Category Archives: intellectual freedom

Border blues

O Canada!

The federal government of our neighbors (okay, neighbours) to the nor

ALA Editions, 2015

ALA Editions, 2015

th has spoken against my wily ways once again. This time, my unexpected–and undreamed–offense falls between the covers of a professional book. I mailed a copy of Libraries and the Affordable Care Act, fully labelled for Customs, and it came bouncing back from the border station near Scarborough, marked inappropriate for import. Okay, smarties, you have government-supported healthcare up there already (although it’s not national healthcare but rather province-by-province assured). Would it really have hurt anyone to be exposed to my admittedly dry prose steering US public library staff through their sophomore efforts with what the US (and 17 states within it) have on offer for those of us who are…well, south of the border?

My intentions in mailing it were pure: no plan to poach either patients or library patrons. I was mailing it to someone–admittedly a former US public librarian–who was beset with curious questions about how this set of 2010-enacted laws work. Heck, if the book’s good enough for library staff here, what could it hurt to share the info–with one person, mailed to a home address–there?

Or maybe I should interpret the official rejection as the book’s very first review. In which case, I am in big do-do beyond my border rep.

It’s almost exactly seven years to the day that my attempt to receive a then-six-year-old computer monitor coming across the border (again, south to north) was met with equal outrage. That time, however, I was on the north side and could be hunted down with the $1000C import fee demanded. Uh, no.

But, Canada, we gotta stop meeting like this: books meant for librarians trying to understand snaggly US insurance laws, antique computer monitors. What’s it gonna be in 2021? Should I start crafting a plan now? I’m thinking origami animals. Who can say no to them?

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Are civil discourse skills teachable?

This has become the season for big news sites to announce the alterations of their editorial policies, shelving public comment capacity (a defining characteristic of online news reporting, essentially a blogging actvity, over paper publication). The arguments put forth are all of a theme:

  • Regret at the loss of access for democratic discussion, as well as some factual correction
  • Announcing that trolls’ egregious expressions–racist virulence, ad hominem arguments, threats against other commenters as well as the original writer(s)–can most effectively be silenced by silencing all

I see another trend as related: the stories this graduation season of controversial public figures, having been invited to provide university commencement addresses then having the invitation retracted when the graduands vote against listening to whatever they might have to offer on this (future) occasion.

Demonstrative actions, including protesting public policy and political stands, and arguing against expression with responding expression are valuable and essential to a healthy society. Instead, we have evidence of our culture lurching toward censoring interchange because we seem to be over valuing the modulation of all behavior over correcting bad behavior, and closing off potential articulation lest it sound disagreeable.

Is civil discourse so all or nothing that we can’t engage in practice, in allowing good and bad models to exist, stand–or fall–to critique, open minds to possibilities each of us alone is too limited to imagine? How can we re-engage in the practice of debate?

Islands don’t choose their stream.

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Parental development issues

Reading this post in  The Daily Dot this am, my own misreading of one sentence reminded me of a little publicized detail some data mining of library challenges/cries-for-bannings reveal.

First, my misreading: “One Facebook commenter assures the trans community that ‘if Ms. Klug had been assigned to high school, where the students are at better ages to understand,’ the parents would not have complained,” my hapless brain initially rendereded: “One Facebook commenter assures the trans community that ‘if Ms. Klug had been assigned to high school, where the parents are at better ages to understand,’ the parents would not have complained.”

Which brought to my mind (besides the nearly hourly reminder I send myself to read more carefully) the patterns discernible in the list of annually challenged titles published by ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom: parents, guardians and other “caregivers” appear to have the least tolerance for youthful intellectual freedom when said youth are at any of three specific developmental stages that, intererstingly, are tied directly to asserting independence from those same caregivers. Picture books, such as Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen, appeal to 4-year-olds who threaten to be aging out of tolerating 24 hour/day care provider oversight/interference–and might even have gone so far as to suggest they like the relative diversity of their friends/daycare buddies/neighboring families at least as well as the family that claims them as their own and provides the life that these experiences with those Other people allow. Next balloon on the reader audience age spectrum to warrant challenges by guardian adults encompasses those appealing to 11-year-olds (Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret may serve as a title many here can recognize), kids who just so happen to be entering that early adolescent development phase when they–horrors!–begin to prioritize peers above family members for their preferred social cohort. Next up: later adolescence, 16ish, an age synonymous in NA with drivers licensing, school sponsored dances that go til midnight, pairing up (ooo, we know what THAT can mean), and, not coincidentally, maturing analylitical capacity that prompts the reading of such undesirable texts as Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

So, folks, it would seem that we have been going about this all wrong: we don’t need to protect kids from human diversity, from their own identity formation (including gender identification, sexual orientation, and whatever else each of us finds a necessary adjunct of who-the-hell-we-believe-ourselves-to-be-most-usness). It’s the fear and loathing of adults threatened by losing their personal power over their kids’ dependency we need to address.

Full disclosure: As a parent, I once told my–coincidentally then 11-year-old–to not explore some information independently. On the morning of September 11, 2001, he woke his parents to bring the news of the World Trade Towers bombing-by-passenger-jets, news he’d garnered when waking to the radio he had set to rouse himself with the morning news. Later that day, I had to travel, or chose to continue with my already made plans to travel, away from home for the night and he was well angry/fearful about my going then. And I told him to not watch television news, where I knew the morning’s multiple violences were being reviewed endlessly. (Ours was a home in which television news wasn’t watched as a matter of course, so my edict was demonstrably alerting to him in that fashion as well). Being a relatively respectful child, he did not turn on any television. Instead he hied himself off to the public library where he, with his trusty library card, got himself online to view the news on CNN via the Internet.  Which led to my only moment of real outrage–not at him, but rather at the library staff member who recognized him and challenged him as to whether he had his parents’ approval to be viewing the news and then alerted me to his so doing. So, instead of sinking further into the slough of Sisyphean innocence protection, I instead wound up annoyed with a coworker for attempting to abrogate someone’s intellectual access and with trespassing on a library user’s privacy. Fortunately for said coworker and for myself, I kept these belated annoyances to myself.

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