Libraries promote potentially dangerous books

Last week it was the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week when libraries across America hold a variety of events to draw attention to attempts of banning books from schools, bookshops and libraries. The ALA always appear to me to be activist librarians and the organisation of Banned Books Week is an outward expression of their stance on freedom of information, upholding the right of free speech and an individual’s right to read. A truly objective librarian does not censor the reading matter of other people however much they dislike it themselves. For example, I would ban all Mills and Boon books, but I concede that, for some people, reading Mills and Boon brings pleasure.

Banned Books Week started in 1982 when librarians noticed that, increasingly, the content of many books were being challenged. They found that although the content of books were being questioned, many more people fought against the books being banned outright. The ALA website has links to lists of these books and actually some may surprise you.

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Which of these books faced being banned?

This year, the UK have been joining in, with the British Library holding a discussion event on Censorship and the Author  and Islington library compiling their own list of Banned Books. Their list suggests that if the challenges to the books had succeeded we  may not have had the Harry Potter series, the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time or Roald Dahl’s Matilda. However, London is SO behind the times. Fife Libraries in Kirkcaldy held a Banned Books event LAST year.

This event was not scheduled for Banned Books Week but was part of  Book Week Scotland which is held each November. Fife Libraries’ “Banned Books and Prohibition Cocktails” event was rather more fun than a debate on censorship, it took the form of a Speak Easy, and teamed up local gin producers with the library to offer prohibition style cocktails as well as book readings and the books themselves available to borrow – presumably in plain covers! It appears that the local constabulary were not invited. I am not sure about how much more aware the good (or bad?) citizens of Fife become about the importance of freedom of speech or reading, and the issue with censorship, but I do know that many more people became aware of the library with the event attracting some people who did not usually visit libraries. Hopefully the event opened their eyes to the great delights of of literature and expanded their thoughts enough for them to come back and explore the library shelves for the “dangerous”, potentially forbidden books.

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CILIP Conference 2017

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So, here I am, in Manchester at my first CILIP conference. This post is about three inspirational speakers that I heard in only the first day there.

Carla Hayden

Day one was very thought provoking and quite inspiring in a number of ways. The first Keynote speaker was Carla Hayden, the first Librarian of Congress who is female and of colour. Shockingly, she is only the third Librarian of Congress who is a qualified Librarian. She spoke amusingly with wit and charm about what she had achieved in Baltimore: about her interview for being Librarian for congress and about her visit to the British Library.

She said that she was initially unsure whether to apply for the post of Librarian of Congress as she has been instrumental in trying to open up access to libraries. She was not sure that a National Library, and archive as is the Library of Congress, would be the right place for her, but at her interview, with the President of US, Barack Obama asked about increasing access to researchers to their resources. She know then that she would be right for the post. Since then she has embarked on a programme of digitising many of their items.

She is visiting the UK with her mother, who on entering the British Library commented “This is just like a public library”. This, of course, is a good thing, because it is a demonstration of how a National Library can be welcoming and friendly. I believe that Carla Hayden wants to develop that feel at the Library of Congress, especially after she spoke to an American researcher there who told Carla that the British Library is “better” than the Library of Congress. The researcher had no idea who she was speaking to! Carla completely won us over, were are most definitely “Her UK People” and we gave her a huge round of applause at the end of her speech.

Luciano Floridi

The second Keynote speaker was inspirational in a different way. Professor Luciano Floridi of the Oxford Institute of Information presented us with some interesting concepts of power and the way that Library and Information services could ensure that Power is balanced democratically to make society fair and informed. He reminded us that information is about answering questions.

In the past Power has resided either with the people who answer the questions or with the people who ask the questions. He put forward the theory that currently Power is held by those that control the questions that people ask.  It is the role of Library and Information Science professionals to ensure that people can ask novel, innovative and surprising questions.  He suggested that it is important to gather the answers now of questions that may be asked in the future. This is how a democratic society develops.

Matt

The third inspirational speaker was at a workshop about using teenage volunteers in libraries to help at the annual Summer Reading Challenge.  Matt is a young man who was a volunteer at Bolton Libraries and Museum Service. He spoke passionately and enthusiastically about his experience and how it can help teenagers. Bolton Libraries and Museum Service set up a teenage volunteer group to help with the Summer Reading Challenge and organised training events for them. They enabled the volunteer workforce who were asked to come up with their own group name. They chose the word “Imaginators”, because the group believed that they were helping the younger children develop their imaginations through reading.

Matt worked as an “Imaginator” for a number of years and now has come tot the stage in his life where he is applying to university. He feels that being a volunteer has meant that he has an “edge” over other entrants, working with younger children is a good thing to have on his CV. His intention is to study the classics and he now has gained the skills to explain WHY he wants to do so. He considers that working in a library has inspired him to eventually become involved with Library and Information work. He actually did apply for  a paid post in the library, which he was successful in getting and now he has a Saturday job in Bolton libraries.

The way that Bolton Library and Museum Service have worked with a group of teenagers to plan, organise and develop a training programme, with a series of outcomes and rewards (Pizza and lots of biscuits) made me think about the reasons for using volunteers in libraries. The relationship that any organisation has to have with volunteers is that there has to be an outcome for everyone involved. Basically, there has to be a point to using volunteers other than exploiting free help.

From the volunteer’s view this could be training that helps with personal and professional development, or simply the feeling of well being that they gain. From the point of view of the organisation, they can show that they are investing in people and their skills as well has getting tasks done and providing their users with an improved and enhanced experience. This sort of win/win situation is not easy to achieve and takes time and effort to plan and instigate. Definitely a lot of food for thought there.