Next week is Banned Books Week, the American Library Association’s annual celebration of the freedom to read. Launched in 1982, Banned Books Week serves as an important rallying point for the entire book community—librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and, of course, readers—in shared support of “the freedom to seek and to express ideas.”
You can check out the ALA's Banned Books Week page for all kinds of materials to help your library join the festivities. The festivities kick off in earnest on Sunday night. As it does every year, the ALA has already released its top 10 most challenged books, this past April, though this year's list featured 11 titles.
Meanwhile, in a twist of timing, a fitting reminder during this Banned Books Week of the challenging information age we live in. The Department of Justice this week filed suit against Edward Snowden over his new memoir, Permanent Record, looking to seize Snowden’s share of the proceeds from the book, published this week by Macmillan. The suit seeks to deny Snowden any proceeds from telling his story on the basis that Snowden failed to submit the book for agency review, and that book runs afoul of the non-disclosure agreements Snowden signed while employed as a security contractor.
The government isn't seeking to block publication of the memoir. Nevertheless, if successful, the suit, would compel Macmillan to freeze any monies due Snowden, which could certainly have a chilling effect on how whistleblowers in the future tell their stories. After all, what whistleblower would sign up a book knowing that the government could simply force the publisher to freeze the author's assets?
The point being: there are many ways to ban a book.
In a statement, Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, and an attorney for Snowden, said the memoir contains "no government secrets that have not been previously published by respected news organizations," and that Snowden did not submit the manuscript for vetting because he had good reason to believe that the intelligence agencies would not have reviewed the manuscript "in good faith."
Notably, the ACLU, along with the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, is already challenging the constitutionality of the government's pre-publication review system, arguing that the current rules gives government officials "far too much power to suppress speech the public has a right to hear and to make unexplained censorship decisions influenced by individuals' viewpoints and access to power."
Next week, meanwhile, Snowden will make an appearance at the Brooklyn Public Library’s flagship Central Branch at Grand Army Plaza (via a videolink of course) for a live taping of the ACLU's At Liberty weekly podcast.
The Snowden book certainly looks like a fascinating read, as captured in this article from Wired: Snowden writes “the construction of the system was itself the abuse,” he sought to fight, "It’s the building of a potential panopticon—what he has called turnkey tyranny—with every tool in place to record everything about everyone, to turn any individual’s secret life against them at the whim of the powerful."
More than one librarian, meanwhile, has pointed out that if Snowden's book had been published after November 1, their library would only be able to purchase one e-book edition through the end of the year. In the Tennessean, Nashville Public Library Director Kent Oliver connects Banned Book Week with the restrictive library e-book market, and in particular, Macmillan's impending embargo policy. "Censorship is commonly regarded as removing or altering materials because of content," Oliver writes. "An embargo is a type of censorship by restriction, curtailing access based on financial status. It underlies the idea that only those with the ability and willingness to pay deserve access to new information. This philosophy is counter to everything that public libraries stand for."
Indeed, the e-book realm remains a concern for libraries, and continues to generate headlines this week. Forbes this week caught up with one very smart, vocal librarian who has used Twitter effectively to call attention to the vagaries of the library e-book market.
NPR reports how a group of citizens in a Colorado community started their own news organization after their local paper closed, and how they now hope the local library can help, not only by housing a staff of local journalists, "but also providing tools for citizen journalists to cover their community, like a makerspace for news."
From Slate, "the Trump administration has threatened to withdraw federal funding for a Middle East studies course jointly taught by Duke University and the University of North Carolina because it believes the course is too positive in its depiction of Islam in comparison with its portrayal of Judaism and Christianity."
On September 26, The Austin (TX) Central Library will host the 7th annual STEM Summit, which this year will explore "the future of work." The event brings together some of today's top thinkers in tech, education, business, and policy to discuss topics like AI, the gig economy and expanding computer science for all, issues very much on the minds of librarians these days. The event is sponsored by Scientific American and Macmillan Learning, and if you can't be there in Austin, fear not, you can always tune in to the livestream.
Fascinating story from the Philadelphia Inquirer, as a Cambridge University fellow and Penn State English professor recently revealed that the Philadephia Free Library’s First Folio, which was published in 1623, "was likely annotated and owned by English poet John Milton."
And finally, the Hunters Point Community Library is set to open next week in Queens New York. In the New York Times, Michael Kimmelman says the library "is among the finest and most uplifting public buildings New York has produced so far this century."
The Week in Libraries is a weekly opinion and news column. News, tips, submissions, questions or comments are welcome, and can be submitted via email.