Month: September 2014

Banned Books Week 2014

For those unaware, Banned Books Week is an annual event spearheaded by the American Library Association.  Banned Books Weeks celebrates the right to read freely, and is often commemorated at colleges and universities with a public reading of banned and/or challenged books.  In talking with students about the event, many were surprised to discover that books are still being banned.  Of course, the usual suspects (dictatorships, Communist regimes, nations with a high religiosity) account for the majority of book bannings nowadays, but America is not without fault in this tableaux.  Parents groups, religious advocacy organizations, and “concerned” citizens have, quite successfully, had books banned at both the local and municipal levels.  State and Federal bans seem more-or-less impractical at this point, but books removed from schools and libraries are books that might never find their way into the hands of those who most need them, and so the issue is still one of concern.

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With regard to IC, we held a successful Banned Books Week reading on 25/09/2014.  The event featured IC students, staff, faculty, and administration reading from a variety of banned and/or challenged books.  The readings ranged from more modern selections (including the Da Vinci Code [banned in the Vatican] and Captain Underpants [banned in a whole variety of places]), to more classical works (including The Holy Bible [the most thoroughly banned book in the history of the world] and Candide [banned for scandalizing virtually every member of the French aristocracy during the 18th century]).  Though attendance was modest, we managed to get two hours worth of readers, and all enjoyed themselves on a beautiful autumn day.

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Having stewarded Banned Books Week events for 30-odd years, we librarians are (perhaps naively) hoping that the idea of banning books is becoming more unpalatable to the world.  Google, social media, and the Internet have certainly helped in this regard, but the fact that we’re still holding these events suggests more can be done.  What then is the next frontier?  Our Circulation Manager, Sarah Snyder, had a pretty sharp idea: Banned Ideas Week.  You’d think “banned” ideas wouldn’t exist in a higher education environment, but not so.  There are hot-button issues in higher education which, de facto, one simply does not take certain positions on (promotion of intelligent design theory, climate change denialism, the suggestion that genetic factors play a significant role in the formation of racial differences, etc.).  There are also topics which are generally avoided for reasons of job security/institutional politics (tenure reform, adminstrative expansion, hiring quotas, etc.).  Maybe it’s time we carved out a space for banned ideas as well.  Thoughts?

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Liz Peinado & Ferguson, MO

Last night, Schewe Library hosted guest speaker Liz Peinado, who was (one of the many) recently arrested in the Ferguson, MO police crackdowns.  Though the facts of Michael Brown’s case are as yet unclear, there is a wealth of evidence to support the notion that both Ferguson police and city officials have acted irresponsibly, and some would argue, unconstitutionally, in attempting to silence public sentiment over the Michael Brown shooting.  Through her hour-long talk, Peinado put a face on Ferguson’s populist discontent.

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Though now located in St. Louis, Peinado was raised in inner-city Chicago, and she began her talk by taking us through a brief life history.  Against long odds, Peinado excelled in her initial schooling, and eventually graduated from college (merely 8% of people in similar life circumstances graduate from higher education by the age of 24).  Now acting as the director of a successful after-school program, and also completing a Masters in Education, Peinado is the very definition of success.  But through her journey, she retained a keen sense of social justice, and when the Ferguson protests began to coalesce, she was one of the first on the scene.

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Her recollections, photos, and stories of the protests were horrific and fascinating.  They tell the story of a city now being torn apart by systemic and considered racial inequities.  Though Ferguson’s population is majority African American, many of its government services — including the Police Department — are overwhelmingly Caucasian by membership.  This disconnect has all sorts of predictably dispiriting consequences, but when an event such as Michael Brown’s death throws light on the matter, the results, as we’ve seen, can be truly ugly.  Liz herself was arrested, imprisoned, and ultimately charged with crimes during the Michael Brown protests.  Her offense?  Failing to vacate a public space in a sufficiently rapid manner.  If there’s a silver lining to her tale, it’s that her story and photography are now being taken up nationwide, most notably by CBS and CNN.

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Where does that leave Ferguson?  I couldn’t say, but I’m happy that Schewe will have played a part, however small, in advocating for change in a city which most desperately needs it.

Visions of College

I just assembled our inaugural display of the Fall term — Visions of College — and it got me thinking about how many competing visions of college are actually floating around nowadays.  In creating this display, I was a) trying to assemble newer works dealing with the college experience, and b) provide varying, often critical, perspectives on the modern college tableaux.  When I’d collected the books which were to make up the display, I was surprised by what I found.

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The more prominent college narratives of the day — a fixation on student retention, administrative bloat, waning faculty influence, etc. — of course found their way into the display, but, in my opinion, the appearance of “lesser” narratives really made the display cohere.  For instance, I found a couple of books on college athletics, particularly football, which really examined the place of the athlete in higher education; I also chose some books addressing the parental influence (chiefly of the helicopter variety) on college culture; and finally, I tried to incorporate a few books which dealt with “alternative” college narratives (those focusing on, for instance, first generation, racial minority, or LGBT students).  All of this turned out very nicely, but it was hardly deliberate — to find the books for the display, I simply searched our catalog using “college” as a subject, and organized the results by publication date.  Ergo, books about college, published recently.

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The results probably say as much about Schewe’s collection development practices as they do about scholarship-on-college, but I was still (pleasantly) surprised by the titles my search returned.  One of the tricky things about working in a college environment is maintaining a sense of objectivity about your surroundings; one of the great things about working in a library is that you’re given a license to question, critique, and dissent.  When it comes to the evolution of the college, the Library is a great place to really get a rounded picture of where we’re headed (and where we’ve been), and that sense of perspective can be just as important to the workers as it is to the students.  In fact, I’m proud that Schewe has developed such a robust and critical collection vis-a-vis the college experience, and I’m prouder still to have it on display right now!