In Response to Jeff McCall’s Banned Books Opinion Column

Jeff McCall recently wrote an opinion column for The Hill regarding the American Library Association’s annual event “Banned Books Week,” held every September. I strongly disagree with Prof. McCall’s points on how this celebration is “shrill Chicken Little-like panic about the supposed evil forces in America that want to censor reading material and diminish a person’s right to read what he pleases.”

McCall mentions that the books on ALA’s top ten banned books list can be purchased through online and through bookstores. A reader can simply go and buy a banned book. This is extremely problematic, and not so simple, as it assumes that a reader has the money to buy books in the first place. Libraries provide access to books relatively for free. I grew up in a small Appalachian rural town, where there was no public transportation. However, what did exist was a bookmobile, which was driven through the hollers and mountains of southeastern Kentucky and brought books to those who didn’t have the means to make the trek to the library. The library is an Internet access point for the homeless and those who live below the poverty line. How would it be possible to buy a book, let alone one that was banned, in those circumstances?

This opinion piece also states that banned books are available in numerous other libraries, and that just because it is not in a particular one it is not indicative of being banned. This may be true, but it is also because of the hard work that librarians have done to make controversial books available in the first place. Fighting against censorship, especially on the local level, is a valued tenet of the library profession.

Unpopular ideas today may be commonplace tomorrow, and it is important that librarians curate and protect this. Take for instance Garth Williams’  The Rabbits’ Wedding, where a black rabbit marries a white rabbit. This book was banned in Alabama (state-wide!) in 1958 because it promoted interracial marriage. It’s important to never forget that anti-miscegenation laws were on the books up until 1967. Loving v. Virginia really wasn’t that long ago.

“Community standards” is another point that McCall argues and that a public dialogue should be had in order to determine what books should be in a library’s collection. This too creates numerous problems. Numeros books had been banned or made controversial simply because they weren’t read or they were taken out of context. The book Belly Button Defense was banned because of title alone even though it’s a story about basketball. Huckleberry Finn was banned because of the racial slurs and how Jim was treated throughout the story. This was reflective of the times in which it was written; slaves were looked down upon and treated horribly. The book had also been banned because it depicted the friendship between a white boy and a black man. Like the confederate statues that were erected in the times of eugenics, desegregation, and the civil rights movement, decades after the end of the civil war, it’s important to note that same historical context in which why these books were banned.

I’m not saying that library shouldn’t listen to the community it serves, however, I don’t believe that communities should take away the option of reading a book just because they disagree with it. Libraries serve a wide variety of people.  As with any educational institution, libraries are there for people to ultimately learn. There is no greater learning process than that of learning out of conflict. Challenging one’s personal beliefs, ideas, and values, out of something they’ve read is a gift taken for granted. Ellen Johnson, former chair of the Arkansas Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee said, “Libraries serve a wide range of interests, and the library needs to provide materials for more than one group of people. It’s hard for people trying to censor books to understand that in a public situation, you can’t serve one group only.”

I suggest that Prof. McCall should visit his college’s library and attend next year’s Read-Out in order to challenge his own views.

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#LTC2017 Report Back

Despite the recent snowstorm in the northeast, I was lucky enough to attend and present at the annual Library Technology Conference, held at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. The conference highlights practical applications of technology in libraries. It seems that a majority of attendees come from academic libraries, but there was  good mix of public, special, and school librarians in attendance.  Continue reading #LTC2017 Report Back

Why code4lib National is My Favorite Conference

Lastweek, I attended my second code4Lib national conference in Philadelphia. I’ve attended a previous code4Lib after winning a diversity scholarship in 2015 (Raleigh, NC). After attending ACRL, ALA Midwinter, LITA Forum and ALA Annual, I have to say that code4Lib is one of my favorite conferences to attend. Continue reading Why code4lib National is My Favorite Conference

ALA Video Roundtable Notable Documentaries of 2015

I had the opportunity to attend ALA Midwinter as a member of the ALA VRT Notables Committee, we voted on the most notable documentaries of the last year. Here is the list.  Besides the great films on the Notables list, I also highly recommend the following docs of 2015: Continue reading ALA Video Roundtable Notable Documentaries of 2015

Usability testing, the CUNY IT Conference, and code4Lib Journal

The last week has been a whirlwind. I’ve begun the second round of usability testing for the library website. I presented first round results at this past year’s ACRL conference. I’m really interested in seeing how the changes I’ve made to the site are effecting students. The hardest part about  testing is scheduling. Thankfully, I was able to acquire research time to conduct testing with students.

In the future, I would like to test the library website using emotional measuring instruments. Craig MacDonald suggested I use the Affect Grid. I had a chance to talk to him after our presentations at the Metro UX SIG last week. I would like to also to test this against our CUNY-wide Primo discovery tool, OneSearch, to see if finding information is frustrating or rewarding for students.

I also had a presentation accepted on the development of the library website for the upcoming CUNY IT Conference. I’m very excited about this opportunity, where I’ll be talking about web developing using Bootstrap and using cloud-based services.

Lastly, a new issue of code4lib Journal is now out. The theme is data, and there are some great articles in this issue!