Saturday, November 12, 2016

Human Rights are not political views.

Since the results of the American election, many of us at FLIF have debated how to handle this and what our actions should be in the coming months.

Quite simply: FLIF stands by its mandate to defend intellectual freedom and stand up for social justice. We believe, as Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Hate speech is generally categorized as speech, gesture, conduct, writing or display which may incite violent or prejudicial action by disparaging or intimidating an individual or group. When a person is acting in an inflammatory manner by categorizing minority groups with negative attributes and perpetrating views that are deliberately harmful to said groups, the result is that the use of these words, expressions, gestures or displays cause and reinforce the subordination of these groups.

A presidential nominee calling for a registry of Muslims or a vice presidential nominee creating a law to jail same-sex couples applying for marriage licenses clearly meet these guidelines. Their words, especially when spoken from a position of power, are detrimental to civil liberties and used to justify violence towards minority groups. Citizens of a country should not be involuntarily placed on a registry based on the colour of their skin or their religion. Press outlets should not be denied access or threatened with lawsuits by government officials.  

Freedom of speech is a person’s protected right to criticize its government, not a government official’s right to disparage a populace. Human rights are not political issues, nor are they privileges to be doled out by a governmental official. They are to be protected against suppression and incendiary behaviours by all responsible citizens.

The actions of America's incoming government will not make people safer. In the short time since the election, hate speech and crimes have risen in America. We must stand together to defend human rights and freedoms against a government that is poised to discriminate against already marginalized groups.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

The Freedom to Speak in a Library

A friend of mine recently shared with me an article about freedom of speech at the Kansas City Library that I thought was very interesting. A summary of the events that occurred is as follows:

A public speaker, Dennis Ross, was at the library, and the library decided to hire outside security for the event. Part of this agreement with this security was that "nobody was to be prevented from asking a controversial question and the security team would consult with library officials before ejecting any nonviolent patrons." However, when a patron asked some controversial questions of the speaker, one of the guards attempted to eject the patron from the library. Additionally, one of the guards stated that they were at a private event and that the library was private property. When the library director attempted to intervene and protect the patron's rights, the guards violently arrested him.

The library wanted this event to blow over, and thus the event was not reported widely until last month, even though it took place in May. However, I think this is an important event to be aware of. The library should be a place in which everyone should feel free to question ideas and concepts without being punished. Even when the questions and ideas being put forth are disagreed upon by the library and any persons of authority--such as the security guards--if they are being presented in a peaceful manner, they should be permitted.

The concept of libraries protecting freedom of speech is something we can take for granted (especially if we are in a program surrounded by like-minded people in a student group dedicated to the idea, for instance). However, this incident shows that there can be real world consequences for protecting this right. Yes, the line between hate speech and free speech is one that is sometimes crossed and sometimes not seen at all, as many individuals on the Internet with an opinion and a keyboard will tell you. However, by standing up for the right to ask questions in a public forum, libraries can help to define this line and lead this discussion by setting a strong example.

What do you think?

Here is another link describing the incident.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

October 24-30 is International Open Access Week, and there are many events taking place on the University of Alberta campus, including:
Open Access for digital resources is not a new idea. It emerged in the 1990s, partly in response to profiteering on the part of academic journal publishers. The problem, as highlighted by this infographic from the Canadian Research Knowledge Network, is this: the results of publicly funded research are handed over to publishers, who earn significant profits by selling access to that research to publicly funded institutions. The cost of digital journal subscriptions is significant, and fees are increasing every year at rates far higher than the rate of inflation. The system is unsustainable. The Open Access movement believes the results of publicly-funded research should be free to the public.
The multi-decade lifespan of the modern Open Access movement suggests there are barriers to widespread adoption, and that's true. We could talk about the publishing industry's creation of Article Publishing Charges (APCs), which are a bait-and-switch replacement for subscription fees. We could talk about the embargoes placed upon research, limiting its placement in open access systems until two or three years after the for-profit publication date. We could talk about the publishing industry's past attempts to pass a Research Works Act in the United States, which would have made open access publishing illegal. We could talk about the barriers to Open Access publishing for books. We could talk about the Tri-Council's new Open Access Research Publishing policy, which mandates that research funded by their agencies be placed in open access repositories, and the response of indigenous communities who are concerned their work with sacred knowledge will be inappropriately shared.
Each of these are reason enough to advocate for widespread attention to Open Access methods and processes, but we've decided to focus on the Catch-22 faced by researchers who do not yet feel free to use open journals for publishing due to possible career impacts.
Why is this? In the academic world, the importance of publishing in top-tier journals is often emphasized as demonstration of a "significant outcome" on the road to tenure, or as criteria used by hiring committees for faculty jobs. When it comes to published works, "significance" is generally indicated by the researcher's successful publication in top-tier journals.
One issue is the cost of APCs, which can be as high as $5000 per article. Another factor is the ingrained system by which "authoritative" journals are determined. Though it has been met with justifiable criticism, Thomson-Reuter's Journal Impact Factor (JIF) is still seen as the most valuable method for measuring the relative value of academic journals.  The 2016 rankings place Open Access journals very low on the overall spectrum: the top-ranked open access publication scores 75% lower than the top journal in the report.
Herein lies the conundrum. Researchers may understand the value of open access publishing and want to share their research with the world, but they also know that publication in a prestigious journal will significantly aid their careers. They are forced to make a choice. They either submit their work to a journal whose publisher profits from the publication, restricts access, and charges institutions for the privilege of viewing articles; or they submit their work to a “green” open access journal that removes private profiteering from public research but compromises their ability to win new funding, find academic positions or possibly attain tenure.
The solution is an achievable one: students and faculties should pressure departments and institutions to adopt thoughtful policies on research publication, and hiring and tenure committees should consider the value of open access publishing as part of the creation of their assessment criteria.

Why not let it start with you? Take a look at what the Open Access movement has to offer, and then let your voice be heard within your institution, for the sake of the public good.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Back to the grind!

No really, my coffee intake is off the charts.

A new school year has begun, meaning we have a lot of exciting events coming up for FLIF! We're going to be adding some more structure to the blog and doing more outreach.

For now though, we'd just like to wish everyone a happy Autumn and invite you to come see us at our long awaited Banned Books display, for September 28th in HUB, by the Rutherford entrance. We'll have bookmarks, subversive reading lists, and witty banter as always.

Can't wait!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Giver: A Challenged Book

Most books are challenged for children because of sexually explicit content or offensive language, but The Giver by Lois Lowry does not contain either of these topics.  Instead, it is seen as not suitable for the age group for which it is aimed, middle school children, because of violence.  Those who challenge the 1993 novel claim that it is too dark.  About a third of the challenges result in a ban of The Giver.

While the novel does contain darker themes, such as ultimate control over a dystopian town, euthanasia, and the cultural memories (things such as war, famine, and pain) Jonas receives from the title character, I never found the descriptions gratuitous.  Enough description is given to understand the torment Jonas undergoes when he discovers the truth of his world; the pain is not dwelt upon more than is necessary.  In the challenge listing on the Freedom to Read website, the objecting parent stated that grade 11 might be a more suitable reading level.

I read the book for a novel study in grade seven when I was 12 and loved it--I've always considered it the book that lead me to an appreciation of dystopian novels in my teen years.  After the dawn of The Hunger Games in 2008 (which is often challenged itself), the amount of dystopian YA novels is much higher.  Books like Divergent, Delirium, Matched, and Incarceron are right up there in popularity with the vampire books.  However, I never found these as dark as The Giver, and they are meant for older audiences.  Maybe The Giver seems darker because it is meant for younger audiences and still contains these themes; it was also the first one I read, so maybe the other books did not seem as depressing afterwards.

I'm not saying that the darkness of The Giver means that the challenges and resulting bans are a good thing.  It was a great novel to read in grade seven, and lead our class to as much of a discussion as a class of twelve-year-olds can hold about a book.  However, I think that keeping in mind the reasons behind the challenges, especially when it comes to reading levels, is important.  It all comes down to the individual child and their parents to choose reading material suitable for their reading level, as long as "suitable for their reading level" doesn't become "only following with our beliefs and no one else's."

I don't think The Giver falls under this "only following with our beliefs and no one else's."  The attitude of the parents challenging the book--at least in this instance--seems to be that it is too old for the children, not explicitly inappropriate.  The impression I get from those who challenge other books for sexually explicit content, swearing, or LGBTQIA content is that these are things that they see as wrong to be portrayed in literature for their children in general, not waiting until a grade 11 reading level.  Therefore, I would say that while I don't agree with the challenge of The Giver, it is a lesser evil.

What do you think?

Sunday, January 31, 2016

FLIF on the radio!

Hello All!
This year we have been busy being on the radio! We talk about all kinds of cool (and important) things. Last month our show covered the difference of Feminist versus Feminized in the context of library professions. This month, we covered Crime and Corrections and the importance of library services for incarcerated persons. Check out our two episodes below. And don't forget to listen to us next month as well! We'll be covering Freedom to Read Week and Banned Books!

Saturday, January 09, 2016

It's been a while since something was posted on our blog. How dreadful. Someone should say something! Unfortunately, I'm not sure that I have anything particularly fascinating or insightful to say...I mean, when I think "Intellectual Freedom" (strike the angel chorus: Aaahhh)...only a very little follows. But I suppose that thinking some little thing is probably better than thinking nothing. Well, perhaps not according to Buddha...but nonetheless, here is some food for thought (and who doesn't like food or thoughts?!)

Ok, if I let me mind wander about the intellectual freedom camp, it comes to me that...intellectual freedom must be inversely correlated to censorship. The concept of intellectual freedom promotes the rights of individuals to freely explore ideas either through expression or consumption, and so, one might suggest that with increased practises of intellectual freedom will come decreased practises of censorship; and inversely, with greater censorship will come decreased intellectual freedom. Hmm, this seems kind of obvious doesn't it?

Well, let's theory we promote intellectual freedom because we believe that a) we are autonomous individuals with the right to determine our own experiences and express ourselves freely, b) and therefore, we also do not have the right to impose our ideas and beliefs onto others, c) and possibly, with greater, unimpeded access to contrasting ideas and points of view, we will create a more thoughtful and tolerant society? Ok, let's go with all of the above. Now what? What happens after we create a more thoughtful and tolerant society?

If people are more thoughtful and tolerant, then they will take time to consider various aspects of an idea/opinion/belief, even if it does not conform to their own. So, for example, if I were to tell you about a conversation I once had with JD (a person whom you don't know) who said that slaves were never ill-treated because they were too valuable, (i.e. they represented an investment by the farmer, so why would they risk their investment by not feeding, housing and otherwise caring for their slaves?), the precepts of intellectual freedom kind of dictate that even if you don't agree with this statement, you still need to consider it...give it it's thoughtful due so to speak. Otherwise, if you dismiss it out of hand, doesn't that become censorship?

Ok wait; if you don't allow JD to express his view, then that is censorship. If you don't allow someone to access JD's ideas, then that is also censorship. If you allow JD to speak and someone else to listen, but choose to personally ignore JD, that is...well it doesn't sound like censorship (ok good), but it doesn't sound very thoughtful and tolerant either. If you don't engage with an alternative view to your own, then perhaps you're censoring yourself. Is that even possible? Sounds a little crazy, but you know, maybe it is (possible, not crazy). And if you are not willing to consider an idea, how will that affect your willingness to allow others the freedom to consider it as well?

So let's go back a bit: if more intellectual freedom = less censorship, that means that the more freedom that people have to express their beliefs, the less freedom they have to dismiss others'...but then we're still curtailing one's intellectual freedom!! So does that mean more intellectual freedom = more rights to censorship?!

I don't know where to go from here. Does anyone have any ideas?