Friday, October 28, 2011

Defend the Freedom to Read: It's Everybody's Job

I'm back from the dead!  Okay, maybe not, but it feels like it after finally finishing up about 10 projects that I had on the go.  And now that I'm back, what better way to start than with a movie!!  This short video comes from the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, which requests that we all do our part to bring attention to book challenges to Defend the Freedom to Read.  After all, it's everybody's job...

So, now that you've seen that (hopefully) enlightening little video, it's time to talk about specific book challenges.  In Borger, Texas, a book was recently removed entirely from the Borger Intermediate and Middle School Library.  The book in question?  Carolyn Mackler's Tangled.  The book follows four young people as they vacation in a Caribbean resort.  The reason that it was banned from the school district?  This passage:
"I looked up and my heart plummeted, I swear, into my colon. Because there, standing above me and ripping off his shirt was the guy. The guy from the diving board. The guy with the muscular calves and, oh god, the swimsuit riding low enough for me to conjure up some serious imagery."
Really, is this so bad?  I mean, okay, so a younger student might not be the best audience, but you can't tell me that middle school students are not thinking in these terms and that this passage is somehow so overly explicit that it's going to ruin a child for life.  As one commenter on the ConnectAmarillo article wrote:  "thats all the book said, pretty much? Newsflash, boys have penises and girls have vaginas. And I am about 99.9% sure that most middle schoolers know this."  Is this passage really enough to have books completely removed from libraries these days?  Apparently.  Are we so easily offended by sexuality?  Apparently.

It angers me that books are taken away from students for so little in this day and age when access to books should be celebrated and enjoyed.  Why is it that suddenly anything remotely sexual is too much for teens to handle?  Well, it's not, really.  It's parental discomfort.  Most of these concerns are from parents who, it seems to me, are much more afraid of sexuality than their children.  Please, parents, let your children read and ask questions!!  It doesn't help to shelter them when they already (probably) know more about sex than you do.

Anyway, thanks for listening.  Let me know what you think.  And keep your eyes peeled for challenges in your area, wherever you are!  Remember, defending the right to read is everybody's job!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

posting pause

Apologies for the lack of posts recently!  I am just finishing up my current degree and trying to get a few other projects sorted out.  Until then, I am having to take a short hiatus from posting on this site.  I will be back, however... I promise!  Until then, keep reading those books!!


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Books for Prisoners: What's allowed and what's not?

The American Library Association asserts:
When the prison gates slam behind an inmate, he does not lose his human quality; his mind does not become closed to ideas; his intellect does not cease to feed on a free and open interchange of opinions; his yearning for self-respect does not end; nor is his quest for self-realization concluded. If anything, the needs for identity and self-respect are more compelling in the dehumanizing prison environment.
An article in The Huffington Post the current problem is a disconnect between what is constitutional and what prisons and wardens feel is allowable for inmates in terms of reading materials and access to information sources.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons regulations state that publications can only be rejected if they are found to be "detrimental to the security, good order, or discipline of the institution or if it might facilitate criminal activity." That description is generally understood to include content such as explanations on how to make explosives, martial arts training manuals and books containing maps of the prison and its surrounding area. 
Yet according to a list compiled by the Prison Books Program, and seen by The Huffington Post, many correctional institutions censor materials far beyond these guidelines. Central Mississippi Correctional, for example, is stated as refusing to allow any books whose content includes anything legal, medical or contains violence, while Staunton Correctional in Virginia is claimed only to allow its inmates access to "non-fiction educational or spiritual books."
A 1980 US Supreme Court ruling states that "[p]rison walls do not form a barrier separating prison inmates from the protections of the Constitution," and that "a warden may not reject a publication 'solely because its content is religious, philosophical, political, social or sexual, or because its content is unpopular or repugnant.'"

Personally, I don't see books and access to general information as a problem, no matter what the crime committed.  I believe that there should be consequences for inmates depending on what they have done, but keeping them away from books and the internet should, again in my opinion, only be a short term punishment, like denying access to television for a child's misbehaviour.  Of course, this is me speaking from a restorative justice standpoint as opposed to a retributive justice model, such as is currently being utilized in North America.

In any case, I agree with the following guidelines from the American Library Association.  According to the ALA "these principles should guide all library services provided to prisoners:"
  • Collection management should be governed by written policy, mutually agreed upon by librarians and correctional agency administrators, in accordance with the Library Bill of Rights, its Interpretations, and other ALA intellectual freedom documents.
  • Correctional libraries should have written procedures for addressing challenges to library materials, including a policy-based description of the disqualifying features, in accordance with “Challenged Materials” and other relevant intellectual freedom documents.
  • Correctional librarians should select materials that reflect the demographic composition, information needs, interests, and diverse cultural values of the confined communities they serve.
  • Correctional librarians should be allowed to purchase materials that meet written selection criteria and provide for the multi-faceted needs of their populations without prior correctional agency review. They should be allowed to acquire materials from a wide range of sources in order to ensure a broad and diverse collection. Correctional librarians should not be limited to purchasing from a list of approved materials.
  • Age is not a reason for censorship. Incarcerated children and youth should have access to a wide range of fiction and nonfiction, as stated in “Free Access to Libraries for Minors."
  • Correctional librarians should make all reasonable efforts to provide sufficient materials to meet the information and recreational needs of prisoners who speak languages other than English.
  • Equitable access to information should be provided for persons with disabilities as outlined in “Services to People with Disabilities.”
  • Media or materials with non-traditional bindings should not be prohibited unless they present an actual compelling and imminent risk to safety and security.
  • Material with sexual content should not be banned unless it violates state and federal law.
  • Correctional libraries should provide access to computers and the Internet.