Sunday, October 31, 2010

Module 9

In going through the readings, the significance of this week’s topic didn’t really click for me until I got to the ALA TCE FAQ (how’s that for a mouthful!) site. For anyone else who missed it, here are a few lines that I thought summed it up well:

“Increasingly, libraries collect, store, make available, preserve and digitize cultural works without a clear policy position on how TCEs should be managed or protected. This is an area in which library values can conflict with the interests of traditional cultures, making policy decisions difficult.... On the one hand, ALA’s commitment to equitable access demands that our policy position should ensure that libraries continue to provide access to TCEs. On the other hand, our commitment to diversity demands that we respect the concerns of indigenous peoples who may not want their creative works collected due to tribal laws and traditions... ALA has a commitment to free and open access to materials held in our libraries. ALA also believes in respect for other ethical standards such as privacy, individual rights, diversity, and preservation. We believe that by bringing awareness to these concerns, better partnerships between native people and libraries will develop, and aid in the preservation of cultures and cultural materials” (

What makes this situation further problematic is that it’s an issue on both library/community levels as well as communities/national/international levels. How do we formulate a policy that encompasses these practices without assimilation or conformation? My first thought was to be diplomatic about it by including all people partied to the agreement on the discussions, but as with the blog post about pushback from SAA on the ALA’s document, even that can backfire. Holding “everyone at the table” type discussions are difficult to have because there will always be someone left out, feeling like they should have been there. Pilch (2009) writes, “Within a legal and cultural policy framework, libraries can play a positive role in the preservation and use of indigenous works,” which sounds nice but lacks practical application on account of the question “Where's the legal and cultural policy?” SAA’s reaction really illustrated the way in which individual parties to a policy discussion really can complicate the act of establishing guiding principles because are guiding principles supposed to be so explicitly dictated that there is no room for interpretation? Is there a standard level of specificity that is needed to appease the involved parties yet not suffocate the implemented policy structure?

In going through this information, I understand why the ALA is getting involved with the policy discussions. As librarians, we have core values and ideas that make up much of the information structure of our democratic society. However, I’m struggling to see where exactly libraries truly fit in amidst the conversations and their role in constructing the policy. Internal policies in individual libraries are clearly “our turf,” and specific library types (and archives, for those archivists out there) that deal directly with preservation and access to cultural items (which arguably could be all library types, but let’s just assume we’re talking about special collections and tribal libraries only). So I hesitate to want libraries on the forefront of the dialogue surrounding the issue when we lack a united front as a cultural institution ourselves. Not to prescribe taking a backseat on this as the response of choice; I think that would make the situation no better than letting mandatory censorship talks happen at national levels without our foot in the door keeping government from requiring things like filters and trafficking tools.
I just wonder what exactly the policy goal we’re moving toward will look like, especially if “TCEs are often evolving, developing, and being recreated within source communities” (Pilch, 2009). In other words, TCEs are a moving target, and with our current mental constructs of what copyright is, it can seem impossible to our minds how we can develop a policy that would be enforceable and upheld in a legal system for something as dynamic as culture. Not that it is impossible, it just feels impossible right now because to do so will be blazing new trails. At least that is what it seems like – are there policies for other information issues that can be likened to this?

With all the definitional, political, communal, religious, even legal problems involved, I started thinking about the issue in a metaphorical sense. Now, I'm not one to make computer metaphors, ever. I usually find I lack both the intelligence and wit to craft any worth trying to figure out (and this example may very well still lack both). However, our Electronic Resource Management class is currently learning about compliance and integration issues between different ERM systems, which got me thinking about how developing a policy for cultural and national protection of TCE issues and community/institutional relationships complicated by traditional copyright versus traditional knowledge is similar to "synching" your systems in an ERM system and integrate them for the most efficient workflow and output. But doing this in the cultural world, however, is exponentially more difficult because unlike a computer system you can manipulate and rework the hardware or create new software, cultures and nations don't deconstruct and rebuild quite that easily.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Traditional Cultural Expression (TCE) in Libraries and Cultural Heritage Institutions

I found myself approaching this week’s readings with a mix of cautious optimism and weary cynicism. On one hand it’s encouraging that the ALA is establishing policies to deal with the handling of TCEs, and that they’re seeking the input of indigenous populations in formulating those policies. On the other hand, it’s somewhat discouraging in that the discussion seems to revolve around concepts like copyright and intellectual property, things that have no real meaning within indigenous cultures, and various efforts to apply those concepts to TCEs. On some level, I feel as if I’m reading a discussion of how to define and legally appropriate indigenous culture in a more respectful manner than the course of world history has previously demonstrated. To put it in a more potentially incendiary way, this seems to be a matter of debate by and for white intellectuals. That might be a bit unfair, because there seems to have been some positive progress made so far and there may be more to come as policies are shaped and revised. Libraries, museums and archives can play an important role in preserving TCEs and providing access to them.

I particularly liked the comment that came at the tail end of the OITP conference video from Jennifer O’Neal, Head Archivist at The National Museum of The American Indian, who pointed out the importance of communication and collaboration between indigenous communities and museums, libraries and archives as a means of ensuring that TCEs are properly cared for. As the ALA TCE FAQ noted in question 10, ALA cannot speak for indigenous people. Collaboration between The American Indian Library Association and ALA’s Native, Rural and Tribal Libraries Committee, and the ALA Diversity Council and committees has played a central role in drafting and revising the ALA TCE statement, as it should.

I was a little confused by the Deborah Leslie ArchivesNext post, mainly because I don’t think I understand the interagency politics that seem to provide its subtext. About midway through, she cites some disagreements over the inadequate definition of “traditional cultural expression” and “traditional knowledge” and then goes on to question whether or not the unpublished writings of terrorists could be considered TCEs. Is she suggesting that there exists a population for which terrorism is a form of cultural knowledge and/or expression? Also, she doesn’t really offer any hint as to what a more adequate definition of “traditional cultural expression” might be. Her main point, so far as I can tell, seems to be asking the ALA to address the issue of SAA/RBMS’s lack of inclusion in the process of drafting the current TCE statement. It seems to be a perfectly valid point. Archivists have a vested stake in the continued preservation of and access to TCEs. They should have a say in the adoption of TCE policies.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Traditional Cultural Expression in Libraries and Cultural Heritage Instituions

The old adage "You learn something new everyday" is most definitely true for me today. I don't know about the rest of you, but this week is the first time that the issue of traditional culture expressions and libraries and archives was not even close to being on my radar. All of the issues and terminology (and acronyms - of which there were ALOT) were completely new to me.

Thus I was grateful for the ALA TCE FAQ (see what I mean about acronyms) and that I read this document first. This article was a great introduction to the arguments surrounding this issue. What struck me the most from this introduction was how much of a sticky/delicate issue TCEs are. While we as librarians are engrained to want to give the public access to as much information as possible (as evidenced by all of our responses to the module on banned and challenged books), indigenous peoples are productive of the artifacts of their culture. As stated in FAQ #3, "This is an area in which library values can conflict with the interests of traditional cultures, making policy decisions difficult." This is definitely an issue where compromise is needed; otherwise bridges could definitely be burned and one group (if not both) could lose out on valuable, enlightening information.

It is apparent from the ALA FAQ statement that ALA realizes the delicacy of the TCE issue and thus is going about their process in an effort to create this compromise. As stated in FAQ #10, ALA knows it does not have the perspective of indigineous peoples and is thus enlisting the opinions and assistance of such groups as the American Indian Library Association, ALA's Native, Rural, and Tribal Libraries Committee, and the ALA Diversity Council.

But yet, as evidenced by the blog post found at, bridges within the library community have been burned. This post really addresses the point that our goal in the debate (or any debate over an ethics issue) should not be to make everyone happy, but to do what the evidence and information presented in our research suggests is right. What that "right" is as it relates to the debate, I have no idea (and, it would appear, neither do the major stakeholders). It will be interesting to see what comes of this in the next few months and years to come.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Medium is the Message

Marshall McLuhan once said that the Medium is the Message. I tend to agree…but what does this say about the decline of journalism – of investigation – and the increase of our digital reliance? When it comes to the decline of journalism, of print, and ultimately of a text based civilization, I myself don't know if the 'short attention span' argument is valid - I got bored with the subject and moved on to something else! I wonder if such diversion seeking has its roots in humanism and, ultimately, the truly American phenomenon of coming to grasps with the loss of the ‘frontier’. Do we have short attention spans – or are we simply continuing the search for something new?

What I do believe in, though – and this does come back to the idea of a lost ‘frontier’, is the contemporary demand to be entertained in all things. And lets face it, print and text just don’t appeal to the masses like the glittering brightness of the ‘new frontier’ – technological whirly-gigs like TV and computer sandwiches (oops – sorry – my attention span just went again). When the sexy lips of a news anchor talks to me about a snorkeling dog, a skiing squirrel, or the smallest living person on record – by god I CARE. I care because the topic of little people and super agile rodents entertains me. (I feel that I must put a disclaimer here: I by no means intend to ridicule any person – my point is that TV, Internet, etc use politically incorrect and inconsiderate classifications to bump up viewer ratings – how many shows are on TLC about little people? Why do people watch them? Sure, maybe to understand the differences and similarities, but also to be entertained). My ultimate point is that entertainment is a colossal contributor to the downfall of print media. I wonder why we’re so surprised. This is, after all, the home of the drive-through, the 5 minute oil change, and the idyllic belief that there is always room for improvement. America deals with limits (and the lack thereof) – which came about when we understood our frontier had evaporated nearly as quickly as when we realized it existed in the first place.

This has ended up being a long-winded response to the the idea of journalistic demise. I can't help but feel hopeful that true investigation will endure as we come to grasp with what needs to be investigated. A new frontier of sorts is on the horizon, and text-based media must stake its claim.

Poll: How do you get most of your news?

Let's try taking a poll.  Think about your most constantly used news source.  What is it?  Use the comments to explain your choices further, talk about your evolution in news source use, explain why you eschew the news sources that you do, or say whatever else you'd like about this topic.

How do you get the most of your news?

Check Coursware Site - File Updated

Class -

The Roberts draft article that many reported as corrupted has been fixed and made available to you.  Please download it, and the Schiller, for this week.  If you continue to have trouble with either file, please report this to me ASAP either on the blog or on Learn@UW.  Thanks!

Monday, October 25, 2010

The death of newspapers

It's funny (not in the ha ha sense of the word) that we are discussing the news media on the week that story of NPR firing Juan Williams has led to widespread calls for cutting NPR's government funding. Especially so, given the gist of Nichols and McChesney's article, calling for a variety of government interventions and public subsidies in effort to save the newspaper business. While strategies such as, eliminating postal rates for certain periodicals and tax credits for individuals to subscribe to newspapers may help to shore up the newspaper business, this approach also has its dangers. Government is often hostile towards journalism and at times even towards individual journalists. And as such, it seems to me that a business model where newspapers are dependent on direct or indirect government subsidies may place newspapers on even more precarious ground; subject to the capriciousness of the political climate in Washington.

As a lifelong listener to public radio (to be honest as a child I felt as if I was being subjected to it) I remember the threats during the "Republican Revolution" of 1994 to zero out the CPB's budget. The budget cuts passed the House, but were restored after public outcry. A more recent example, is that of Kenneth Tomlinson, appointed chairman of the board of the CPB, by President George W. Bush. Tomlinson was forced to resign after he was found to have misappropriated funds in trying to shape the political coverage on PBS and make it more favorable to conservatives.

I agree with Nichols' and McChesney's overall point that having quality journalism is a matter of public interest. But for the reasons I cited above, I'm just not sure I agree with their solutions to save a profession that is under considerable duress. The independence of the 4th Estate is absolutely essential to democracy and making it in any way beholden to government for funding, be it directly or indirectly, threatens that independence.

Unfortunately, as the Schiller chapter outlines, journalistic independence is also being threatened by increasing corporate control and focus on the bottom line. Corporations have agendas too and it is easy to see that a newspaper or news program may not want to report on a story that is unfavorable to their parent corporation. The focus on the bottom line, rather than the public service of reporting the news has lead to slashing of staff, less in depth reporting and sensationalized ratings driven coverage. All of which have had a deleterious effect on our public discourse.

Previous posters are right, this is depressing. Between corporate control or occasionally arbitrary or meddlesome government support, I feel that our news media is trapped between Scylla and Charybdis. Here's hoping that the up and coming generation of news reporters and journalists are able to safely navigate some choppy waters.

On that note, here's a somewhat hopeful take on students in Journalism school from NPR's Morning Edition last week: What's the Point of Journalism School, Anyway?

the death of newspapers

If corporations have not completely taken over society, then they at least have infiltrated our lives at a level higher than any other point in history. Whether it is the handful of corporations that own and dictate the flow of news and other information, or the corporations hired by the U.S. government to carry out outsourced tasks, the role of the corporation has become powerful in its ability to wield a lot of control over our democratic society.


It seems as if everything is sensationalized, even the harder news stories, and I often find myself thinking, “This is news?” either when I am watching television or reading online.

The Nation article on the death of newspapers speaks of the need for government intervention to bring about a reform in journalism. Although the idea of the government management in this area is unacceptable to many people, the idea does bring up many valid points according to the articles authors, John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney, specifically:

It was the government’s action in the first place to allow deregulation and media monopolies; is it possible to reform that decision and disassemble the current media monopoly? “…the government should be prepared to rewrite rules and regulations and to use its largess to aid a variety of sound initiatives,” the authors write, adding, “Only government can implement policies and subsidies to provide an institutional framework for quality journalism.” The authors describe other solutions such as tax breaks for Americans who buy newspapers, millions of dollars in funding for public media that would build a “press ‘infrastructure project’ that is necessary to maintain an informed citizenry and democracy itself,” and government funds to provide for media production materials in middle schools, high schools and colleges, to name a few.

These are really good ideas that, when implemented, may even succeed, and that would be a great thing. However, I do find some fault with the reality of these solutions taking place. Corporations, their lobbyists, and their millions, ultimately have more power in combating legislation that will affect them negatively. It will take principled government leaders to lead the change, and create or amend legislation that currently serves a handful of individuals (corporations) and denies the rest of American citizens the variety of news and information choices that truly reflect a democratic society.

Week 8: Journalism

This week's readings and video painted a depressing portrait of just how far print media, like newspapers, has fallen by the wayside with the rise of the Internet. It made me realize how much my newspaper use has dropped, too. Until I went off to college, my parents received a daily newspaper, the Post-Crescent, and a small twice-weekly local paper, The Kaukauna Times-Villager, and I read them passionately. In fact, I had to pause reading the Nichols article so I could make sure that the Times-Villager is still publishing. (It is!) Watched the evening news with my parents every night. While we had a dial-up internet connection, my parents always opted to read the paper.

After I left for college and embraced high-speed internet, I couldn't afford a newspaper subscription, so I got all my news online. Whenever my college released a newspaper, I'd read it, but I knew that I could always read it online later. This pattern has stayed with me since. As part one of the Frontline video mentioned, 20-30 year olds don't watch the evening news; they just get it online, and I agree. In an effort to combat this, my old school teamed up with a couple of newspapers (USA Today, Leader Telegram, Wall Street Journal) and gave them out free for a few weeks. As far as I know, it heightened interest in newspapers for a time, but I don't know how effective giving out free newspapers to college students really was.

Reading these articles left me without much hope for print newspapers. I really want the print format to last, but the convenience of getting news online and watching cable news shows like The Daily Show seems like newspapers will continue to slide until the funding and interest re-appears. My family and I have noticed how skinny the newspaper has become in the past few years, and they lament that fact. I liked the suggestion in the Nichols article about slashing shipping costs for newspapers who make less than 20% of their funding from advertising. Strategies like that are a good start to saving newspapers, but I don't know how much that will help.


I have to admit that I get almost all of my news from Internet sources except the small amount of cable politics/news programs that I occasionally watch. Even my parents who subscribe to three or four physical newspapers get a lot of their news from the Web as well. With the loss of local, and major, newspapers, people will lose a source of current events and information; however, I think newspapers are losing out to newer and faster forms of information. People are becoming increasingly used to receiving news reports as the news is happening, and physical newspapers cannot compete with that level of reporting. By the time newspaper articles are written, printed, and delivered to consumers, the events have already been available on the Internet for hours. physical newspapers can offer in-depth articles that depend on research as opposed to news events, but then newspapers would begin to compete more with magazines and journals. In some situations, the newspapers may be able to transition to an online presence, but people, myself included, are not going to be willing to pay subscription prices to access information that they have become accustomed to accessing for free. I wonder how things would have turned out if newspapers had never offered free news online, i.e. always required subscriptions to access online information like the Wall Street Journal used to require.

I am often shocked at the way TV networks advertise the evening news as if it were some drama or fictional show; I also often find the stories ridiculous and obviously aired to try and draw in viewers. Personally, I think news shows should offer accurate news about what is happening locally, nationally, and globally rather than leaving out news in order to air stories that are intended to draw in viewers but provide little information. I think the fact that people expect to be entertained at all times and the fact that the Internet may be decreasing attention spans affects how news is presented. Personally, I tend to read headlines and skim through articles, jumping from website to website; I worry that future generations will become so accustomed to getting information fast and in short bursts that they will not have the patience to read beyond headlines, and therefore miss a lot of information and analysis about the world around them.

I thought it was interesting in the videos that there seemed to be differences in opinions about the definition of news and journalism. I do not think news needs to come from professional journalists through traditional news outlets (like newspapers), and I think the use of blogs to provide news and current events can provide an important source of information and opinion that we are currently losing through the demise of newspapers and the need to make news shows popular. One danger I see with blogs as sources of news and information is that people will not consider the underlying biases of the author and read a variety of sources to gain a balanced view of the situation.

I am not sure how news will be presented to people in the future, but I think something needs to be done to make sure people are able to access reliable information for little or no cost. Without access to information about what is happening around us, we will be unable to make informed decisions in our personal and professional lives as well as in our role as citizens in a democracy.

Friday, October 22, 2010


Everyone - great posts this module on the book banning.  It's been interesting to see where, as a group, you tend to totally agree and where and when nuance is introduced among you (current/future info professionals).  We will continue with more issues along these lines that are certain to introduce increasingly more challenging ethical nuances for us to work on dissecting together. I also appreciate the creativity you're using to assess these issues - good call on looking up the PA in our own library system, for example!

Keep up the excellent work, everyone; these are rich and thoughtful conversations.

As always, here's a look at our recent stats.  I'm currently in Sweden at the AoIR 11.0 conference (AoIR is an organization many of you may be interested in), and so that's probably me you see on the map!  Glad for our virtual, always-on class.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Censorship in the Library

I am not surprised to see that everyone seems to be against banning books, but it does make me feel a little better anyway. I have a nagging fear, that has thankfully proven to be unmerited thus far, that the libraries and other information professions will be infiltrated by those that would, if not agree with the WBC4SL, submit to their requests in order to bring peace to the community and their library.

The idea of holocaust denial is so repulsive that I was tempted to agree with the idea of labeling the information as false, keeping it on the shelves (even in this case I would never be in favor of banning a book) but making sure whoever picked it up was well aware that the library and the majority of the world’s population viewed it as false. Not with the memory of the YouTube clips from West Bend fresh in my mind though. I will never fully understand those that wish to ban, burn or restrict books.

John Stuart Mill would say that holocaust denial literature should be included because to exclude it would be to claim are own infallibility; because there might be some truth to it; or it will better illustrate and bolster the truth of those that oppose the holocaust deniers by means of comparison and scrutiny. Just as concerning (more really – I cannot find it in me to feel that the loss of holocaust denying literature would be terrible) is the precedent it would set. If this is banned, what is next? If it is labeled it strengthens the arguments of those like the West Bend Citizens for Safe Libraries when they say, “Okay, you can keep the homosexual literature on the shelf, but we want a warning label on it.” We need to try to make people understand that we are not endorsing controversial information or books, we are not agreeing with it, but we are protecting it because it represents something larger than just that specific work. Not many things can be dealt with in absolutes, black and white, but I think that when dealing with people’s rights it has to be. Once you create an opening it is only a matter of time before someone exploits it. Although I can’t help but wonder how Dr. Joyce Latham’s (a professor at US-Milwaukee that spoke in West Bend) remarks were received that day, I wanted to cheer for her. There is a reason for what we do.

censor the censor

I’m a total romantic when it comes to this great experiment we call Democracy. I even appreciate the uncertainty that surrounds the idea of ‘freedom’ and ‘we the people’ when it comes to the theory vs practice of our government. This is one of the reasons I find librarianship so attractive – the opportunity to submerge myself in the uncertainty is too good to pass up. I definitely have strong opinions about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, religion, politics, etc (pretty much everything that makes life interesting), but am of the mind that if I was to be surrounded by people that thought and looked like me, I would ultimately be disappointed with my lack of experiences (albeit I would be surrounded by really good-looking people ;), one could argue that ‘experience’ comes about when confronted with ‘difference’, ). This is why a book challenge doesn’t get me too worked up. It should make sense that I am 100% against the notion of pulling titles from library shelves because of their potential for excitement (whether or not it does is possibly another larger issue confronting us as ‘information professionals…”), but the act of challenging is extremely Democratic itself. How can we possibly state that libraries and what they stand for is the very foundation of our Democracy at the same time we curse those who challenge us? I only say this and feel this way because our predecessors have set precedent as for the actions to be taken when such a challenge occurs (and if all goes well, the precedent of keeping the book on the shelf will prevail). This in part is why, for me, watching the West Bend town hall gathering, with all of its disparity regarding ‘righteous’ and ‘diabolic’ made my heart swell with appreciation for our ‘right to fight’. Granted, I say all this as a library student who would fight, tooth and nail, for the inclusion of all material, but who would also welcomes all kinds of challenges. Not only do such challenges legitimize our profession, they encourage us (as librarians) to question our own resolve, thus adding to our aptitude as professionals.

One of the most exciting characteristics of librarianship for me is, ultimately, its lack of authority. Our duty is to facilitate and make accessible our culture. No matter how much we want to, we can’t dictate the direction it takes. We can influence all we want, but in the end we are purveyors of a greater purpose. In apology to Jimi Hendrix, I take my leave with the idea that, with the power of soul, anything is possible. I applaud anybody who believes in something enough to make a fool out of themselves…including both sides of the issue of a book removal.

Pernkopf's Atlas at UW

I found this week's readings very interesting to my work experience at Ebling Health Sciences Library here at UW. The Freedom to Read statement was a very fitting prelude to the Pernkopf controversy articles, and it is always a nice reminder to read about libraries' commitment to fighting censorship in defense of democracy and the right to individual choice. One of my favorite lines from the document was, "Every silencing of a heresy, every enforcement of an orthodoxy, diminishes the toughness and resilience of our society and leaves it less able to deal with controversy and difference."

This resounding statement seemed to tie in well with the Pernkopf articles. The issue of the Pernkopf Atlas was unknown to me, but I was intrigued by the debate surrounding it. Not only does it take issue in the realm of library ethics but also, as Atlas writes, with medical ethics as well. Parallel with the Freedom to Read statement, the MLA code of ethics also supports the inclusion of materials from diverse perspectives, oftentimes including the Pernkopf Atlas. After reading about this book, I had to check if we had it anywhere at UW. After work one day, I went upstairs to our stacks, and sure enough, UW has not one, not two, but five editions of the Pernkopf Atlas available for circulation (years 1943, 1952, 1957, 1960, and 1963-64).

I paged through the earliest edition and did not find any of the swastikas that were mentioned next to author signatures in the illustrations, which surprised me because I thought there would for sure be some in the 1943 edition. The illustrations truly are remarkable, and had I not read about the issues that some people take with the textbooks, I do not believe I would have ever known any better. In fact, I'm glad there was no disclaimer or label included on the work because my perceptions toward the book - again, if I had approached it without knowing about the issues - would have been automatically colored in a negative shade as opposed to viewing an incredible representation of the basic sciences for what their merit deserves.

Wolkoff (1996) writes, "Intellectual freedom must include the freedom to believe in a lie." Were the authors/illustrators lying by withholding information about the origins of the corpses used for the atlas? I don't believe so, and thus don't see any reason for the book's removal from collections or inappropriateness. But despite whether it is based on a lie or not, I support Wolkoff's assertion that we as librarians are not judges of truth. We are providers of the broadest and most useful and advanced formats and sources of information required by our fields.

The Ban Hammer

First off, I'd like to say how disappointed I am with the comments on those youtube videos. I have come to expect a certain lack of coherent thought when it comes to internet commenting, and I don't think I saw one person that I could legitimately call a troll. That epic beard man looking dude was ripe for it. The terminals.

In regards to banning books I guess I'm on board with most everyone else in taking a general stance against banning books. I keep thinking about how it seems many people are of the opinion that if a library possessing a piece of material it also means they agree/approve of said piece of material. I don't know where this mindset came from, but it seems fairly clear to me that a library collection operates differently from a personal collection. If people aren't interested in the subject matter of something, it's really easy never to check that book out or even go find it in the library. The argument often is that the children don't know any better and will go read it and be ruined. While I do think the library can be an influence on a child's growth and development, unless something's going wrong at home it's not going to overshadow some parenting.

Onto to Nazi stuff, I don't think there's really that much of a dilemma. In a perfect world a library would collect everything and rejoice in their complete knowledge of the infinite. However, in reality public libraries aren't swimming in Scrooge McDuck piles of gold coins, so they've got to spend acquisition money on materials that will be useful for their public. If there's a huge demand for holocaust denial literature, collect away. Most likely there's not, and the money is better spent elsewhere.

However, I recognize that my viewpoint probably won't work as policy. Thus it's very important to get a solid policy in place on how materials are collected to combat people complaining about this or that being or not being in the library.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Week 8

Ahhh….I dislike book banners. They annoy the heck out of me!!
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way…

I have never understood the book banning mentality. Why someone should read and live their lives by someone else’s rules. I have never gotten the whole sense of control. The control of dictating what book is taught in an English class or what is in a library collection which is paid by community (not one individual’s) taxes. Although, I do suppose that control is a very powerful feeling indeed for there seems to be many book banners…sad :(
As a librarian, and as a pro-reader, I am in full support of the ALA’s “Freedom to Read Statement”. However, I was in support of this philosophy long before I ever thought of becoming a librarian.

Do I think that some information/sources are better than others? Yes, undoubtedly. MedlinePuss is far better than (for example) for obtaining reliable, non-commercial, medical information. In reference classes we are taught to use sources with the most accurate information. However, we are also taught to provide what the customer wants – and that is everything under the sun. It may include everything from books which argue the “Science behind Scientology” to the “Hoax of the Holocaust”. Libraries are not equipped to prophesize every need or desire of information within the community. However, we ARE equipped to make sure that our library has the ability for anyone to find the information they seek (either in-house or from ILL). That is our mission and that is what Tiggers do best.

Back to point. Libraries are a place of information - a location where ideas are collected and shared. I wholly approve of the regulations within the Freedom to Read Statement, but I like point #2 the best which reads, “Publishers, librarians, and booksellers do not need to endorse every idea or presentation they make available. It would conflict with the public interest for them to establish their own political, moral, or aesthetic views as a standard for determining what should be published or circulated.”

This allows libraries to not become a victim of one ideal or another. It also allows libraries to not waste money on purchasing EVERY published material…because each book has a different viewpoint. Imagine how bankrupt the state would be if that were so? However, it also allows community libraries to both cover all aspects of a theory while still providing materials which will best serve the community. For example, a conservative, old fashioned community adjacent to the world’s best free hospital may have little use for many books on Alternative Medicine, or not. This is essential in smaller libraries who do not have the budget to round out the collection for philosophy’s sake even though they do not wish to actively participate in censorship.

Week 7: The Pernkopf Atlas and Holocaust Denial

After reading and viewing this week’s materials, as well as my classmates’ blog posts, I find myself infinitely more informed about banned literature, the approaches being used to deal with censorship, and seeing different angles of debate in censoring materials.

The Holocaust is an event that I personally find undeniable. In the cases of the Pernkopf Atlas and Holocaust denial literature, I immediately thought, “Never!” on including these materials. Yet I, like my classmates, remembered back to Mill, and his argument on truth and how we must always indulge fully in both sides of an argument before standing on solid ground. Truth is never one-sided, so to speak. Denying the Holocaust seems to be a whole different issue, because it is not about truth, but about promoting a lie. But in the interest of a truly democratic society that does not infringe the free speech and opinions of others, would a librarian who deliberately removes – or doesn’t buy – denial literature or the Pernkopf Atlas, be a traitor against the ideals of a democratic society?

One of the arguments given by Atlas for keeping the Pernkopf Atlas is that it serves the memories of the people (victims?) depicted in the book. At first, I thought this was an erroneous argument, but as I pondered this throughout the week, I have to agree somewhat. Today, the book can be used by any person of any race, creed or religion, in a profession that works to heal persons of any creed, race or religion. The use of the book today is a slap in the face to its author who, as dean of the University of Vienna’s medical faculty during World War II, ascribed to carrying out the Nazi ideology of ethnic cleansing, and revised the curriculum to help enact the Nazi’s rules and regulations of alienation. Ironically, the book is available in a world that shuns the type of evil government Pernkopf was so committed to, and can ultimately serve the greater good of humanity.

Still, is labeling controversial materials a viable option? I want to say no, because as Atlas stated, then every book in a collection is up for the same type of criticism, and libraries are supposed to provide information, not judge it. Like “hansenmk” asked, “Do libraries really want to get involved in these kinds of debates?” Shouldn’t we let patrons come to their own conclusions and make their own decisions about what to watch, read or listen to?

Two examples come to mind about materials that I can check out of my library. The first is that in the Warner Bros. DVD release of Looney Toons cartoon collections (various volumes). Actress Whoopi Goldberg introduces the collection by saying that some of the material could be racist, but that Warner Bros. did not delete any politically incorrect footage because that would be the same as if saying those ideas never existed. Granted, this was probably a corporate decision to prevent possible lawsuits, but the inclusion of controversial materials in a library serves the truth of history, the two-sided debate of issues and the freedom of every author.

Yet, as I circle back to Holocaust denial literature, I cannot believe that providing resources that further propagate a lie as terrible as the event itself will help scholarly research. I also believe that it is wrong to withhold material that is against my better moral judgment, even though many might agree with me. I am decidedly undecided.

Along with my fellow posters in this week’s blog entries, I agree that a thorough procedure regarding collection development, challenged materials, previously banned books, and the like is the strongest step in the right direction. Above all, we must never forget that we are the proponents of free speech and expression, both in its acquisition and its accessibility to all.

Banned, Challenged, and Challenging Books

I have to say, it was difficult to set aside the visceral reaction provoked by some of the week's materials (particularly some of the West Bend videos) long enough to form a reasoned response. To me, the concepts that loomed large as through-lines were the notion of intellectual freedom, as outlined in the Library Bill of Rights, and Mill's method of divining the truth through the "collision of adverse opinions". While it may not be the least problematic solution, the only one that really seems to make the most sense is allow all sides of an issue, however personally distasteful, to have their fair hearing. I particularly liked this quote from J.C. Swan in the Wolkoff piece: "To stumble upon a whole truth is a rare and lucky event, and we’re usually not equipped to appreciate it. In this state of affairs, bad ideas and untruths are a necessary part of the search." (Wolkoff, 9)

Speaking of Wolkoff, I happened to be in a public library while reading that article and it led me to browse through the catalog to see what sort of holdings they had on the topic of Holocaust denial. A quick keyword search brought up 22 titles analyzing the subject, including some by the authors Wolkoff mentioned - Lucy Dawidowicz and Deborah Lipstadt - but nothing in the way of materials specifically by Holocaust deniers.

This, in turn, raised a couple of questions for me. Who are the prominent authors, as far as Holocaust denial goes? They're not exactly well-known names, and most of their work is self-published. These are not the sort of things you're going to find by accident. Additionally, I had to wonder what sort of selection criteria a library's collection development staff would use for choosing titles by Holocaust deniers. Not to be overly glib, but how do you choose the most "authoritative" version of a fundamentally false account?

The closest thing I could find to a first-person account from a Holocaust denier was a book called "Lying About Hitler" by Richard J. Evans, a professor of History at Cambridge University who served as an expert witness for the defense in David Irving's libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt in 2000 (Irving lost the case, and eventually went bankrupt filing appeals). The book presents much of Irving's testimony in its entirety, along with a thorough examination of the historical inaccuracy of his claims. It ultimately serves as an object lesson - one Holocaust denier was given his day in court, adverse opinions collided, and a deeper understanding of the truth was achieved.

challenged books

I have never understood why people think they can dictate to everyone else in a school/community can read, especially when their arguments are solely on religious grounds. I think part of really believing in a viewpoint and understanding those beliefs, of any kind, is the ability to recognize that counterarguments or materials that do not fit into the belief system exist and then live as you believe you should without forcing those beliefs on others. I think I am going back to Mills' statement about not suppressing ideas because without ideas counter to what we believe is true we lose sight of the arguments for why we believe something is true. I agree with everyone else that having a policy laying out a process for dealing with challenges and collection policies. Since many challenges seem to revolve around ethical, moral, or religious beliefs, I think it is important for the librarian to appear to the challenger as a neutral party, neither for or against the books at issue, to avoid the situation from blowing-up or slipping into a fight over personal beliefs. I think policies can help frame the issue and hopefully allow the problem to be dealt with in a respectful, civil, and mature manner.

Although I sincerely believe that each person, not the library, should decide what he or she read, I am less sure about what to do with materials like Holocaust denial works or works with questionable pasts. I think for works like the Pernkopf Atlas, which are accurate and useful, each individual should decide whether he or she should use the book. I do not believe that books should necessarily be removed based on the actions or beliefs of the underlying authors or contributors, and the books should be separated from their origins, when possible. I say "when possible" because the author or contributor's beliefs may have more affect on the information or materials in some areas than others; for example, the accuracy of the information in the Pernkopf Atlas is not affected by Pernkopf's beliefs, but with works like "The Education of Little Tree" where the author turned out to be a Klu Klux Klan member, the author's beliefs may be more important.

Instinctively I want to say that Holocaust denial works are just false and should not be in libraries. However, if I think more about it, I think librarians should not be put in the place of deciding whether something is true or false. In some cases, a work may be clearly false, but others are not; as someone pointed out, some people may claim the bible is false. I think making any decisions about the truthfulness of any work is a slippery slope towards making collection decisions based on personal judgments of the books. Therefore, I think if a library feels Holocaust denial works are appropriate for the purposes of their collection, they should provide access to those works (without labels). As for the argument that libraries don't need to have them in the collection, but should provide them by inter-library loan provides one problem for me. If everyone decides to provide access solely through inter-library loan, the work will be unavailable because there will not be a library from which to loan the work.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Banned, Challenged, and Challenging Books

Oh banned books..... My mantra when it comes to this topic has always been and always will be is that our professional role is to be librarians, not parents. I myself have never dealt directly with a book challenge, but I think there are several things to keep in mind. First of all, as Mel (and the Atlas article) mentioned, our best line of (pro-active) defense is to have a procedure for dealing with challenges in our collection development policy and to know what that policy says. I think our second line of defense is to simply listen to the person who is making the complaint and to explain to that person that everyone has the right to decide what they/their family should read and that they should not take that right away from someone else. These two actions will probably stop 95% of book challenges then going any further than a conversation between the challenger and the librarian.

Of course, there are the 5% of cases - like the West Bend example - that do go beyond a simple conversation. I have to agree with my classmates who say that this case really scares me. I do think that best thing libraries can do is reach out to professional organizations (such as the ALA) for support. West Bent did this - as evidenced by the statement by the UW-M professor (

Onto the other two issues of intellectual freedom we examined for this week - Holocaust denial literature and the anatomy atlas. I honestly am not as sure what I would do in these cases since they seem to be more applicable to academic libraries (my interest is more in public libraries). Of the three options presented by the articles on the issues (Exclude, include, or label) I think there is one thing we should absolutely not do - and that is label. Labeling items as "false" is a very slippery slope. There are some people who would say that the Bible should be labeled as false and others that would argue that books on evolution should be labeled as false. Do libraries really want to get involved in these kind of debates?

Tip Sheet: What to Do When a Book is Challenged

I scanned a document that Michael Edmonds, my lecturer last year for LIS 450, prepared for the class for future reference. It is condensed from (updated link from one mentioned in document) and ALA's Coping with Challenges.
(click on the image to read)

Banned Books: Policy and Protocol

After reading the articles for this week -- I kind of panicked. What the banana boat would I do if I needed to defend a book in my library's collection? Does someone have my back? Does my library have a policy -- a how-to?
In the Atlas article, it is mentioned that "an established collection development policy is the most important tool a library has for handling challenges to the inclusion of controversial items in its collection....The most important aspect of such a policy is its very existence. Such statements let library users know that their libraries do not endorse the materials they collect." p.56

Besides ensuring your library has a clear policy on how to handle challenges, you should also be aware of the following *amazing* (I'd make this word all glittery if I could) resource right here in Madison:

The Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) (right down the hall from the SLIS Commons) provides "guidelines for maintaining clarity and control in a situation when materials are challenged." They have useful documents highlighting things that could be quite nerve wracking when confronted with, such as Dealing with the Media and Conducting a Challenge Hearing.  Being aware of such a great resource is a great first step to defending the freedom to read!

Here is a snippet if you are too lazy to click around:

Immediate Steps to Take

  • Review your institution's selection policy, including the selection criteria and the reconsideration process
  • Assess what steps have been taken in the reconsideration process and what steps are to be taken
  • Review the complaint
  • Discuss the situation with your administrator
  • Review your profession's policy statements
  • Gather resources (such as copies of reviews, information on awards and best-of-the-year list distinctions for the title. If you are a Wisconsin teacher or librarian, the CCBC Intellectual Freedom Information Services can assist you with this)
  • Read or re-read the title in question

Additional Steps to Take

Note: These steps may vary, depending on what your policy says and what has happened so far.
  • Maintain the material in the collection for the time being
  • Be prepared to explain the function of the resource
  • Contact the Reconsideration Committee
  • Communicate with the Board of Education or Library Board of Trustees

Week 7 - Reason must prevail

I'm so impressed with my colleagues' articulate posts this week! This week's issues - freedom to read, controversial topics in YA literature, Holocaust denial, and the sketchy background of the anatomy atlas - are very visceral in nature. As previously pointed out, these are areas where objective policy based on the long established philosophies of our field can serve well the library's decision-makers and constituents.

As Lori observed, the YouTube videos (in tandem with the docs attached to this week's lecture) were extremely effective in illustrating the evolution of the West Bend controversy. From a personal perspective, I remember when this issue originally arose, and we looked at it in another SLIS class. Never did I think that I would face a similar sort of issue at my library in 2010! It can (and will), I believe, happen to each of us. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a very opinionated and (not always appropriate) vocal person. This week's readings and the videos really affect me both on a gut level and an intellectual level. For others like me (who wear their hearts on their sleeves and may react out of passion), having policies to frame discussion is absolutely essential.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Challenged Books

Re: Holocaust denial literature:
I guess I don’t really see the big deal. Include it or not. If you choose to include it, make sure there is plenty of good material espousing the other side. I doubt anyone is harmed by not including holocaust denial literature, nor effectively prevented from finding it. A quick google search will locate thousands of sites denying the holocaust. Since these can be accessed on the library’s computers, no one is being denied anything. So whoopty-do.

Although I appreciate Wolkoff’s argument that librarians must resist being the deciders, isn’t that what we do every day? Since we cannot purchase every book in the world, we make decisions about which will be the most useful, the most appropriate, the most read. Why should we allocate precious resources to bigoted or untrue material? Of course that material should be made available via interlibrary loan if a patron requests it, and if actually purchasing a book or two for our own collections will mollify our vocal anti-semitic patrons, why not? After all, I suppose, Nazis are public library patrons too.
Re: West Bend:
While I will allow for the possibility that some books might be inappropriate for a public library, the arguments against their inclusion need to be based on something other than religious belief. Religious belief is subjective and not something that can be usefully brought into a library policy debate. I noticed that most of the pro-ban speakers based their objections along such religious lines, with one man essentially saying God would harshly judge the library board. Sorry, friend, but unless you are prepared to conjure up this “God” to appear before the board, I deny your qualifications to speak on his behalf. Your religious beliefs are simply beside the point. This is a nation of laws, under a constitution, with well-defined rights of free speech. Simply invoking “God” does not nullify your requirement to craft an actual argument.

Clearly, at least a faction among the ban books crowd was aware of this, since the main crux of their petition centered around child pornography. Child pornography is one area where U.S. law restricts freedom of speech, and few among us would be in favor of public libraries circulating anything actually in that category. Simply branding something child pornography, however, does not make it so. I read over the Barnes and Noble descriptions of the books, and most of them appeared to be about typical teenage issues like fitting in and coping with peer pressure. The ones that looked as if they contained a certain amount of “romantic” material were clearly describing two teenagers, and not an affair between an adult and a child.

I very much appreciated the moving defense of the challenged books by Midge Miles, the mother of a gay son, who described the bullying and taunting he endured growing up in West Bend. He had made the point that the girls he went to school with would go over to the adult section of the library and check out harlequin romances, but that there were no books available for him, a gay teenager, about first love. There is absolutely no way to justify the inclusion of the romances if you are also denying the rights of the gay community to have their own such books. Which brings us back to religion: in the end, that’s the only argument the pro-ban folks could make.

Part of the petition signed by the Maziarkas was the request to add books about overcoming homosexuality. This seems like an easy place to throw the religious conservatives a bone. Just like the holocaust denial books, if there is a request, why not just bring some in? The inclusion of such material would go a long way towards fending off charges of bias, or that the library is intentionally promoting a gay agenda.

One thing the pro-ban group, and any individual or group seeking to ban a book, should keep in mind: when you make a huge public issue about something, it only brings more attention to it. I’m sure 99% of the community in West Bend had no idea those books existed in the first place. If these zealots would have just shut up, how many kids would have even known about them, let alone read them? It would be interesting to see how much more popular the books became in the wake of this poorly-conceived attempt to ban them.

When someone wants to ban a book, my initial reaction is always that that book must be worth reading and having on the shelf. Anything that can arouse someone’s passions enough to attempt to ban it must be very powerful; a challenge to, and reinvigoration of, our democratic ideals.

Friday, October 15, 2010

ALA Policy 61 -- Services to the Poor

I wanted to make sure that everyone had the opportunity to check out ALA's Policy 61 on services to the poor. There are some great reminders here about our profession and are worth checking out:

The American Library Association promotes equal access to information for all persons, and recognizes the urgent need to respond to the increasing number of poor children, adults, and families in America. These people are affected by a combination of limitations, including illiteracy, illness, social isolation, homelessness, hunger, and discrimination, which hamper the effectiveness of traditional library services. Therefore it is crucial that libraries recognize their role in enabling poor people to participate fully in a democratic society, by utilizing a wide variety of available resources and strategies. Concrete programs of training and development are needed to sensitize and prepare library staff to identify poor people’s needs and deliver relevant services. And within the American Library Association the coordinating mechanisms of programs and activities dealing with poor people in various divisions, offices, and units should be strengthened, and support for low-income liaison activities should be enhanced.
61.1 Policy Objectives
The American Library Association shall implement these objectives by:
1.    Promoting the removal of all barriers to library and information services, particularly fees and overdue charges.
2.    Promoting the publication, production, purchase, and ready accessibility of print and nonprint materials that honestly address the issues of poverty and homelessness, that deal with poor people in a respectful way, and that are of practical use to low-income patrons.
3.    Promoting full, stable, and ongoing funding for existing legislative programs in support to flow income services and for pro-active library programs that reach beyond traditional service-sites to poor children, adults, and families.
4.    Promoting training opportunities for librarians, in order to teach effective techniques for generating public funding to upgrade library services to poor people.
5.    Promoting the incorporation of low-income programs and services into regular library budgets in all types of libraries, rather than the tendency to support these projects solely with ‘‘soft money’’ like private or federal grants.
6.    Promoting equity in funding adequate library services for poor people in terms of materials, facilities, and equipment.
7.    Promoting supplemental support for library resources for and about low-income populations by urging local, state, and federal governments, and the private sector, to provide adequate funding.
8.    Promoting increased public awareness through programs, displays, bibliographies, and publicity of the importance of poverty related library resources and services in all segments of society.
9.    Promoting the determination of output measures through the encouragement of community needs assessments, giving special emphasis to assessing the need so low-income people and involving both anti-poverty advocates and poor people themselves in such assessments.
10. Promoting direct representation of poor people and anti-poverty advocates through appointment to local boards and creation of local advisory committees on service to low-income people, such appointments to include library paid transportation and stipends.
11. Promoting training to sensitize library staff to issues affecting poor people and to attitudinal and other barriers that hinder poor people’s use of libraries.
12. Promoting networking and cooperation between libraries and other agencies, organizations, and advocacy groups in order to develop programs and services that effectively reach poor people.
13. Promoting the implementation of an expanded federal low-income housing program, national health insurance, full-employment policy, living minimum wage and welfare payments, affordable daycare, and programs likely to reduce, if not eliminate, poverty itself.
14. Promoting among library staff the collection of food and clothing donations, volunteering personal time to antipoverty activities and contributing money to direct-aid organizations.
            15. Promoting related efforts concerning minorities and women, since these groups are disproportionately represented among poor people.

    Thursday, October 14, 2010

    Thanks to all

    Thanks to all for your contributions and respectful differences of opinion on this complicated issue with no clear or easy answers.  I appreciate your thoughts and your collegial tone.  We will continue to look at challenging issues for the rest of the semester and this week's discussion has been a great example of how we can go about this.  Please feel free to continue to post and comment on this, and any, past issues if you're just not talked out about them yet.

    Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    Week 7: "Atypical Patrons"

    As a new library student, I just want to say that I am so glad the topic of the library's homeless was the main focus this week. It's a big issue that I'd hoped would be addressed in library school. After working in an academic library for five years and watching my higher-ups deal with homeless/troubled patrons, I wanted to learn more about what my role and responsibility is as a librarian to work with this community. It's a confusing grey area.

    Several of the articles, especially Cronin, re-iterated the fact that librarians are not trained social workers. After reading through the articles and feeling pretty hopeless that there were few definitive answers, I watched the San Francisco Public Library video and instantly felt cheered. Having an on-site social worker is a fabulous idea for such a large public institution. The worker, Lia, says she has helped over 250 people and she has noticeably reduced the numbers of problematic patrons in the stacks (although maybe they know she's coming and go elsewhere). Really, I think her job is very courageous on her part (as a smaller woman who hates disrupting people, I would feel rather shy about approaching the homeless all day long) and immensely helpful to the library. San Francisco Public Library came up with a great solution to this issue.

    Reading all of these articles made me question my ethical stance when it comes to the homeless. I was feeling extremely sympathetic towards this misunderstood group of people. And then, I read Cronin's article, which was so in-your-face about his beliefs: libraries are not shelters, and claimed that libraries are letting "a disruptive minority effectively prevent the majority of bona fide library patrons from exercising their rights" (Cronin). That shook me. On one hand, libraries exist to provide materials to everyone, and many people have climbed upward in their lives with the aid of the library: providing GED, ESL, computer access, and in some cases, even job help. Just because the homeless have all their belongings with them or smell funky doesn't mean they don't deserve access to these materials. On the other hand, all patrons deserve to feel comfortable at their libraries, and people who are taking advantage of the library's shelter to bathe, do drugs, watch porn, or other disruptive activities violate their rights. Calling the police every time someone complains is costly to taxpayers and a pain to staff, and ignoring the problem makes patrons uncomfortable visting the library, which lowers circulation stats. So solutions like having an on-site social worker, like San Francisco, make me really happy. I just wish there were more viable options for smaller libraries.

    Or maybe the mentally ill in this country should have better access to help and funding. But that's a different issue for a different day.

    Social Inclusion

    I can’t help but think that the issues emanating from social inclusion in our libraries has to do with the varying definitions we have of ‘library’. My main concern lies in how we come up with that definition. I like to think its created by all we learn and do, and that its a fluid definition that changes as we are exposed to new experiences. But for some, alarmingly and like Ms. Blaise Cronin (‘What A Library Is Not’), the definition is nothing more than a ‘ready-reference’ question that can be quickly found by resorting to a dictionary. From my limited experience in the library world, including library school, the one thing I can say with certainty is that the defining of a library should not be a ‘ready-reference’ question. To provide and rely on such a condensed notion of a library’s responsibilities could be equivalent to not truly participating in the profession. (With that said, and may lack of participation in racist, classist, sexist, etc circles, I turn to my own dictionary, much like Ms. Cronin did, but this time to define Bigot: a person intolerantly devoted to her own prejudices; one who regards the members of a group with intolerance. Oops. This is what can happen if we apply the partial and imperfect world of definitions to institutions, or people for that matter, that are multifaceted. My apologies and thanks to Ms. Cronin, who I do not know well enough to categorize as I did, and who also inadvertently illustrated the lunacy in relying solely on definitions.)

    The differences in perception of the type of work we do (or will do) as librarians is central to the response we give to a situation such as library participation on part of homeless patrons. My perception makes me wonder why a social worker is ultimately necessary at the San Francisco Public Library (albeit how wonderful the service is). My concern is not with the social worker’s compassion, accessibility, knowledge, or professionalism. My concern is that, supposedly, the SFPL librarians are not offering similar assistance. Granted, social work, like librarianship, is a very demanding profession that requires insight that is not necessarily second nature, and by no means do I expect librarians to act as social workers. But the very fact that a homeless patron will not approach a librarian (in the library) for help, but will approach a social worker (in the library), I see as damning for the profession. For I don’t believe such a phenomenon falls back on the patron; inevitably it illustrates the accessibility a librarian exudes, or in this case, the lack there of. (Some of the questions a homeless patron may have can be extremely easy for a librarian to answer, if only we could find it in ourselves to encourage such interaction, regardless of how they smell [examples being: were can I sleep at night, where is the closest hospital, where are there lunch lines, how can I contact a social worker, etc.])

    One other issue that I question is the almost-absolute association we have with homelessness and mental illness. For sure, some of the most colorful examples of a homeless library user involve quirks of a mental nature. But do these examples truly constitute our perception of homelessness as a disorder? It goes without saying that many people are homeless for many reasons. In addition to illnesses, or loss of jobs, people sometime turn to homelessness intentionally as they may be running from the cops or ex-spouses, or just running. What’s more, my experience with the ‘chronic homeless’ in the library (again its limited and I can’t project it widely) is that they know, understand, and follow library rules better than any other patron. Their whole existence relies on them living just below everybody’s radar (the cops and shop owners who shoo them off doorsteps, etc). Most of them follow the rules so that they can use the library. We shouldn’t take this for granted, and impose unrealistic and/or illegal rules for them to follow.

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    Module 6: tensions in access

    Bob spent a lot of time at my library. He would come in, sit down by the newspapers with a load of reading material and music for his portable CD player, and just dig in. He didn’t bother anyone. But patrons and staff were still annoyed. The smell emanating from where he was sitting was “offensive,” they said. And it was. I had a hard time walking by him without turning my head away. Yet, I always smiled and said hello to him. The few times I spoke with him he was respectful and articulate. Just a man down on his luck and with nowhere else to go.

    Then Bob started sitting at the all access WebPac computers to look at Google maps. Others quickly became alarmed because they thought he was casing houses to burglarize. I think he was just looking for somewhere to sleep. It was winter. IT blocked Google maps from the WebPacs. Without a library card, Bob wasn’t able to log in to other computers. And with no address, Bob couldn’t get a library card.

    Chip Ward’s article, “The Public Library as an Asylum for the Homeless” painted a bleak picture of an institution that has been designed to be democratic. Because they are a designated public space, libraries have always been a haven for those with nothing to do, and nowhere else to go. People without homes or jobs or families are often plagued with mental illnesses and addictions that make the (normal) people around them ill at ease.

    Ward writes that the mentally ill are “sick, not bad,” and asks, “Why do we apply a kind of moral judgment we wouldn’t use in other medical situations?” For example, would someone with cancer be viewed with as much distaste as a schizophrenic talking to him/herself? In some way, it seems as if libraries want to protect their regular patrons from the homeless ones. And, according to Berman’s article, we don’t want the poor near our new multi-million dollar libraries. If you look to Musman’s article, for the longest time we didn’t allow African Americans equal access either.

    So, who are we if we are tailoring services to those who have an address, a family and friends, health insurance, and the ability to shower at least once a day? More importantly, how do we break down those barriers? By building gorgeous libraries in nicer areas and leaving little or no funds for branches in areas that are aching for computer access, job and housing information, and maybe just a place to sit down?

    Ward is right when he says that librarians do not have the training to deal with the mentally ill. To compound that problem, no good solutions exist when a librarian is faced with a patron who starts talking to him or herself, washing up in the bathroom, or worse. When things do get worse, there is no one else to call for help except for the police.

    I don’t know the answers, but I agree with Ward that we must begin to work toward a better understanding of all members of our communities, individual members of many classes of people that need help. Maybe community forums to help inform the public and destigmatize the wrath of mental illness. Or the development of professional workshops led by social workers, psychologists, and doctors that can help us understand behavior patterns, and how to judge situations and best handle them. Not every homeless person is mentally ill but how do you distinguish when a schizophrenic who has been off her meds is violent or just terrified of life? I believe that a small part of the solution starts with the library itself, educating staff, and ultimately patrons, in how not to “look away fast,” as Ward said.

    In the end, Bob did something offensive with illicit material. He was talked to, and then he did it again. The cops were called and he was banned from the library. I cannot argue that what Bob did wasn’t wrong. I also cannot argue the fact that since the police were involved, he inevitably lost his spot at the shelter where he was staying.

    I haven’t seen Bob in months now, not even walking down Illinois Route 59 with his backpack. I wonder where he spends his time, with nothing to read or listen to. And winter is coming soon.