions will be accepted. Notifications of proposal selection will be made on a rolling basis beginning on November 1, 2011 and ending on December 15, 2011.
All proposals will be blind reviewed (without author identification) by the JCLC Program Committee. Proposals are evaluated on quality and clarity of content, uniqueness of topic, relevance to conference attendees, ability to engage the audience, and the relationship of the proposal to the mission of the conference.
Many questions can be answered on the JCLC website at: www.jclc-conference.org Questions may also be sent to Alanna Aiko Moore, JCLC Program Committee Chair, at firstname.lastname@example.org
JCLC 2012 Program Planning Committee
The JCLC 2012 Program Committee members include:
Alanna Aiko Moore, Program Chair, JCLC Steering Committee (University of California, San Diego)
Toni Anaya (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
Jeehyun Davis (University of Texas Libraries)
Gerardo A. Colmenar (University of California, Santa Barbara)
Min Chou (New Jersey City University)
Portia Latalladi (Chicago Public Library)
Sarah Kostelecky (Institute of American Indian Arts)
Susan Luevano (California State University, Long Beach)
Sara Martinez (Tulsa City-County Library)
Mark A. Puente (Association of Research Libraries)
Sandy Wee (San Mateo County Library)