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

SOPA/PIPA Fight Continues

   January 19th, 2012 Brian Herzog

[don't censor the web]I thought it was great how many websites participated in yesterday's blackout protest of the SOPA and PIPA bills. Partly, because I ended up explaining what was going on to quite a few people.

BoingBoing has a quickie recap of the effect the protest had on some Senators and Congressmen, and SOPATrack.com allows you to view, by State, who supports, opposes, and is undecided about the bills - also, how much money they've accepted from pro- and anti-censorship lobbyists. According to FightForTheFuture.org, there are now 35 Senators publicly opposing PIPA. Last week there were 5. Huge success, but it takes 41 to stop the bill completely.

For what it's worth, here's a few anecdotes from my day:

  • A couple weeks ago, I used Senator Scott Brown's contact form to request a meeting with him to talk about PIPA. Nothing happened until yesterday, when I got a call from someone in his Boston office, thanking me for contacting them and saying Sen. Brown will oppose PIPA. That's great.
  • Next I tried to contact Senator John Kerry. I called his DC office and got a busy signal, then went to his website to get the number for his Boston office - but the website was down. I found the number elsewhere online, but when I called it rang and rang then went to voicemail, but then a message said the voicemail box was full. I was disappointed I couldn't contact my Senator, but hopefully that meant that so many other constituents were contacting him that his methods were just overwhelmed.

But it's not over. The Senate vote on PIPA is still scheduled for Tuesday, Jan 24th, so keep contacting your Senators and ask them to explain the bill. Also, it looks like SOPA is scheduled to be revived in February, so also contact your Members of Congress. XKCD had a great shortlist of links to check out:

WTF Wikipedia
Of course, the funniest part of yesterday were all the tweets from people who didn't know what was going on - lots of desperate students unable to do their homework, but of course it's bigger than that. Still, they're worth a skim.

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SOPA and Protect-IP Links

   January 12th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Website BlockedThis is the last cause I'll promote (for awhile), but it's a big one. Hopefully by now you've heard of the two bills in Congress that threaten the future of the internet - SOPA in the House and PIPA in the Senate.

If you're not sure how either of these will affect you (and libraries), here's a few quick descriptions I've seen recently:

From BoingBoing's SOPA and everyday Americans:

The harm that does to ordinary, non-infringing users is best described via a hypothetical user: Abe. Abe has never even so much as breathed on a company’s copyright but he does many of the things typical of Internet users today. He stores the photos of his children, now three and six years old, online at PickUpShelf* so that he doesn’t have to worry about maintaining backups. He is a teacher and keeps copies of his classes accessible for his students via another service called SunStream that makes streaming audio and video easy. He engages frequently in conversation in several online communities and has developed a hard-won reputation and following on a discussion host called SpeakFree. And, of course, he has a blog called “Abe’s Truths” that is hosted on a site called NewLeaflet. He has never infringed on any copyright and each of the entities charged with enforcing SOPA know that he hasn’t.

And yet, none of that matters. Under SOPA, every single one of the services that Abe uses can be obliterated from his view without him having any remedy. Abe may wake up one morning and not be able to access any of his photos of his children. Neither he, nor his students, would be able to access any of his lectures. His trove of smart online discussions would likewise evaporate and he wouldn’t even be able to complain about it on his blog. And, in every case, he has absolutely no power to try to regain access. That may sound far-fetched but under SOPA, all that needs to happen for this scenario to come true is for the Attorney General to decide that some part of PickUpShelf, SunStream, SpeakFree and NewLeaflet would be copyright infringement in the US. If a court agrees, and with no guarantee of an adversarial proceeding that seems very likely, the entire site is “disappeared” from the US internet. When that happens Abe has NO remedy. None. No way of getting the photos of his kids other than leaving the United States for a country that doesn’t have overly broad censorship laws.

A much more succinct description, from Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro (also via BoingBoing):

[SOPA is championed by] politicians who are proudly unfamiliar with how the internet works, but who are well familiar with favors from well-heeled copyright extremists.

And Stephen Colbert explains it well too:

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,Video Archive

[video link]

Of course there's lots more reading to be done on this if you're interested:

No call to action will work unless people actually take action. Right now many Congressmen and Senators are still at home on vacation, but will be back in session in the next week or two. Now is the time to contact them, as them to explain what these bills are, and urge them to vote against them. Here are some things to help:

But most importantly, if you're not already familiar with SOPA and Protect-IP, read through some of these links - it's worth it. Thanks.

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Amazing Library Book Inscription to Former Librarian

   October 27th, 2011 Brian Herzog

The Portable Jack KerouacI think this is incredible, and apparently some of my coworkers knew about it and never told me.

I work in the library in Chelmsford, MA, which is next door to the city of Lowell, the birthplace of Jack Kerouac. As a result, we try to maintain a good Jack Kerouac collection, but one specific book in our collection is particularly special.

The book is The Portable Jack Kerouac, which was donated to the library in 1995 by the grandson of long-time Chelmsford Librarian, Edith Pickles. Just this week a coworker showed me this book - the story Edith's grandson recounts in the inscription is just stunning:

Kerouac Inscription
Kerouac Inscription

This is now my favorite story of censorship - and why it is very much the role of libraries to protect the public's right to unrestricted and unmonitored access to information. I am proud to follow in Edith Pickles' footsteps.

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Philip Pullman on Censorship

   April 8th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Boing Boing featured this clip of Philip Pullman explaining his view of censorship and how information that may offend someone should be viewed. I couldn't agree more:

Philip Pullman, addressing an audience at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, was asked about whether his latest book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, was offensive. Here's his reply:

"It was a shocking thing to say and I knew it was a shocking thing to say. But no one has the right to live without being shocked. No one has the right to spend their life without being offended. Nobody has to read this book. Nobody has to pick it up. Nobody has to open it. And if you open it and read it, you don't have to like it. And if you read it and you dislike it, you don't have to remain silent about it. You can write to me, you can complain about it, you can write to the publisher, you can write to the papers, you can write your own book. You can do all those things, but there your rights stop. No one has the right to stop me writing this book. No one has the right to stop it being published, or bought, or sold or read. That's all I have to say on that subject."

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List of 25 Banned Books

   September 23rd, 2008 Brian Herzog

I Read Banned Books buttoniLibrarian is one of my favorite blogs - they always have interesting or useful posts.

Last week they posted about a story from DegreeDirectory that lists the top 25 banned books people should read.

I've never really gotten in to banned books week, or read books just because someone else was trying to outlaw them. It seems so fundamentally un-American and undemocratic to me to feel you have the right to repress or discriminate against something just because you don't like it. So usually, book banning news just slides right by me, but since it's making national news, I gave it more attention.

In looking at this list, I noticed that the books that I've read I'd really enjoyed. Since I liked some banned books, it stands to reason I might enjoy others, so I am going to make a point of reading the rest of this list.

The full list (in alphabeticalish order) is below - check out the original post for descriptions and links to excerpts or full-text online.

  1. A Day No Pigs Would Die, Robert Newton Peck
  2. American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis
  3. And Tango Makes Three, Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
  4. Annie on My Mind, Nancy Garden
  5. Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Patterson
  6. Candide, Voltaire
  7. Fallen Angels, Walter Dean Myers
  8. Fanny Hill, John Cleland
  9. Forever, Judy Blume
  10. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  11. Harry Potter (The Entire Series), J. K. Rowling
  12. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
  13. Lady Chatterley's Lover, D. H. Lawrence
  14. Lord of the Flies, William Golding
  15. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
  16. Silas Marner, George Eliot
  17. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
  18. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain
  19. The Arabian Nights
  20. The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
  21. The Chocolate War, Robert Cormier
  22. The Color Purple, Alice Walker
  23. The Giver, Lois Lowry
  24. The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, Daniel Defoe
  25. Ulysses, James Joyce

And of course, there's lots of other banned books resources online.

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Reference Question of the Week – 5/4/08

   May 10th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) A few weeks ago, I got an email at the library from a librarian working towards a Masters Degree in American Studies. She was researching Mark Twain, and specifically whether public libraries during his life censored his works.

She was contacting all the libraries in the country that were open at the time (Chelmsford's Adams Library is usually dated at 1894, but various library associations in the town date to the 1790's), hoping our accession records would indicate which Twain books were held by the library, and whether they were shelved as adult or childrens books.

Up until this question, I had a vague understanding that we had old library records, but I didn't know how extensive they were, what condition they were in, or what was in them. So I was happy to get this question, as in the course of helping someone, I also had an excuse to check out these records.

It turns out, there is a lot in the library archive. Much of it are treasurer reports or invoice logs, and were either uninteresting (to me) or indecipherable (just columns and columns of numbers). But I also found library member rolls from the late 1800's, and one ledger even had the circulation history of the patrons (all done in longhand).

But getting down to brass tacks, I was very happy to find book lists from the era, which listed the books, author, publisher, date, call number, and a few other things. And it turned out that there were two libraries operating in Chelmsford at the time, which were later merged into the single library I work in today. So, I was able to research this question in both sets of records.

But here's the best part: one book in the archive was entitled "List of Books (not all juvenile) for Boys" and was prepared by Librarian Emma J. Gay. It consisted of handwritten pages broken up into sections (Stories, History, Biography, Travel, Scientific, Natural History, Games and Amusements, and Miscellaneous). The title page, along with a title page for each section, was professionally typeset and printed, and the whole book was professionally bound in hardcover.

In the Stories section, there is the following entry:

Clemens, S. L. (Mark Twain)
   Adventures of Tom Sawyer 1505 [accession number]
   Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 1803 [accession number]

I really want to do something with this book, but I don't know what. I'm guessing it dates to the 1880's, and it was interesting flipping through seeing what books back then appealed to boys.

And for the record, here are the Mark Twain holdings I could locate in the archive:

Title Author1 Date Call No.2 Source3
Adventures of Tom Sawyer S. L. Clemens (Mark Twain) 1881 c625.2 NCLA
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn S. L. Clemens (Mark Twain) 1885 c625.1 NCLA
A Tramp Abroad Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) 1889 c914.8 NCLA
The Innocents Abroad S. L. Clemens "Mark Twain" 1894 c625.2 NCLA
Prince and Pauper Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) 1895 c55.7 CFPL
Adventures of Tom Sawyer Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) 1895 c55.13 CFPL
Sketches New and Old Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) 1895 c55.9 CFPL
American Claimant Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) 1895 c55.1 CFPL
Joan of Arc / Personal Reflections of Samuel Langhorne Clemens 1896 c55.2 CFPL
A Tramp Abroad Samuel Langhorne Clemens 1896 c87.22 CFPL
1: It was interesting to see the different ways his name was written, and that "Mark Twain" was always secondary
2: Most of these are a mystery to me
3: NCLA: North Chelmsford Library Association; CFPL: Chelmsford Free Public Library

Some of the records were too fragile to use, and some of the handwriting illegible, so I don't think this is a complete list. I emailed what I found to the patron, and she was very happy, and it was fun to this kind of real historical research for a change.

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