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Preview: Intellectual Freedomof/for/by Gabor Por

Intellectual Freedomof/for/by Gabor Por



Musing on current IF issues



Updated: 2017-07-07T20:50:19.922-07:00

 



FRF on TV

2007-06-01T00:37:33.784-07:00

I came across a short video clip from a TV station evening news, featuring Judith Krug of the Freedom to Read Foundation. The short snippet was talking about what's wrong with book banning. The TV journalist covering the evening posted the "Top Ten Banned Library Books of 2006" on his blog. A conversation developed there between the blog readers. One of the post was accusing ALA contradicting itself by recommending a certain, sexually somewhat explicit book for 11th grade up, while making the same book available at another part of their site for the younger crowd. Then there was a rather articulate reply to this post explaining that one of those sites is inactive; there are other factors to consider when recommending groups to young people; how important parents' responsibility is … I enjoyed that exchange, recommend reading it.



Gaming and Intellectual Freedom

2007-06-01T00:22:53.703-07:00

As I learned from the Shifted Librarian blog the "2007 ALA TechSource Gaming, Learning, and Libraries Symposium" will include a session on " What IF: Gaming, Intellectual Freedom and the Law." I am not a gamer myself, but find the subculture fascinating. Here is the description of the session:
Video games are under scrutiny around the country as some parents and special interest groups raise concerns about the topics and themes contained in some games. Some groups call for laws regulating access to games based on their content; others advocate for an outright ban on violent games. Several states have passed laws restricting minors' access to "violent" video games, but every such law has been invalidated by the courts under the First Amendment.

These organizations and individuals are likely to turn their attention to libraries as libraries begin to add games to their collections. Join us for a presentation on applying intellectual freedom principles to games and gaming activities, and a discussion about video games and the First Amendment. We’ll discuss recent court decisions addressing minors' access to video games, the legal status of game ratings, and policy developments.



British Tango is Cooler

2007-06-01T00:16:10.019-07:00

A book that was met with some protest in the US is most likely will have a much calmer reception in the UK according to the Guardian. As I wrote earlier, "And Tango Makes Three" is a children book depicting a family of penguins including gay parents. " it shot to the top of the American Library Association's (ALA) list of most frequently challenged books as people across the country objected to the idea of such a tale being aimed at children of its target age group of between four and eight." The closest British equivalent of ALA, the 'Museums, Libraries and Archives Council' "doesn't collect figures about [books that are challenged] because it's rare." Having lived in the UK allow me a few generalizations for the reasons of this relative lack of reactions (while fully aware that are such generalizations are incorrect.)

First, I found it true, that British on average are more reserved than Americans. They do not go out of their way to share their opinion. Hence they may not object to a book publicly, just because privately they disagree with it.

Also, because of the lively state of the paparazzi in the UK you may not think through, but private life is considered more private. So, homosexuality is considered a private issue. I know that his sounds similar to the more accepting kind of US conservative view. They also say that as long as homosexual behavior is kept behind walls, they don't have a problem with it. The UK is an even more traditional society (or has been when I lived there for a year 15 years ago.) Thus in this regard it can be seen as conservative.

The article linked above has more details about the book's future in the UK; it's worth a read.



The Zoo Rabbi vs. Jewish Creationist

2007-05-22T17:32:57.866-07:00

I came across this (2 year) old blog entry, but found it interesting. It quotes extensively from (and adds some minor comments to) an article from Moment Magazine. The piece in question is about an orthodox rabbi Natan (or Nosson) Slifkin, who is interested in zoology. Indeed his own website is ZooTorah.com (Torah is the five books of Moses, the very first part of the Bible.) The problem is that he found evolution the most plausable explanation for the "complex web of life." At least that's what the article claims and also those communities that banned his books from yeshivas (schools.) His books were declared to be "full of heresy, twist and misrepresent the words of our sages and ridicule the foundations of our emunah [faith]."

(image) I wonder thought whether though whether he really believes in evolution. For his latest book (Challenge of Creation: Judaism's Encounter with Science, Cosmology, and Evolution) the executive vice president of the Orthodox Union wrote the foreward. That signals a certain level of acceptance for me. I copy here his disclaimer to show his real stance:
This book was written for those who are committed to the tenets of Judaism, but also respect the scientific enterprise and possess an advanced education in the natural sciences, and who are therefore disturbed by the challenges that are raised for their understanding of Torah. It addresses these challenges by following the approach of Rambam (Maimonides) and similar Torah scholars towards these issues, which, while firmly within the framework of authentic Orthodox Judaism, is not the method of choice in many segments of the ultra-Orthodox community. But many have found that no other approach works as well in solving these difficulties.

The point I am trying to make that book banning can happen on the basis of any number of principles. We most often here about people's concern from a moral perspective and often from Christians. But they don't have exclusive rights to do so as it appears from the affair above. I also wanted to show that there are other contexts, not just the public library, where book banning can become an issue. Such as the relatively closed private communities of the orthodox and ultra-orthodox Jews.



Bible Wrap

2007-05-22T16:06:31.689-07:00

Here is a twist in banning books, at least if you come (as I do) from a western perspective. The International Herald Tribune reported that in Hong Kong a Chinese student newspaper got labeled indecent, because it contained a sex survey that had questions about incest and bestiality. This label means that the paper needs to be sealed in a wrapper to be sold otherwise the publisher will be fined. The students say they did nothing wrong and protested. Part of the reaction was that an anonymous student created the truthbible.net site which lists the sex related details of the Bible, showing how much more offensive that is. The students claim that by the same token the Bible should be sold wrapped only.

The Authority, which in this case is called Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority is logging obscenity complaints both against the paper (184 at the writing of the article) and against the Bible (1766 so far.) The interesting thing for me is that both cases took a piece of content out of context and judged the whole work on that. This is exactly what librarians should fight against. In the first case I believe in the context of a survey it should have been acceptable. The paper was not advocating, showing or encouraging incest or bestiality in any form. They got labeled just by mentioning it. They (assuming that they are behind the website) fought back with the same method robbing the sexually explicit or morally questionable lines of the Bible out of context. I am wondering whether it is a wise move to use this kind of analogy. Yes, it shows the ridiculousness of the method. But at the same time they got engaged in a fight that they cannot win.



No Photos are Innocent

2007-05-19T11:23:38.456-07:00

This article from next month's Popular Photography describes the murky legal ground about photographs getting developed and reported to the authorities because it may depict some sort of crime according to the judgment of the person who developed them. Most of the article is about the dire consequences parents can face if they take pictures of their own children naked. Even if they don't ever intend to publish them the authorities claim "that we all have to view innocent photos through the eyes of a pedophile, for the good of the children." They base this on the fact that there were several cases when the developer kept copies of photos like this. Therefore the biggest stores (Costco, CVS, Rite-Aid, and Wal-Mart) have now a "better-safe-than-sorry" policy that compels them to notify the police about any criminal activity they see in customers' photos.

I personally think this is rather twisted logic. Because of a few bad clerks now everybody has to self-sensor her/himself. From my perspective it would be simpler and more conducive for intellectual freedom if these companies would have better background check on their employees and would do everything in their power to prevent employees steeling customers' pictures.
The article suggests that "the question of whether you surrender privacy rights when you hand over a computer full of personal information to a repair shop is still open." I would think you don't surrender your privacy rights. Just like when you borrow a book only you should know what you got. In an ideal situation not even your librarian has to be aware of your reading habits, unless you volunteer some information about it yourself (such as asking for a reference.)
At the same time I agree with the idea that the police (and other agencies) has to crack down on child pornography. They have to do it when and where it really happens. Trying to prevent is a noble cause to but proving the intent of a crime can play out as thought-police-work. That I do not support.

The article cited other examples when photographers were reported, not just child pornography, like shots of marijuana plants and even "a classroom civics assignment to photographically illustrate the Bill of Rights, he'd cut out a magazine photo of President George W. Bush, tacked it to a wall with a red thumbtack through the head, made a thumb's down sign next to it, and snapped a picture." But the piece ended on the grandmother, an acclaimed photographer, who got busted for the pictures of her grandchildren. She wrote a book about the experience. This is how she perceives now the limitation on her freedom: "They took away my innocence, constricted my vision, brainwashed me into seeing things differently. They definitely changed my pictures of children."



Banning the Book that Banned Books?

2007-05-19T10:39:59.802-07:00

This is the most ironic news item I encountered this week, although it is six month old. The father of a 15 year old high school student in Texas objected his child having to read Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. He wants the book taken out of the class. Mr. Verm did not read the book, but looked it through and "found the following things wrong with the book: discussion of being drunk, smoking cigarettes, violence, 'dirty talk,' references to the Bible and using God's name in vain." My favorite quote from the father is "if they can't find a book that uses clean words, they shouldn't have a book at all." I have rather different priorities than him, but we share a preference for clean work. I personally don't use "dirty talk," because I believe I can make the world a more pleasant place by doing so. I also try to instill this preference as a value to my closest family members.

I acknowledge though that this is strictly personal and do not wish to impose it on anybody else. Furthermore I do not object reading works that contain foul language if I (think I) can get something else out of them. Bradbury's classic is certainly worth to read. I also strongly disagree with the "they shouldn't have a book at all" part of the sentence. I think books are amazing. If I would need to choose between books or no books, I would always choose the first option. Because humans have thinking facilities they can always argue with, dislike, disapprove of what they read in a book. The process results in some sort of learning. As opposed to not reading it will not improve one in any way.

The irony is of course that the very book Mr. Verm wants to "ban" is dystopia where books are banned. It is as if Mr. Verm is working towards a world like that. He plans to rob his daughter (and her classmates) the chance to learn about that prospect. As the article explains it is unlikely to happen, thanks to the diligent work and strong principles of the librarians, ALA and the school involved.



Google, censorship, China

2007-05-12T07:42:48.673-07:00

Today's Library Link of the Day pointed us to this PCWorld story about "Google Shareholders Vote Against Anti-Censorship Proposal." Apparently some Google shareholders opposed Google's self-censorship, which is necessary for the company to operate in some countries, such as China. They prepare a proposal against this practice but the shareholders voted it down and the management agreed with it too. I guess (the possibility of) doing business is more important to the company whose motto used to be "Don't be evil." (Interestingly they changed their tagline this week to "Search, Ads, and Apps.")

I understand that public companies don't have as many options as private ones, because they have to do what the shareholders want. (It is questionable thought that who controls or influences the shareholders.) Presumably the shareholders primary, if not only motivation is profit. This decision of keep continuing to do self-censorship proves this simple truth again.

I also understand that it is can be a tough choice: stay out of China for lofty ideals or do business and try to change the situation from the inside. This reminds me of the communist party's thinking and persuasive rhetoric in the 1980's. They said that if you want to change the system you have to join the Party and work on it from the inside. Lots of people fell for it. The problem with this thinking is that once you are in a system it can corrupt you sooner than you'd notice. Eventually the system fell not because of the people who joined the party, but due to the efforts of those who stayed outside and refused to play the game. I have to admit though that, at least in Hungary, their partners in assuring a non-violent system change were the "reform communists". These were the people who were party members, but did want some change, just not as much as the opposition.

My point is, that I believe that self-censorship is harmful, whether we talking about a person, a company or a country. It does not provide long term answers or even a sense of absolution.



The Lovely Bones – Ups and Downs

2007-05-12T07:13:43.719-07:00

(image) The editorial of the current issue of American Libraries is about "Extraordinary Heroes." One of the eight mentioned was "Superintendent Elliott Landon, who retained Alice Siebold's coming-of-age novel The Lovely Bones in the Coleytown Middle School Library in Westport, Connecticut, despite objections from a parent that it was not age-appropriate." This ALA note even gives the justification for retaining the book: kids want it and it "had been mentioned favorably on three lists used for middle school collection development."

This incident made me thinking about the motivation for doing the right thing. People do it out of their principles. But it also might feel nice being vindicated and externally validated by being recognized for doing it. Hence the magazine mention must feel good to Landon and may encourage others to stand up where that is needed.

On the other hand when I Googled the superintendent's name I mostly found references to a newer case, where he is purported as being squashing free speech. That case is about a teacher who believes that "school officials [namely Landon] 'refused' to allow her to transfer to another teaching post because she exercised her First Amendment rights to speak out." I read through this report and the case is too murky for me to be able to tell who is right.
Because Landon proved once already that he is a free speech advocate I am tended to be on his side. It doesn't matter though. My point is that people and circumstances can change and we can find ourselves at either end of intellectual freedom issues any time.



The Day of Dialog - And Tango Makes Three

2007-05-12T06:49:50.009-07:00

(image) The Day of Dialog event will be held on the last day of May in New York, but the event is full, you can no loner register. I mention it though, because one of the sessions is about "The Most Banned Children's Book of the Year—And Tango Makes Three" Here is the description of the panel:
The authors, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, and the editor, David Gale, who conceived, wrote, and published And Tango Makes Three as well as a noted librarian/intellectual freedom advocate Pat Scales will discuss the book's genesis, impact, and the efforts to censor it.

It's hard for me to emphasize with the people who want to censor it. Emotionally I can understand that if their value system considers homosexuality a sin they would not want to have this book in their own childrens' hands. Which is a perfectly legitimate choice as a parent. Not that I would take though. Because reading about gay people will not turn you into one of them; it just might create understanding. That is a good thing in my book.


But trying to push their limited view onto others is breaching other people's rights. Unacceptable.



Merritt Fund

2007-05-03T16:48:44.608-07:00

The blog of ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom mentioned that people can donate online now to LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund. One of its goals is to support librarians, who were "denied employment rights because of defense of intellectual freedom." I wanted to learn more about what they actually did, but unfortunately found very little information about that. I read through their last available report [DOC] (for years 2003-05), but it was only a financial one. The only thing I found was an interview [DOC] with a librarian called, Mimi Davis, whose troubles started in 1988. She was harassed by her new library director and lost her job. The Fund helped her financially through the hard years and supported her case. She eventually (in 1992) won her case and even managed to pay back the grant she has received from the organization. The story was inspiring. But I wonder whether the site could contain more and more recent stories. I am sure it would encourage donation more than simply asking for money.



Library Juice, Cartoons, and War

2007-05-03T16:36:27.322-07:00

I just discovered (the unashamedly left wing) Library Juice Press. After several incarnation it is a now a blog. I went through the last ten entries in its Intellectual Freedom category. Amongst other issues it tries to provide a moral approach to the Danish cartoon issue:
We need to address the collection development and access issues around this affair, but we also need to reflect on what else we might do as actors in civil society. The American Library Association Council has passed resolutions to lobby against torture and for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

On one hand the author stands up for freedom of press, but on the other hand he urges social responsibility in other areas. While I agree with both of his points, but fail to see the connection. Furthermore I think it is a dangerous logical fallacy to connect two independent issues. I acknowledge that there is similarity between US actions in the Muslim world and the publication of the cartoons that were disrespectful to Muhammad. Namely that both angered the (sensibilities of) Muslims.

However from my point of view they are not in the same category. The first is physically harming the population, while the second is an intellectual issue. I think the solutions to these problems should be in the same level where they originated from.I want to make sure that my notes above are not taken as apologetic about the cartoon publications. I think it was unwise to do so. I respect the Muslim religion and would not want to mock any people for their beliefs. I personally would have not published those drawings. But I also acknowledge that people have the right to publish what they want. I draw the line at hate speech. These drawing, while disrespectful, did not merit that label in my opinion.



Lesbian Sex Book for Boys. Not.

2007-05-03T16:13:27.446-07:00

(image) As I read in ALA's YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) blog a father in Arkansas is asking for 20,000 dollars because his 14 and 16 year old sons found The Whole Lesbian Sex Book: A Passionate Guide for All of Us in the local public library. He claims that the book causes his sons sleepless nights. I don't really want to go there whether it was this guidebook that causes sleepless night for these teenage boys or their natural hormones were working. What I am having a hard time to understand how people can get so upset about something that they can easily avoid. Nobody compelled these boys to taker out that book form the library. If the father wanted to restrict his sons he could have done so, but taking the book away or asking them to return it. For me freedom is about increasing the circle choices (including the power of not to get something) and not limiting them.



Lakeside Freedom

2007-04-26T20:32:08.231-07:00

I just read in this week's Seattle Weekly a story about Lakeside School and elite private school. It was describing both the school efforts to become more diverse (coming from its white, old money background) and the challenges it faces because of allegations of racism. Here is an excerpt:

The school's invitation to conservative D'Souza stemmed from those discussions. But Lakeside eventually got boxed into a damned-if-it-did, damned-if-it-didn't spot with D'Souza. If the school let its invitation stand after faculty had protested, it risked jeopardizing the diversity effort into which it had poured so many resources. If the school canceled, it faced public embarrassment and a backlash over intellectual freedom. The school's choice of the latter brought a storm of negative press, led to a series of meetings between school officials and families, and amplified the unease that some had with the diversity effort at large.

I think that the article's author, Nina Shapiro is on target when she says that the school faced a choice between two bad options. Seems to me that the principle that drove their choice at the end was which one would offend less people, i.e. how to appease more. I think a better choice would have been to keep the invitation standing and invite other people as well. The students at the school could learn more by being exposed to a variety of views. That would have ensured their intellectual freedom and D'Souza's too. As far as the faculty who opposed the invitation is concerned, I would have suggested the administration fo the school to invite them to a panel to have a discussion with D'Souza. That way they could have openly, and respectfully talk about the issue for everybody's learning.

I cannot help to connect this story to a book I am reading right now: Cynthia Ozick's The Cannibal Galaxy. In it the principle of a middle school is the only Jewish (and French) person in a small US provincial town. He wants to see brilliance in a certain student, but encounters obstacle in doing so. In the Seattle Weekly article the obligatory human element is an African-American student who transferred to Lakeside from a Catholic school. Because race became, such a prominent discussion topic at her new school she complains that "All I had to worry about at St. Joe's was doing my best in my classes. In the book the forced topic du jour is what makes a "genius." I am not trying to say that race and mental abilities are similar categories in any way. They are unrelated. But when they became the preoccupation for a whole school than education can suffer. (Of course, racism should be extinguished, but that's not my point here.




Librarian =/= Parental Supervision

2007-04-26T16:05:51.910-07:00

The issues we have been talking about in class are real as this article shows it too. The librarian in the story represents exactly what we learned, saying, "We have a real obligation to the community to be as uncensored as possible." This means no internet filtering of any kind. The article is a bit vague about the police chief’s opinion of middle school children spending unsupervised time at the library. But they agree that parental supervision is the key.



Scenario 2: To Pro or not to Pro?

2007-04-21T07:04:27.313-07:00

Garth Ennis' graphic novel "The Pro" is pushing boundaries. Its superhero is a hard-hitting prostitute, whose superpowers relate to her profession.. I believe that this book is entitled to be included in a library collection that hosts other graphic novels. This evaluation can be justified by, for example, the selection policy of Bellingham, the city, where I work. (The italicized texts below are quotes from the policy.)Materials selected should be chosen for values of interest, information and enlightenment of all the people of the community.I presume that if the library has a graphic novel selection it exist because there was and is a demand for it. Therefore this book would be of interest as well, albeit possibly not for "all the people". It would be hard to find any single work though that the whole community would find equally engaging.The consensus of various comics related sites is that it is a parody of mainstream comics. Parodies provide insights into the culture that developed the topics they represent, in this case superheroism. The superpowers here are caricatures of better-known superheroes. But in the process of getting familiar with them the reader may learn about empowering women as well. There is still a gender balance amongst superheroes, so any work that helps the proportions this regard (by having a female hero) is welcome.Libraries should provide books and other materials presenting all points of view concerning the problems and issues of our timesSocial progressives may look at this work as a presentation to support sex-workers' rights. I may not take it that far, but it certainly is a work that is written and drawn from an unusual perspective. The perspective may not be that of the sex-workers themselves, but it is not the stereotypical negative representation we are used to in the media. It breaks the monotony of that, and that is a good, potentially enlightening thing. It presents a special point of view on "an issue of our times."The Bellingham policy also contains guidelines on how to select works for its adult fiction section:It should contribute to the value of the library's collection as a whole by representing all types and styles of literature.I doubt that the library has anything like this in its collection, because this particular combination of theme and presentation is rather unique. Therefore it would greatly contribute to the collection's diversity.It should provide pleasure reading for recreation and the creative use of leisure time.Even the reviews that were enthralled by the novel mentioned that it is a fun read. So for those who acquired the taste of reading (or is it viewing?) graphic novels would certainly get pleasure from its over the top depictions. It may inspire people to draw or come up with stories of their own.I am aware that so far I only gave pro arguments, why The Pro should be included in a library. However when I think of con arguments I realize that they would be all moralistic and librarian should not impose her/his value system onto the patrons. And to give a picture of what I am talking about:[...]



Scenario 8: There Are Liberals Under My Bed

2007-04-18T20:01:50.562-07:00

Question: Would you buy Katharine DeBrecht's Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed! book for your library?

The short answer is that if there is a demand for it, yes, I would buy it despite that I personally believe that the book is misguided indoctrination. I believe that the book depicts people based on their political views as monsters. I don't think that for a child's development labeling any group of peoples in such negative terms is helpful, because it creates prejudices in the child. Later s/he may look at a person's affiliations instead of the person itself to form a judgment.
However as a librarian, I should not allow my own value system to influence whether a book should be included in a library's collection or not. That should be decided based upon the collection development policy. As I live in Seattle (and don't work in a library) I looked at the Seattle Public Library's Selection policy.

It states four needs the collection aims to serve:

1. To enhance humanity and the enjoyment of life according to the full exercise of free choice
I believe this book in itself does not serve the first half of the above. The book teaches hate and talks about the opposite of enjoyment, how liberals ruin little kids' lives. However I also acknowledge that for some parents reading this kind of materials is joyful. (There must be quite a few of them, because the book is the 28,346th most popular amongst Amazon's millions of books.) The parents have the right to give it to their children. Therefore (and to ensure the second half of the above criterion) the book can be included in a library collection.

2. To assist in developing the skills and abilities needed for economic success
If one agrees with the dog-eat-dog worldview then this book can be helpful in this regards. It teaches to protect yourself against your enemies. It teaches work ethics and deals with economic issues. Albeit it does from a very different angle than I am coming from.

3. To develop the social awareness and knowledge needed for self-government and successful participation in a diverse community
This book excels in the self-government regard, as it attacks over-taxation, i.e. "big government." However it fairs poorly in the diverse community regard wit its disrespect of people other than conservatives.

4. To encourage and enhance personal, artistic, and intellectual growth
I do not see how this book does any of this.

To tally it up: Point 1 and 2 suggest that it should be included, half of point 3 does too, but point 4 does not. Thus the score is 2.5 vs 1.5 for inclusion.

Furthermore the SPL policy states:
The Library neither encourages nor discourages any particular viewpoint. No material will be excluded because of the race, nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, political or social views of the author.

Because of this the book definitely has the right to be included. Despite my better judgment I would put it in the children's section, because the young ones are the targeted audience. And the parent can make the decision whether to borrow it or not.




Big Bad Wolf in Desperate Housewives

2007-04-13T08:02:35.934-07:00

My wife started to watch the TV series Desperate Housewives on DVD, she is just in the first season. While I don't watch it with her, sometimes I catch a scene or two, between my studies. A few days ago I've seen one where one of the main characters blew up at a meeting where parents were organizing a school play version of Little Red Riding Hood. The organizer attempted to insist of putting on stage an ultra-sanitized version in which the wolf doesn't get killed at the end, because it shows a cruel treatment of animal. This parent was arguing for that the kids can handle this much violence. She did not make the point that ALA does that creating a different version of the play may violate copyright laws. Maybe this issue was not raised because this tale does not have a copyright owner who could sue the school. Nevertheless it was a funny scene that showed rather making storylines "politically correct" can overstep boundaries. This way the intellectual freedom of the parents and the children were protected. I was happy to see that the other mothers supported the production of the original version of the story.



Matilda in the Library

2007-04-13T07:46:55.529-07:00

As I was reading the interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights as applied to access for minors I kept thinking of the movie Matilda. It is based on a wonderful Roald Dahl story, in which a young girl with dreadful parent and school principle befriends her teacher and manages to create a meaningful life for herself. Part of it was her regular trips to the local library where she read everything she could. She regularly pulled home her radio flyer cart with full of books. Now imagine if she would have been denied access to certain books because only grownups were allowed to read them. That would have been a big impediment in her development. This fictional story illustrates the best for me why I agree with that
"Denying minors access to certain library materials and services available to adults is a violation of the Library Bill of Rights."



Intellectual Freedom Round Table

2007-04-13T07:36:27.979-07:00

I learned about the "first-ever Intellectual Freedom Round Table preconference to celebrate the American Library Association's Library Bill of Rights" from an AL Direct, link to Don Wood's Library 2.0 blog entry. I wish I could go, because it includes these topics:
  • A librarian is accused of sexual harassment because he recommended a controversial book
  • Internet filtering is supposed to prevent a hostile work environment in a private university setting
  • A librarian refuses to give police library circulation records without a subpoena
  • A librarian receives a National Security Letter (NSL) from the FBI
  • A book challenge provides an opportunity to help school administrators understand the practicality and importance of the Library Bill of Rights
  • Gay and lesbian library displays are challenged
  • A local challenge involving erotica occurs



RIP Kurt Vonnegut

2007-04-12T09:16:34.501-07:00

I just read that Kurt Vonnegut passed away. I read only 5-6 of his novels, but I found all of them thought provoking one way or another. His Slaughterhouse-Five is number 69 on the ALA's "The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000." It is also on the ACLU's honor list, because in 1973 "[t]he ACLU successfully sued a North Dakota school district on behalf of a teacher who taught Slaughterhouse Five, which was called "a tool of the devil" by a local minister." In his honor I will probably re-read Slaughterhouse-Five. I may need to re-experience of the horror of the Dresden bombing through Vonnegut's writing. Let me close with a Vonnegut quote from Dr John Ellison's IF related collection:
"Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing to say?"

RIP.



Man of the Year (2006)

2007-04-10T08:11:30.531-07:00

I saw the movie Man of the Year over the weekend on DVD. Robin Williams plays a talk show host how runs for the president of the USA and wins. I enjoyed the movie mostly, because of the Williams' and Laura Linney's performance. However looking back I realized that there were too many inconsistencies and unrealistic scenes. Nevertheless through excellent writing of monologs the movie managed to make a few strong points.One of them was delivered by a character played by Lewis Black (who is a regular on the Daily show, a show similar to the one depicted in the movie.) In it he rants about what's wrong with television. One the one hand you have a Holocaust denier. On the other hand you have a professor who knows inside out the history of the Holocaust. Television makes them look equal, by giving equal amount of attention and screen space. On the one hand yes there is freedom of speech and Holocaust deniers have the right to speak. On the other hand I believe the editors should have better judgment who to include and in what format in their shows. Just because somebody says something s/he doesn't have to be elevated and broadcasted.This goes back to the issue of intellectual freedom. A premise of this right is the trust in the people that they make the right choices. The state cannot have paternalistic attitudes and prescribe to its citizens what's right and wrong. That would make them subjects. However history has proven that this assumption can lead to wars and genocides. But who, when and where should draw the line? If I understand correctly that's what laws are for along with the tripartite government system and its checks and balances that keeps the legal system in balance. In this country USA it works more or less, although some people worry that the current administration's policies are eroding the system. But by and large it worked out. So far.The above relates to another sentence from the movie which was said much later by Christopher Walken's character (with whom I was slightly disappointed because he didn't dance in this movie. In the past every movie I've seen him in he had at least once dance scene. Here all he did was moved his arms and legs a little bit from a wheelchair for the music.) He said: "The appearance of legitimacy is more important than legitimacy itself." This is a cynical sentence, uttered by a manager who was trying to convince his product, the president elect, to stay on course despite (spoiler alert) that he won due a to a computer malfunction. The sentence can be applied not to just broadcast media (as done above), but print media too. The thinking used to be prevalent that if it is printed it must be true. By now most people know that is not the case. Nevertheless information still seems more legitimate if it is printed in a newspaper or in a book. The format gives it credibility in the eyes of many.My point is that our intellectual freedom is influenced by many factors we may or may not be aware of. The question of what we see legitimate and why is a tough one. As I was reading the history of the Library Bill of Rights I realized that librarians have struggled with this very issue for decades. They changed multiple times the wording about banning or not books that are not "factually sound." Eventually they dropped the whole reference, and decided that they don't have the right to decide what is true and what is not therefore they should not have the responsibility to do so. That job is left for the readers. I believe they were ri[...]



Freedom of Movement

2007-04-08T11:52:01.729-07:00

Last week I went to a Seder. This is a the Jewish holiday that includes a ritual dinner where amongst other activities we retell the Biblical story of the Exodus of Jews from ancient Egypt. All my readings of laws and policies on intellectual freedom topics this week made me think about the relationship of the two kind of freedom: movement ad intellectual.First I was playing with the idea whether the various kinds of freedoms (speech, religious, movement, to bear arms, gathering, to privacy…) can be organized similarly to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. But I discarded the notion. Technically it is possible to live without any of these, while the same cannot be said about Maslow's basic needs. The hierarchy of the various freedoms is highly dependent on one's value system. Some is more important than others, but there is no general, value-free way of deciding their hierarchical relationships.Another train of my thoughts was directed towards the US Constitution, because I've been reading it this week. This country according to its (history based) myth was founded by puritan. The story goes that they fled the Old World because o religious persecution. In other words they valued their religious freedom (or lack of) so much that they were ready to move to the end of the world. Literally. But this also implies that they had the freedom to do so. It might not have been their first choice and financially it must have been hard, but legally they had this option (albeit probably not many others. Somebody correct me if I don't know history correctly.) Therefore I found it strange that, as far as I can tell, the Constitution doesn't say anything about the freedom of movement. It was essential in the birth of the country a few centuries before. I suspect the reason for this omission is that in this vast new land it was no longer an issue. If you didn't like somebody or something you could just move elsewhere, often to uncharted territory. Hence the westward expansion. Freedom of movement did not have to be guaranteed, because it was given. But not to everybody. The indigenous people were restricted to reservations. The slaves brought over from Africa had even less freedoms.Thinking about the freedom of movement meme brought back another set of memories. In 1980 I was denied visa to leave Hungary. (Yes, at the time we had to have two kinds of visas for traveling: one for leaving Hungary, issued by the Hungarian authorities and another for the target country, issued by theirs.) My father emigrated from Hungary for political reasons a few years prior to that. This time we wanted to meet in a neighboring country but the government still didn't like him and therefore prevented me to meet him. At least I think that was their motivation, I never got direct confirmation of the reason for the denial. This is the reason this topic, freedom of movement, is important for me. It is personal. (Side note: Hungary, being a small country was still better off, than the Soviet Union. There you even had to have passport to travel in within the country.)I believe Intellectual Freedom and Freedom of Movement are closely related. If you are not allowed to move around and you know it that surely influences the way you think. The Stockholm syndrome, the prisoner's dilemma, the gulag mentality are just the most extreme examples for this. On the other hand if you don't have intellectual freedom but you can travel you will surely do so, just like the puritans did.Egypt i[...]



Coretta Scott King Center for Cultural and Intellectual Freedom

2007-04-08T09:57:16.519-07:00

The Yellow Spring News Ohio has some pictures of the artists who participated in the Grand Introduction Ceremony of the Coretta Scott King Center for Cultural and Intellectual Freedom. I was intrigued why they included IF in the name of the Center. I was aware of the major steps of Martin Luther King Jr's struggle for civil liberties, but knew very little of his wife's activities. Her bio at thekingcenter.org is impressive. It mentions that "Mrs. King has traveled throughout our nation and world speaking out on behalf of racial and economic justice, women's and children's rights, gay and lesbian dignity, religious freedom, the needs of the poor and homeless, full-employment, health care, educational opportunities, nuclear disarmament and ecological sanity."

A lot of the topics on this long list of interests relate to IF, but it was not explicitly mentioned. For the history of the Centre I had to check out the webpage at Antioch College, where it is located and where Mrs. King graduated from. There I learned that she

granted Antioch College the use of her name for a specific curriculum and program that would provide education, awareness and advocacy around issues of social justice and diversity. The framework for the Coretta Scott King Center for Cultural and Intellectual Freedom was created as a result of both student led initiatives and concepts outlined in a paper by Antioch alumni, Everette Freeman, on April 13, 2004. At the same time that Antioch students and community members were requesting more accountability around the ways that issues of cultural and intellectual freedom were addressed at Antioch, Everette Freeman produced a thoughtful concept paper titled, "Toward Community: A Plan for Embedding Cultural and Intellectual Freedom Into the Fabric of Antioch College."

I attempted to locate Freeman's paper, but failed. I would be curious of ideas how to enhance IF in colleges. I feel I have no reason to complain in this regard, I never felt restricted. On the other hand I heard from other students that they feel IF is not as wide as it could be. The major reasons they cite is the time pressure (there is just not enough time to discuss topics and include all the diverse viewpoints in class) and that professors squelch opinions that are radically different form theirs. In my experience those classmates of mine shared this second opinion whose way of expounding their ideas I found disruptive in the class. I think the professors' intervention was more about the format and less about the content of their words. But it is just one person's experience I don't have a wide perspective on the topic. I would be interested in finding some statistics. Meanwhile I wish the Coretta Scott King Center a lot of success.



Virgina's filtering law

2007-04-03T07:41:56.960-07:00

I learned form ALA's Young Adult Library Services Association blog that "In Virginia this week, the governor signed a law requiring all public libraries to filter "offensive material;" only adults conducting research can have the filters unblocked." This seems to be pretty much in accordance what we learned about the how the Supreme Court held CIPA's similar rules constitutional in 2003. I think that this ruling went through the Virginia legislation because of politics and not because the need for additional rules. It was pushed through a conservative group who believed that with this law they can provide stronger protection of children. As the linked article says:
The legislation, which passed the House 85–12 and the Senate 31–9, was supported by the conservative Family Foundation of Virginia, which has been calling for such a measure since 2004, the Roanoke Times reported March 23.