or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk




Banned Books Inquiry, And What We Found Here

   March 26th, 2015 Brian Herzog

banned books displayWe had an interesting request from a college student who is doing a project on book challenges in libraries.

We didn't have a lot to contribute, but I thought I'd share the exchange here anyway to hopefully hear about other libraries' experiences. This student asked [edited for privacy],

Date: March 8, 2015 at 10:40:31 PM EDT
Subject: Banned Books

Currently I am attending Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, NH, and ... am taking a class this semester titled "Banned Books." As part of the course requirements we are reading various books that have been banned such as:
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Fanny Hill by John Clelland
The Witches by Roald Dahl
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Looking for Alaska by John Green

Many other texts are also touched upon within this course. After reading the texts we discuss why we believe some of these books have been banned. We also look up information about the individuals promoting the banning of these books and their beliefs and values.

As a research project for this course I am supposed to be researching if there have been any challenges towards books in my community. I am also supposed to find information about the book challenging/banning policy within the Chelmsford Public Library. It would be sincerely appreciated if you could send me some information about your library’s policies and experiences with book challenges and/or bans.

A few of us at the library looked around for the paper trail on our book challenges, and were surprised at what we didn't find. This is what interested me most. Book challenges are just a part of life in a public library, but I've never really examined the long view.

Here is the response I sent back [again, slightly edited]:

We actually haven't gotten a lot of challenges to items like what you're researching. In the ten years I've been here, I can only remember a handful of times.

Our official policy on the matter is covered in the "Censorship" section of our Materials Selection Policy (http://www.chelmsfordlibrary.org/library_info/policies/materials_policy.html), which states,

"The Library Director is available to review selection decisions, and welcomes the opportunity to discuss the interpretation of library goals and principles with interested individuals or representatives of groups.

Formal requests for withdrawal of specific items must be submitted to the Director in writing. A copy of the form is appended. Copies of the form are available at all circulation desks and the Reference Department. If the Library Director cannot resolve the issue to the satisfaction of the citizen in question, that person may request a hearing before the Selection Committee (See: “Responsibilities for Book Selection,” above.)"

The Request for Reconsideration of Library Materials form itself is available at
http://www.chelmsfordlibrary.org/library_info/policies/pdf/reconsideration_form.pdf.

We do have this on hand and give it to any patron who wishes to challenge an item. However, what we've found in practice is that patrons will verbally challenge an item, and usually want to speak to the director as well. But when we looked into our records to find the challenges, we determined that we've never gone beyond this stage to a patron actually submitting the challenge form in writing.

However, this doesn't mean that we've taken no action in situations like this. Here are a few examples that I hope will be helpful:

  • In one case, a mother was upset when she discovered that her 13 year old daughter had checked out the DVD "Thirteen" (http://chelmsford.mvlc.org/eg/opac/record/883844), and she came in to complain about this movie. After a discussion though, she realized she wasn't objecting to the movie itself so much as that someone underage would be able to check it out (this goes into a much larger area of libraries not being able to act in place of parents, and that MPAA rating are just suggestions and not strict mandatory limits). But as a result of this patron's challenge, the library decided to start putting MPAA rating stickers on our DVD collection, to make the rating (and therefore the intended audience) easier to identify.
  • Our Childrens staff said in the last 14 years, they remember about four "informal" challenges. In those cases, like the movie Thirteen, the issue is really about age-appropriateness. They said that in three of the cases, after reviewing the item in question, they decided to recatalog the item to the Young Adult collection so it wouldn't be in the Children's Room - which is an easy way to make the patron happy yet still provide public access to the item.
  • A slightly unusual challenge was to the book "It's Perfectly Normal," by Robie H. Harris (http://chelmsford.mvlc.org/eg/opac/record/1200161). When staff spoke to the patron who was challenging it, we learned that the patron had never seen or read the book, but was part of a church group who were all being encouraged to challenge it (which made national news in Lewiston, ME: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2007/12/legislation/maine-librarys-its-perfectly-normal-not-obscene-police-agree/#_). I believe that after a discussion, and asking the patron to read the book before challenging it, the patron dropped the complaint.
  • In another case, the library purchased a DVD for the movie "Brown Bunny," based on reviews. After it arrived but before it was put on the shelf for patrons, a staff member watched it and was surprised at how sexually graphic it was. After further review by another staff person, the library decided not to add it to the collection after all. So this wasn't exactly a patron challenge, but more of a self-censoring once we'd seen what the item was actually like.
  • And finally, although not strictly about challenging books, occasionally parents will complain that we don't do enough to keep their kids off of social media websites or other places online, and essentially ask us to "ban" these websites. This brings up larger issues as well, and in these cases we try to address the underlying issue. The first time this happened, we held a workshop for patrons on internet safety, and we do use filtering software on the computers in the Childrens and Teen areas, but we have not changed our computer use policies.

I hope this information helps, and please let me know if you need clarification or elaboration, or just have additional questions. Thanks, and good luck with your project.

Brian Herzog
Head of Reference
Chelmsford Public Library

How far have item challenges gotten in your library? The ALA collects information on challenges (although the deadline has passed for 2014 incidents), and I've seen compiled stats before, but it was entirely different to review specially what has happened in my library.



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/15/15

   March 21st, 2015 Brian Herzog

artwalklogo175I had to wait to post this one until the event had passed, because I didn't want to skew the results. And also as a caveat emptor right up front, this might be one of those "you had to be there" moments, because the set up is long so the punch line may be anti-climatic. But it's the second day of Spring and it's snowing again, so here we go anyway.

Every year since 1993, Chelmsford has had a town-wide Winterfest celebration during February. That's fun. A couple years ago, the organizers also started an ArtWalk - artists created work around the same theme, and these were displayed in business' front windows in the town center. This gave people another reason to be outside and walk around Town, and also drew people to the shops.

This year, an element of competition was added - people could cast votes for their favorite display.

I was asked to help figure out a way to allow online voting for the ArtWalk displays. SurveyMonkey seemed easiest, so the organizers took photos of the displays, I added them to a poll, and we promoted the URL around town so people could vote (this, by the way, is why I waited on this post - I wanted the voting closed so that spambots wouldn't link from here and ruin the poll).

Okay, so there's the set up. The displays were going up on Saturday, February 7th, and the voting would open on Sunday the 8th. And of course, we were promoting the ArtWalk beforehand, and I think some of the artists had been talking it up too.

So now the punchline (I wanted to warn you it was coming so you didn't miss it): on the Wednesday before, an older gentleman came up to me at the desk and said,

I'd like to cast my vote for the Winterfest artwork. I saw the one I liked. Do I do that here?

I was a little puzzled, and told him that no, voting doesn't start until Sunday, and the displays themselves don't go up until Saturday. To which he replied,

Oh, I don't know anything about it. My wife just told me to come down here and vote for hers.

Ha. See, that was totally worth it. As a reward, take a look at the 2015 Chelmsford Winterfest ArtWalk displays. The photos don't really do them justice, but it's a fun program anyway.



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World’s Most Visited Tourist Attractions

   March 20th, 2015 Brian Herzog

From the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners comes this infographic. I'm not sure that the number of people who use Massachusetts libraries are strictly tourists, but still it's a nice-looking way to illustrate that libraries have not been killed off by the internet.

Most Visited Tourist Attraction

Take that, Niagara Falls! Incidentally, here's Travel+Leisure's full list of visit statistics.



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/8/15

   March 14th, 2015 Brian Herzog

One afternoon, an older Asian women came up to the desk. In this case, I'm only pointing out the age and ethnicity to illustrate that she and I did not share a common native language.

Usually I'm pretty good at hearing what people are saying, even with heavy accents on their English. However, with this women, I was struggling. And she knew it. Eventually I got that she was asking me to look up three books for her, and after having her repeat the first one four times, I finally got it.

We owned it and it was on the shelf, so things were looking up. But when we moved on to the next titles, the two of us just couldn't connect - I think she had repeated them four or five times when I finally asked her to write them down for me. She did, and slid me the note:

book titles note

When I looked down at it, I had to laugh (to myself) - I couldn't read her writing any better than I could understand her speech.

But after studying it for a minute, and listing to her say the titles again, I was able to pick up most of them. The second one suddenly became evident - Fresh off the Boat - and I could get "Man on" in the first one, but then she had to spell that third word: m-a-o.

I still couldn't get the last word, but searching for "man on mao's" was enough - the book she was looking for was Man on Mao's Right.

These two were also in the system, and I was able to request them for her. She thanked me and left, and I kept the note to hang by my desk on my wall of "things that amuse me and probably no one else."



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What Do To When Authors Die

   March 13th, 2015 Brian Herzog

Terry Pratchett died this week, and I, like many people, were saddened.

I came to the Discworld books later in my life, sort of by accident (which is the best way to come across books like the Discworld books), and to say I liked them is an understatement. It was more like the worlds and characters had just been waiting for me and were happy to have me turn up.

It wasn't until later that I realized I had already read some Pratchett, without knowing it. His book, Good Omens, co-written with Neil Gaiman, was another I had inadvertently come to on my own, on the shelf in an independent book shop in Yellow Springs, Ohio. I can't say it changed my life, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and was also introduced to Neil Gaiman that way. I somehow missed the introduction to Terry Pratchett, but since I got there in the end, I suppose it is okay.

Perhaps because of this, but perhaps also just because they are similar and the connection is logical, I have always linked Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman in my head.

So when I came across the following line while reading Neil Gaiman's Trigger Warning today (specifically in the story, The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury), I couldn't help but be reminded of Terry Pratchett's death:

I sometimes imagine I would like my ashes to be scattered in a library. But then the librarians would just have to come in early the next morning to sweep them up again, before the people got there.

Very appropriate on many levels, but it also seems that there is hardly a tribute fitting enough for such a creative and prolific writer as Terry Pratchett.



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/1/15

   March 7th, 2015 Brian Herzog

powerpoint-printanimationsThis question wasn't all that difficult to answer, but I thought it was interesting in that, it's something I didn't know before and for some reason feel a little bit better for knowing now, kind of way.

A grad student patron had been at one of our computers for awhile, working on a Powerpoint presentation for a group project. She'd asked me a few various questions over the course of maybe an hour, but then came up very frantic.

It turned out one of her team members had added a bunch of animations to their presentation, and now that she was finished adding her part and was playing the slideshow to see how it all looked, none of the animations were working. She said they had worked for her at home, but our computer was not displaying them.

I don't know if Powerpoint has a setting that would block animations - or if there was one, that our computers set that way - but then in the course of talking about it with her Powerpoint suddenly crashed.

She was surprisingly calm about that. I knew she had it saved so there was no danger of losing anything, but usually when something isn't going well, anything out of the ordinary escalates stress quickly. However, she saw the crash as a positive thing - her logic was that Powerpoint on this computer must be glitchy, which would account for both the crash and not playing animations (as opposed to the idea that something was wrong with the presentaiton and that's what caused the crash). Now this is my kind of patron.

Anyway, here comes the reference question:

At this point she said she no longer cared about playing the slideshow, and all she wanted to do was print a copy for her professor to have during their presentation. However, how do you print slides with animations? Good question (and much more reasonable than the patron who asked how to print a YouTube video).

Apparently her team member created one slide where the animation was four different graphs replacing each other (instead of just creating four separate slides). Only one showed at a time during the actual presentation, but looking at it in normal edit mode, all of them were superimposed over top each other.

It seemed logical that Powerpoint would have a "Print Animations" option, so I went online to look for the solution.

From what I gather, Powerpoint 2007 (which we have on our workstations) does not. However, you can still do it, but it's a bit of a manual process. The answer I found was this:

  • click on the "home" tab
  • go to the far right and click on "select" (it is located in the "editing" box on the far right)
  • (for me, a dropdown box opened and I chose Selection Pane)
  • the "visibility panel" will open up showing you the animations for the [slide] you are on
  • just hide each [animation layer] at a time and print them out

See the image above for this Powerpoint pane (or try it yourself!).

Although a manual process, this worked extremely well. You can show or hide whichever layers you want by clicking the little eye icon, so the patron was able to always show the slide title, and toggle off/on each chart and print them pretty quickly.

She was extremely happy with me - although still annoyed at her team member for making all this necessary.



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