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?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Stephen Harper's War on Libraries (and Archives, and Science)

A new book by journalist Mark Bourrie, titled Kill the Messengers, outlines Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s policies on science and access to information during his time in office. The review of said policies is quite shocking, and reveals that said policies impact not only Canadian citizens, but global citizens, as government scientists are restricted from accessing scientific documents to aid in their research. As well, Harper’s government has prevented scientists from speaking to the media outright; instead, all statements go through a media specialist before being released to news companies. It is sad to see that such restrictions on freedom of speech are being imposed here, as they are reminiscent of something one may be accustomed to seeing from governments that are elusive (such as the People’s Republic of China).

A detailed excerpt from Bourrie’s book can be found here. The restrictions are also affecting government librarians, historians, and archivists, a greater description of which is found near the end of the article.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Freedom to Read Week 2015

Hello friends!

Freedom to Read Week is almost upon us!

In celebration of that, FLIF will have a table in HUB on Tuesday, February 24th from 10 am to 3 pm. Come talk to some lovely FLIF members and learn some interesting facts!

Have a lovely rest of your week,

Friday, February 06, 2015

Filtering the Internet: Does it Keep the Bad Stuff Out?

Internet filters are a highly controversial topic when it comes to public computers in the library. Many people feel that filters are great because they prevent vulnerable populations (such as children) from viewing harmful materials, either directly, through an accidental Google Image search, or indirectly, such as passing by an adult viewing violent or sexually explicit images.
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist states in his paper, “Internet Filters Should Be Used in Libraries” (2004) that filters “provide necessary protection for children, and adult library patrons can easily request that the filter be disabled or a site unblocked” (p.71). He states that “libraries can set their software to prevent the blocking of material that falls into categories like ‘Education’, ‘History’, and ‘Medical’...and may also add or delete specific sites from a blocking category” (p.72).  
Advocates for filters almost never intend to purposefully censor the Internet; they are often wholeheartedly concerned for the well being of children in the library. However, filters do just that: censor.

One must not forget that filtering software is sold by private companies with their own agendas, many of which are forced onto the general public when installed on library computers. Schrader (1999) explains, “Many products also block any reference to homosexuality, lesbianism, or bisexuality. As a spokesperson stated: ‘We filter anything that has to do with sex. Sexual orientation is about sex by virtue of the fact that it has sex in the name’... But most products do not focus exclusively on sex and violence, however. Many have strong political and ideological motivations. Some block all feminist sites, such as NOW, the National Organization for Women, feminist newsgroups, and sites such as alt.feminism. Also blocked was the Planned Parenthood site. One product blocked the important Holocaust archive and anti-revisionist resource site Nizkor for a time because it was claimed to contain ‘hate speech’” (p. 10-11). These filter companies are privately owned and operated. They have a private agenda that often takes on a role that is more about censorship than about protecting young minds from harmful sites.

What many advocates for filters don’t realize is that ultimately, filter technology is not yet effective enough (nor will it probably ever be) to prevent absolutely all harmful material from being viewed. If someone using a public library computer wants to view alternative images, they can (and will) find a way. The opposite is just as true. While filters are designed to prevent harmful information from being displayed, too often they block sexual health sites and reputable sources of information as well. A study conducted by researchers at UC-Berkeley in 2007 found that “Generally, filters with lower rates of underblocking had higher rates of overblocking. If the filter most effective at blocking adult materials were applied to search indexes, typical query results, or the results of popular queries, the number of clean pages blocked in error would exceed the number of adult pages blocked correctly” (1).  Filters are just not advanced enough to replicate human decision-making regarding what is “safe” information and information that is “harmful”. For example, a filter may block all sites containing the word “breast” in order to prevent pornographic images from being shown. However, this could block access to sites discussing breast cancer or even how to cook chicken breasts! While librarians can and do tweak filtering software to prevent these sorts of instances from occurring, it is a lengthy, time-consuming process that is often complicated. As well, the internet is so vast that one cannot simply find all websites devoted to a topic such as breast cancer and prevent the filter from blocking them.

Of course, librarians want to protect the children that visit their branches, and many library internet use policies will take a firm stance on viewing explicit material on their machines. Edmonton Public Library’s Internet Use Policy (2015) states:
“Library computers or wireless may not be used to:
  • Access sites or transmit materials which violate any Canadian federal or provincial law or City Bylaw such as defamatory, discriminatory, or obscene materials
  • Send fraudulent, harassing, or obscene communications
  • Display overt sexual images”

EPL’s policy is backed by statements made by professional organizations, such as CLA’s Statement on Intellectual Freedom and CLA’s Statement on Internet Access.

So what can we as librarians do to protect vulnerable populations? One of the most important, and easiest, things we can do is to educate parents. Parents need to realize that the library is not obligated to care for unsupervised children, and that the best way that children can be protected is to have their internet usage monitored by parents. One excellent piece of literature out there for parents is CLA’s publication NetSafe, NetSmart: Managing and Communicating about Internet in the Library. By educating parents and children about best internet practices in the library, we can protect vulnerable populations while still protecting people’s rights to intellectual freedom and a censor-free Web.

Sources and Further Reading Under the Break: