My first session at the OLA SuperConference by far had the catchiest title of the many conference offerings, “Shelving Books and Packing Heat: Librarians as Freedom Fighters.”
Erin Fields, the presenter, examined the stereotypes of librarians from the “befuddled, loveless frump” depicted in “It’s a Wonderful Life, when George learns Mary’s fate had she not met him, to newer images of the sexy librarian (See Microsoft’s Ms. Dewey perhaps lamentably now living only on YouTube). There are also alien librarians, the librarian as monster, as in The Librarian From the Black Lagoon (enjoyed in my school library!)
The newest incarnation of Batgirl has earned a PhD in Library Science and is head of Gotham City Public Library.
Most relevant to the call to librarians to be “freedom fighters” is the series Toshokan Sensō (Library Wars), based on the Statement on Intellectual Freedom in Libraries introduced in Japan in 1954. In the series, the Japanese government has passed a law allowing them to censor any potentially harmful media by establishing a Media Betterment Committee (MBC). The Library Defense Force (LDF) is a response to the MBC.
In recent years American librarians have stood against the Patriot Act. Censorship is an ongoing issue in Canada with many books challenged.
During the discussion that followed the presentation, a librarian raised the issue of self-censorship, whereby in some cases many materials aren’t even considered for inclusion, e.g., gay, lesbian, non-North American or UK, etc. Selection can be a subtle form of self-censorship. Another librarian referred us to this School Library Journal article on self-censorship. A journalist from Walrus magazine asked where were librarians on the Muhammad cartoons controversy. Good question! Where were we?
It’s true. We all self-censor, we are not perfect. We don’t always man the barricades. Pragmatically, we choose our battles. Freedom fighters, maybe… sometimes. It’s definitely an image that needs some reflection and work before we accept too many accolades.