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, Day two – Reaching people.

The theme that I have picked out from the second day of the conference is the way that libraries can reach everyone. This is specially true of public libraries. Neil MacInnes, Strategic Lead-Libraries, Galleries & Culture, Manchester City Council spoke of the work that Manchester Libraries are doing to bring information and literature to the people of Manchester. This has required quite a lot of revision of the service but they appear to have succeeded in getting more people using the libraries and perhaps significantly, more people using the items that have been held in archives for many decades.

For example, the geographic locations of the branch libraries were compared with the current centres of habitation, and it was realised that some libraries were not where the people are. This meant moving some of the services, some be co-located with other services. The Central Library, which was built in 1938, had become unloved, and so it was completely refurbished. Such effort brought in many more visitors. The overall remit is not merely getting people IN to libraries, but is also getting books OUT to people. They had a Shakespeare folio in the archives which had been seen by very few researchers. Now it has its own taxi and security staff and is taken to branch libraries where students and school children can see it. It has been viewed more times in the past few years than it has been for decades.

Work like this is so important to show that libraries are not dead archives for the intellectual only. Showing a precious object can inspire and stimulate a sense of history as well as showing off treasures to be found in ordinary libraries. Manchester is managing to shout out about their achievements. After Neil’s talk a delegate said to me “Oh, the Central Library from my city does many of these things too.” but that other city is being quiet about their achievement.  It is important these days to be Loud Librarians, to be one of the strident voices clamouring for attention and funding, and to demonstrate the impact on society and learning that libraries have.

And that brings me to the second workshop that I attended, “Loud Librarians” by Selena Killick (Open University) and Frankie Wilson (Bodleian Library, Oxford). And they are. Loud, that is. This workshop was very well attended, so many of us wanting to be loud!! Selena and Frankie had us working (always a good thing for a workshop), and considering:

  • Who were our stakeholders
  • What were the main outcomes they wanted
  • How we could record how we addressed those outcomes – not just numbers

It was a very practical session and I will certainly use their techniques, so simple, logical and effective.  They told us how we could demonstrate the ways that libraries are reaching out to people.

I then attended a series of seminars on the themes of Information Literacy and Literacy and Learning and the presentation that stood out was Dr Konstantina Martzoukou’s (Robert Gordon University) talk about trying to reach “Syrian New Scots” – how to give essential information to Syrian refugees in Scotland. The project was working with groups to find out what information they wanted and considered ways of giving them the information. The plight of the refugees was made very clear by the inclusion of a poignant video showing the city of Homs, before the current conflict and the devastation the conflict has caused.

Jason Vit of the Reading Agency outlined the current work that they are doing to engage people with reading. This included working with bus companies to put up posters on busses, and having “pop up” bookshops in certain places. They are developing “Hubs”, certain towns, where they are concentrating efforts to increase the literacy of disadvantaged communities. The Reading Agency take a down to earth and innovative approach to reaching people, wherever they are.

So, this conference consolidated my belief that libraries do get information out to people and that there are other organisations that we could work with to do that. We also have to realise that we are the vehicle by which the ordinary members of society can have objective, authoritative information, to balance the subtle persuasion of  internet giants or the noise of press and politicians. It means that we have to be very Loud Librarians shout about our services and successes instead of being quietly complacent.

 

 

Books and Cycling

 

I have a Google alert that notifies me of anything that crops up about children’s mobile libraries and bookmobiles. This is because of my doctoral research into children’s mobile libraries and their effect on literacy. I am still fascinated by the subject, but these days I have little time to really read the alerts. I collect them with some false hope that one day I will collate all the information to produce the definitive work on children’s mobile libraries. Every now and then I have a little clear out of the data that have accumulated, such as vanished links or notices saying that Y will not be visiting X today because of rain/snow/mechanical breakdown. Actually, perhaps I should keep account of the days that mobile libraries are off road and the reasons for doing so. Someone, somewhere will no doubt really want that information.

But I digress. Today was one of the clear out days, and I found a fascinating podcast about a Bicycle Bookmobile. Like me, you may have seen some posts circulating around social media of bicycle libraries in developing countries, but this time I was really surprised to find that the podcast was an interview with a university teacher who has started a service in Arcata California. When I searched further I discovered that there are many “Bikemobiles” in the US.

The interesting feature of the Arcata bicycle bookmobile is that it combines the two passions of Melanie Williams, books and bicycles – which is obvious really. She was a university teacher that took a group of students to help reconstruct some libraries in a area of the US which had had a natural disaster, and she describes how that experience changed her life. She realised how important books are to literacy. She is an educator, and now in another role is promoting children using bikes to improve their health and to give them road sense before they become drivers.

While doing this it occurred to her that a bicycle bookmobile would be a great way to help literacy and promote bikes. All the books are children’s books with the theme of bicycles. She describes and recommends some in the interview. The podcast lasts for around 20 minutes, the first half is about books and the second half deals with promoting cycling. It is really worth listening to and can be found here.