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long arm of the Law

by | Nov 4, 2022 | 0 comments

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This highly popular session, now in its 13th year, followed its previous format: a rendition of The Long Arm of the Law, followed by 2 presentations that were moderated by Anne Okerson, Senior Advisor on Electronic Strategies for the Center for Research Libraries. This year’s topic was book censorship:

. We need some new actions.

As he frequently does, Gary Price, Founder, InfoDOCKET made an outline of his presentation available to the audience. He said that the real issue is the war on ideas, not just books. Where is the line between understanding and an awareness of what is going on? We need to prepare for the future and not be alarmists. Book banning is not new and does not exist in a vacuum.

GDELT, the Global Database of Events, Language and Tone, monitors the world’s broadcast, print, and web news and is continuously updated. Is archives go back through 1979. Users can see how the text is being used because it uses the Internet Archive’s database. Everything is an issue for someone. If you can put it in front of the right people on social media, it will be amplified, and you will not be able to get it back. Materials in databases are now being challenged. Some people are checking out books from libraries and never bringing them back.

We need to do a better job of explaining to people not in our community what our skills and education are all about. We have many old-school beliefs; people think they can go to Google and do not need libraries and librarians any more. It’s important to keep your skills up to date. These activities are not limited to the US. Social media is changing everything. TikTok is the new search engine. We need to understand how these social media sites work and use them to our advantage.

Scare tactics are causing some librarians to resign. We have seen a rash of bomb threats in libraries. Are you up to date on phishing and ransomware? Some positive things are happening; banning has increased book sales. We need a concerted effort to archive what we are seeing on the web to make sure that we have a record of what was said if it comes up in the future because it can disappear instantly.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone noted that there is a rising tide of book censorship. The last 18 months have been a stressful time with a deluge of challenges to books. The number of challenges has grown from 376 challenges of 523 books in 2019 to 938 challenges of of over 1700 titles so far this year. Most challenges are of books intended for young people. Some groups are challenging many books at one time. Social media has become a major driver of censorship. Here are some common themes of challenges:  

Elected officials are supporting these activities by introducing legislation. Some of them want to put unelected parents in charge of library boards. Others want to ban research databases such as EBSCO because they may have records on obscenity, sexually explicit materials, reproductive health, abortion, etc. So far, censorship litigation has failed in courts because there was no basis for legal action.

We are seeing an effort to discredit the public good and need to respond to the moment and be proactive and responsive. Social media has created a perfect storm. Get out into the community and show how libraries are the heart of it. Establish trust and authority by demonstrating and sharing knowledge. It is important for the whole library community to come together and address these issues, stand up to censorship and book bans. In response to the alarming trend of book banning The Right to Read Act reaffirms that first amendment rights apply to school libraries and protects school librarians and other educators in carrying out their duty to protect students’ right to read. It was recently introduced in Congress, which is a positive action. ALA is also supporting libraries and schools.

Don Hawkins

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