Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Censorship, Wireless, and HPoL

Librarians think about things differently than the general public. The freedom to read, the freedom to access information, and most recently, to access both of those items wherever the public wants it. To a librarian, someone surfing wireless internet from his car after the library closes is a good thing. Hey, it's like 24 hour library services (just like you would advertise on a library webpage), but when a cop busts the guy for being there, the library takes the bad rap. On censorship, the library takes pride in having a diverse collection that challenges people to think and to grow their minds. So, when someone requests a book be removed (especially one that has the anatomically correct word), the library looks bad for providing such a horrible and deviant book.

In both of these situations, the library takes the bad rap for doing its job, but the community perceives it as pushing its agenda. It is a perception issue that the library needs to address. At my library it is ok if someone is outside in their car using free wireless internet. It is even ok if they sit on the side of the library and plug into the outlet for power and use the wireless. It certainly doesn't run up the electric bill or cause problems with the wireless. However, to a police officer, this looks suspicious. "What is this guy doing out here at night in his car all by himself?" If they had known that there was wireless internet, it may not be a problem, but I bet they would still get the guy out of there for one reason or another. We see a library patron enjoying the service, the police see a potential crime. Censorship issues can have the same effect.

Censorship usually ends up increasing circulation and purchasing of said censored book. As Hermione said in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the best thing she could have done to get people reading it is to ban it. I don't think most authors fear censorship. They become champions of intellectual freedom, people write articles about them, and even more people buy or check out his or her book. I am sure the Higher Power of Lucky sales are going through the roof, both because it is a Newberry Award winner and because it was banned. I think authors fear anonymity worse than censorship. This book may have been another Newberry that many do not read. Just because it is critically acclaimed doesn't mean anyone will read it. However, the combination of both will make it fly off the shelf.

I have my own censorship story to tell that involved my predecessor. This is a legendary story and even though it has been several years since the previous manager worked at my library, the story is still recounted at conference by librarians. A woman came into the library and found a bad book on the shelf. It was a dirty joke book. She immediately took it over to the police station and reported it. The policeman CONFISCATED IT! Instead of saying talk to the library director or even "Why are you wasting my time with this I have ACTUAL crimes to deal with." he took the book. A controversy raged for a long time over whether the library should have this book. The library ended up winning and the book was placed back on the shelf. The manager had articles written about him and was a champion of intellectual freedom. It has been a story recounted to me several times.

What makes this story funny is that several years later when I worked at the same library, I weeded the book. No I didn't find it offensive and there was no controversy. The book had not circulated in several years and I needed the space. I did not the story that had made the book so famous. In fact, when this story was first recounted to me, I realized I had weeded that same book. It was funny to me that such a great story about intellectual freedom would not go out with a bang, but with a whimper. I think many authors would fear the whimper.

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