Annoyed Librarian talks censorship in Winnipeg

Library Journal’s Annoyed Librarian posted a column, “A Canadian Challenge“. Go read it so we can have a discussion. As far as I understand, Tintin in America was challenged at a bookstore in Winnipeg and the local library took the (questionable) initiative to pull all copies for review. The conversation soon involves education, quality of instruction, and ‘setting aside’ such material. This is an extremely abridged version of what I got out of it, so please read the article. Also, I don’t know what these books contain that caused the original complaint. For the sake of this post, I’m assuming it wasn’t anything terrible like hate-speech (and yes, I know the dangers of assuming. I guess I just live on the edge, cause here I go anyway).

It seems libraries and bookstores are destined to be entwined. I’m familiar with discussions of layout and ‘customer service’ approach as they can be applied to a library setting – the fact that most libraries have some form of coffee shop attached shows the influence of the retail world. This kind of censorship, however, is different. A pleasing layout that patrons are more familiar with probably won’t compromise equitable access to information or intellectual freedom; pulling books from the shelf because of an off-site complaint that was made at a retail location absolutely does. The Library Bill of Rights provides libraries and librarians with a guide, an idealized policy to remind us of the big picture. It outlines goals of providing information for the purposes of enlightenment (I said it was idealized, didn’t I?) and challenging censorship. Bookstores have a very different agenda. They’re concerned with providing a selection of products; they’re not pretending to be involved in a discussion of access or intellectual freedom*. When the goals are so different, how can libraries possibly let them affect collection management?

As in any situation, I’m sure there is a lot more info and motivating factors. Oh, and I’m not even going to touch the education aspect otherwise we would be here all day (well, I would). I find this significant because I will wholeheartedly admit that I think libraries could benefit from the right kind of retail influence – healthy customer service models are closer than most think to the reference interview. Allowing collection to be affected by the fickle, money driven trends of the retail world, however, I absolutely do not agree with.

In other censorship news, the Clean Reader app is also causing a stir recently. Here’s a writer’s post on why it’s wrong to ‘clean’ an author’s intent. As fair warning, she may swear a few times… ok, a lot, but that’s kind of the point!

*Shout out to the bookstores that are concerned with providing access to any and all materials! Little Sisters in Vancouver, BC, opened over 30 years, selling what was then banned materials for the LGBT community. They continue to offer a unique selection today and I’m sure there are more great bookstores out there with a similar commitment to their community. Thanks for being a cut above the rest!

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