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ALA Banned Books Week

September 27–October 4, 2008 is ALA’s annual Banned Books Week.
I think that this is one of ALA’s great achievements since 1982 – keeping an eye on the freedom to read and pointing to the edges when we risk losing that freedom.
I have a suggestion. The freedom to read doesn’t just involve books. Yes, some forces tried to ban novels when they appeared in the 1800’s. We accept that’s a bad idea now although many libraries banned books that I wanted to read as a kid (Hardy Boys, OK!) Graphic novels got their cache when one won a Pulitzer Prize. (Maus) Anyway, the freedom to read is much broader than books and I am not suggesting in any way that ALA change the banned books week. It still serves a high purpose.
However, this year, when we see continual attacks on many types of libraries, we see an attack on research, discovery and reading. These are fundamental to progress. Consider:
1. Special libraries telling me they can’t get to the basic sites they need for research because they’re banned on their system wide intranet. (I actually didn’t do business with one company because of this since I figured their decisions were not well informed enough.)
2. School libraries where they can’t use the basics of the Internet – many sites and whole tools are banned. Are these kids better off for being less well equipped than others? By pushing some simple tools like blogs and MySpace underground (and you can’t block it) are we enabling our kids to learn in a good environment.
3. Public libraries that are being order to filter not just kids PC’s but adult computers too. Who will be the first to sue a library for violating end user rights? When will we get that precedent? I suspect it’ll be soon.
4. For all their lofty talk about academic freedom, are universities and colleges really sincere when they throttle some sites and tools under the guise of protecting bandwidth?
5. Adult, voting soldiers restricted in their access to the web. Defend our freedoms with our life, but don’t expect to exercise that right as an adult?
Anyway, maybe we can start a new “Banned Websites Week” and collect the funny, sad and scary examples that everyone shares over coffee at conferences.
I once helped publish a database called “Canadian Business and Current Affairs” which was blocked by many school filters. ‘Affairs’ can’t discriminate public, government or current affairs with the adulterous ones. I loved a client from long ago that once blocked access to itself and all of it’s own websites. You see, they were in ‘Middlesex’ County. I guess any kind of sex is bad. I’ve got more. Every article or e-mail that contained the word ‘specialist’ at one site was blocked. You see, cialis, is in the middle of that word. I won’t show too many more since I will be filtered and blocked for many of you. It’s fun to share our war stories though.
This issue came to mind as I watched all of the tut tutting in the media this month about the blocking of certain websites and searches in China during the Olympics. The media was appalled and breathlessly held this up as an example of the lack of basic freedoms in China. Interestingly, simultaneously the US Congress and legislatures all over North America were passing or considering legislation to require filters and blocks on all kinds of content in public institutions like libraries, schools, universities, hospitals, colleges, clubs, and more. This was despite the proofs that no filter works well. How interested were the media in that? ALA has some work to here. Freedom to read is more than just books.
Just a thought. I think it might be a fun project to try for a year.

Posted on: August 19, 2008, 4:30 pm Category: Uncategorized