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Posts Tagged ‘censorship’


There is an elephant in the room and his name is Ian Wishart.

I have watched the furore over Ian Wishart’s latest book Breaking Silence with a small amount of trepidation. I don’t think it is the death of free speech, seeing as no one is actually banning Wishart from publishing the book. As a free speech advocate I support his right to write the book (even though I have no desire to read it, and find the whole concept distasteful). I also support the right of  those against it to advocate boycotting the work.  I also support the bookstores in their decision to not stock the work. And yet I still have a sense of unease. I think Craig Ranapia’s post over at Public Address on this sums up some of what I think, if in language I couldn’t bring myself to use.

What I dread is the potential outcry when the book hits the library shelves. I am of course assuming that libraries will buy it, seeing as with all of Wishart’s books there is likely to be a demand. There is the other fear though, that libraries won’t stock it using the justification of collection development policies.   For a while now I have held the view that despite many librarians justified promotion of the free speech/anti-censorship causes, we practice a form of censorship. We just call it Collection Development. This could be the lightening rod that exposes that.

Those are the elephants stomping around in my library, which keeps knocking over shelves. I hope I am wrong on both counts, but could too easily be right.

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Webstock used to be my no-miss conference until this week. It’s like a combined rock festival and party for geeks – the learning and fun are intense and amazing. If Webstock was a keyword it would be “awesome”.

Nethui was not a rock festival, and less of a party in terms of headiness. Yes, there were superstars like Lessig. Yes the were miraculous acts of collaboration like the special on-off licence for that audience in that room granted by the BBC for a one-off showing of their documentary The Virtual Revolution. You might have watched it, but you can’t say you’re one of the few people in the country who have done so legally. Both of those wonderful things were not what the three days were about – quite the opposite.

The three days were about New Zealanders coming together to look at the challenges of the future and start the conversation around the question, “What do we do now?” It is easy to be brave in an environment in which one’s heroes are on the stage. At Nethui, we were required to be the heroes, in all our everyday ordinariness, speaking in that drab accent we wince at when we hear it from our neighbours and carrying all of the feelings of cultural unworth we New Zealanders seem to cherish.

There are plenty of good summations of the event available – I recommend Russell Brown‘s usual solid effort as a good starter for ten. You can even be a virtual attendee of large parts by viewing the videos collected here.

But if you weren’t there, and you had a question, answer or idea nobody else in the room did – then it wasn’t just you that missed out, it was all of us.

Don’t worry, libraries were well represented. In the last combined session on access, someone at one of the mics said the following:

“It’s not like you can go down to your local library for a lesson on how to use the internet.”

“Yes you can,” came a voice from the far side of the auditorium. I’m not sure who – but I have a suspicion it might have been a new friend from Dargaville. *waves* Whoever it was, they have my applause. *applauds*

When you’re “at the mic” you can often can only keep one thought in your head. “No, but you can’t just go your local library and…”

And then what you really should have been there for happened.

We, all of us from libraries, sitting wherever we were gave him the SHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSH!

Zippy Shut Up. by stev.ie
Zippy Shut Up., a photo by stev.ie on Flickr.

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Banned Book Week 2010


It is the American Library Association’s Banned Book Week, highlighting their continued fight against censorship. There are some familiar titles in the list and some new ones that surprised me. It would be interesting to see what books gather the most complaints in New Zealand libraries.

Stephenie Meyer joins ranks of ‘most challenged’ authors by Alison Flood [The Guardian]

The Twilight books are among the books that have received most calls to be banned from from US libraries

Queen of teen vampire romance Stephenie Meyer has topped every bestseller chart going but she has now made it onto a less coveted chart, after her Twilight books joined the ranks of those most frequently requested to be banned from US libraries.

Meyer’s novels, about the romance between a human teenage girl and a vampire, came fifth on the American Library Association’s list of books which people tried hardest to ban in the last year. This is the first time the Mormon author’s novels have appeared in the line-up – JK Rowling and Philip Pullman are both veterans of the list – with complaints about both their level of sexual explicitness and their “religious viewpoint”.

“It is the books which are read frequently which are frequently challenged – with all the hype around Twilight and the movies and the celebrities I was actually surprised Meyer’s books weren’t higher,” said Angela Maycock at the ALA’s office for intellectual freedom. Vampire books in general accumulated a host of complaints last year, Maycock said, with “the idea of vampires and other supernatural entities in opposition to certain religious viewpoints”. JK Rowling doesn’t make it into this year’s list but her Harry Potter books were the most challenged of the last decade, the ALA said today, with complaints over their “satanism” and “anti-family themes”.

The most challenged books of 2009 were Lauren Myracle’s young adult series of books TTYL, written entirely in the style of instant messaging. A host of objections were made to Myracle’s books – over their language, coverage of drugs and sexual explicitness. “These books deal realistically with young adult lives – the ickyness, the weirdness of adolescence and the difficult situations lots of teens face,” said Maycock. “Twilight of course deals with adolescence too, but is very much about the supernatural. It’s interesting that both realism and fantasy are causing high levels of concern.”

Continue Reading Here

The top 10 titles most challenged titles of 2009 were:

1. TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series) by Lauren Myracle, reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs

2. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, reasons: Homosexuality

3. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Anti-Family, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, reasons: Racism, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

5. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer, reasons: Sexually Explicit, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

6. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

7. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult, reasons: Sexism, Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide, Violence

8. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler, reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

9. The Color Purple by Alice Walker, reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

10. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

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The announcement that two ISP’s have signed up to run their service through the new government filter service has led to some debate on the list serve about censorship. Previously myself, Sean and others have had a vigorous debate about the pro’s and con’s of censorship and filtering, in particular with regards to the act of filter public terminals in libraries. I am not going to re-litigate that argument, as I think we came to a “agree to disagree” conclusion, besides this is a different kettle of fish.

So what is this filter? It is a secret filter of some 700 sites that purportedly have on them materials that show child abuse. [Note I say purportedly and I will get back to that soon]. It is run through the agencies of the Department of Internal Affairs, and is a voluntary filter that ISP’s my opt-in to.

Already there has been some hysterical statements in the public about us joining countries like China, Iran etc in censoring “the people”. Though not on the list-serve. There we have had some reasoned argument for and against any such move. And a sort of side move into the bringing the National Library into the Department of Internal Affairs point as well.

As an aside, I did think about quoting some of those arguments, but felt that since they were made on the semi-private medium of the list serve it wouldn’t be appropriate. What do you think? Should you quote list-serve emails on a blog?

So my thoughts…                                                                

It is a voluntary scheme, so the screaming of government censorship is a little premature. If it was compulsory then that is a different matter. So far only two smaller ISP’s have signed up. That being said it is timely to debate such a filter before too many ISP’s join up, or the government seeks to make it compulsory. The “thin end of the wedge” argument does hold some traction.

I think the concerns about pulling the National Library into the D.I.A. are small, as both are already administered by government, pulling the administrative functions together just cuts some of the degrees of separation. Of course if such a merger went ahead we would need to watch the terms very carefully to ensure that the existing remit of the National Library was not watered down or endangered.

I do have concerns about the secret nature of the list of sites (why I said purportedly previously) . While in some ways I see it as being paranoid to think that Governments would add other sites that are purely of political nature onto the list, there are times that being paranoid is justifiable.  Of course publishing the list would defeat the whole purpose of the filter, so maybe there needs to be some sort of independent review body to monitor such a filter?

As to the effectiveness of the list, well so far that is up to debate. Filtering can be circumvented by those who know how and want to badly enough. But if it blocks the casual browser, especially children from accessing offensive/illegal materials, I think I am with the it’s not a really bad thing camp, as long as those concerns previously highlight are dealt with.

In the meantime I will be reading this report that came through the list-serve with some interest.

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Today I just thought I’d bring your attention to Andrew Armitage’s appeal for changes to the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act. Andrew is proprietor of the excellent Aro Video in Wellington. The stiff fees for classification of foreign movies in New Zealand impacts severely on the availability and supply of movies and documentaries.  The act has not kept pace with, or taken into account, the availability or accessibility of movies in various formats.

In my previous library position in acquisitions I often experienced the absolute frustration of trying to acquire a DVD requested by an academic. Most of these DVDs were only available from overseas and had not been classified in New Zealand. The cost of doing so can be exorbitant, especially for struggling libraries and small businesses.

Instead of repeating Andrew’s case I’ll direct you to his link here.   If you agree with his campaign, show your support.

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