Should libraries cover “all points of view”?

This week in my “Information and Society” class, we’re tackling the topic of censorship. We were assigned to write a post about “what intellectual freedom changes and challenges do you see yourselves facing in your jobs and in libraries in general in the years ahead?”

Whether or not I am ever in a position to make selection decisions for a library, I expect to continue as a library user for the rest of my life. Consequently, library policies about their selection choices will affect me and my access to ideas and materials. Therefore, I am concerned by the gap between ALA-espoused ideals and actual library practice, with respect to censorship.

The ALA Library Bill of Rights states that “Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues.” The absolutist wording immediately gave me pause. “All” points of view? Regardless of merit, factual support, benign or malignant intent? Further, it implies that libraries must be encyclopedic; they have a responsibility for thorough coverage of all angles.

However, libraries in practice commonly violate this stated policy. Because they cannot realistically purchase every book in existence, they develop selection criteria. These commonly include authority, appropriateness, timeliness, accuracy, quality of the physical book, fit with the collection, and demand. Some of these criteria, such as authority, appropriateness, accuracy, and demand, curtail the provision of “all” points of view. While I personally appreciate the library’s effort to filter based on properties such as authority and accuracy, not everyone feels that way, including the ALA, given its wording in the Library Bill of Rights.

One of our (written) lectures, composed by Laura Reiman and Ellen Greenblatt (our course instructor), provided a fascinating walk through the history of censored material with LGBTQ elements. They concluded with this statement: “however much these parents and citizens would like libraries to stand in loco parentis as guardians of what children and young adults should read, this is clearly not the school or library‚Äôs role.” This argument is used to justify the library’s retention of items that individual parents do not want their children to see. Yet by the same argument, the library should therefore allow the donation and retention of all materials, no matter how biased or offensive, including the “ex-gay” and “gay cure” literature donated to a library in Fairfax, VA in 2008. Instead, the Fairfax information services coordinator rejected such books on authority and accuracy criteria, as well as a concern about possible negative impacts on LGBTQ students. While I find such content to be appalling and offensive, and I am in complete agreement with the motives for rejection, they are inconsistent with the Library Bill of Rights.

More generally, do we have an obligation to provide access to all materials, no matter how negative, hurtful, or inaccurate? Beyond the Library Bill of Rights, constitutional law suggests that we do. Board of Education vs. Pico (1982) established a link between the right to read (access) and the right to speak. “Illegal speech” (therefore not protected as “free”) includes “defamation, incitement, obscenity, and pornography produced with real children”. Many materials, including the “gay cure” literature, do not fall into any of these categories, so it is not clear that there is any constitutional basis for avoiding them, no matter how distasteful.

I am left with a question: Are librarians throughout the U.S. simply unable (due to community or other pressures) to adhere to this policy, or is the ALA Library Bill of Rights not a truly representative statement of the library community’s views? Aiken surveyed 400 public library directors and found that 50.9% of the 110 respondents “did not permit free access for minors to nonprint materials,” violating the Library Bill of Rights. Aiken concluded that “the ALA appears to be alarmingly out of touch with many of its members.” This seems to be a worrisome state of affairs!

Radiant barrier plywood works!

When the contractor tore off my old shingles to replace my roof, they found that underneath were the original wooden shingles. California code no longer permits wooden shingles (fire hazard!), so these had to come off, too. But the wooden shingles were laid on slats with 6-inch gaps between them, so that meant I also needed a layer of plywood put down to support the new shingles. California code (at least in my town) also requires that this plywood be radiant barrier plywood, which is plywood with a foil backing on one side. You lay the plywood shiny-side *down*, and then in theory it reflects heat back up through the shingles, reducing what gets into the attic.

My contractor was skeptical as to whether this plywood would really make a difference, but agreed to install it per code. (It is also not much more expensive than regular plywood.) Naturally, I wanted to test it empirically. So I collected some data.

My SCE smart meter reports the maximum daily temperature and my energy consumption per hour online. I have my thermostat set to 85 F during the day, and I can track when the air conditioner came on by looking for a spike in energy consumption. I defined the hour at which the A/C came on (i.e., internal house temperature reached 85 F) as an hourly consumption greater than 1 kWh. In the following plot, I show the time when the A/C came on as a function of maximum outside temperature. Higher values are better (later in the day). And sure enough, the new roof out-performs the old one.

Note that I used a linear fit here, but that probably isn’t appropriate at higher temperatures. Also, the times are capped at 18:00 (6 p.m.) as that’s when my thermostat switches to “evening” mode and tries to drive the temperature down to 82 F instead of 85 F.

Caveats: this is the result of the roof as a package, not just the plywood. I also had attic vents installed that probably help keep the attic cooler. It’s also possible that I’m seeing more of an effect than others might, because as far as I can tell my house has no insulation in the ceiling (California!). Thus, the living space and attic are more coupled than they would be with insulation.

Overall, however, I’m pleased to see that my new roof is performing so well! The only down side of the radiant barrier plywood is that it came with an intense chemical smell that soaked down through the attic into the living space and, on hot days, was so bad that I had to turn off the A/C so I could open the windows and tough out the heat just to be able to breathe. I couldn’t access the attic at all. Happily, after about three weeks, this finally faded away. The manufacturer claims this is due to the glue in the plywood.

Climbing the silks

On Tuesday I took my first aerial silk class. Wow! I was inspired to go after seeing a fabulous demonstration of people climbing, wrapping, dropping, and otherwise performing fantastic acrobatic feats. While some versions of this apparently lean more towards the exotic or even erotic, the displays I saw were more along the lines of the picture at right, and the class itself focuses on improving fitness. Phenomenal!

The performance, and the class, really impressed me with the athletic ability and strength required to do these moves. I found that there were some things I could do immediately, and others (which look just as easy when done by the instructor and other students) will take me a while to build some additional muscle. Here’s a rundown of what I learned in the first class:

  • Climbing. You have two drapes of “silk” (actually lycra), and your goal is to scale them. I’ve never tried rope climbing and had no idea how this would even be possible. It turns out that physics, and specifically friction, is your friend here. You grasp the silk, wrap one leg around it, and stand on that foot with your other leg, trapping the silk between sole and instep. If you press hard enough, this gives you something to stand on. Then you hang from your arms, bring your legs up to your chest, re-wrap/grip the silk, and stand up, gaining a few feet. This actually works! I also learned a variant (“Russian climb”) which requires quicker action, but I found to be easier: you push one foot sideways into the silk, then reach beneath with the other one and wrap it up on top of the first foot.
  • Angel. This is *awesome*. After climbing to the top, you spread the two silks apart, and push your torso through so that the silks run down behind your arms, then between your legs. You let go, spread your arms wide, and use your leg grip to gradually slide down the silks. It looks fabulous and is easy, but you have to descend slowly lest the silks give the back of your arms friction burns. :)
  • Straddle. You hold the silks in both hands, then hang, spread your legs, and raise them up over your head. I simply couldn’t do this — I don’t have the core strength to raise both legs that high. But I was allowed to “cheat” by jumping up to get my legs vertical, then straddling from there.
  • Foot lock. You add an extra wrap around your foot so that you can stand on it with no effort; it is locked there. You can’t climb higher unless you unlock it, but you can use this as a base to do other moves.
  • Bird cage. From a foot lock, you spread the silks apart and squat down between them, as if perched inside a cage.
  • Candy cane. From a foot lock, you spread the silks apart and pull outward on one side, then use your free foot to slide one silk down toward the supporting ankle. You then pull yourself through the open silks and repeat. This progressively wraps the silk around your supporting leg, and your torso forms a graceful arch that is the top of the candy cane. Delightful, although by that point I was getting awfully tired!

  • Hip-key. From a standing position, you grab the silks and lift both legs to wrap the silk around your waist in mid-air, then roll to the side leaving you in a securely hung position. This looks great, but it was another move that required just a bit more core strength than I could muster. I could wrap the silk, but not lift my legs high enough to get it near my waist / center of mass.

I can’t wait to practice these again, and learn more!

The shelves are yours

One of Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science is that every book has its reader, and therefore the library should make it easy for books to be found by their reader. To that end, he advocated open shelving, meaning that patrons can access the books themselves and browse at will, as in a book store. This came as something of a surprise, because I’ve never encountered a library with closed shelving. I understand that in those libraries, the patron issues a request for a book, and a staff member retrieves it. The patron is never able to browse in an anonymous and uncommitted way, but must instead request a specific book, and then probably feels obligated to check it out, even if it turns out not to be to their liking. What a different environment that would be! I can’t imagine that being the standard for a public library. It was interesting to discover such a different potential model for libraries, and I am grateful that we ended up with open shelving as the default instead.

This issue came up not only in “Foundations of Library and Information Science,” the textbook for LIBR 200, but also in another book I’ve been reading, a 1903 text called “A Library Primer.” It is a charming how-to guide for the establishment and operation of libraries, and it also includes commentary related to our ethics discussions. Here is one excerpt showing that the advocacy of open shelving went back at least to 1903:

Give the people at least such liberty with their own collection of books as the bookseller gives them with his. Let the shelves be open, and the public admitted to them, and let the open shelves strike the keynote of the whole administration. (Dana, Chapter IV)

Dana goes on to give advice about the dimensions of the shelves:

Single shelves should not be more than three feet long, on account of the tendency to sag. Ten inches between shelves, and a depth of eight inches, are good dimensions for ordinary cases. (Dana, Chapter VIII)

and even chairs (ouch!):

In many cases simple stools on a single iron standard, without a revolving top, fastened to the floor, are more desirable than chairs. The loafer doesn’t like them; very few serious students object to them. (Dana, Chapter VIII)

I also enjoyed this encapsulation of the ALA core value of Service (which the ALA did not adopt until 1939):

The whole library should be permeated with a cheerful and accommodating atmosphere. Lay this down as the first rule of library management; and for the second, let it be said that librarian and assistants are to treat boy and girl, man and woman, ignorant and learned, courteous and rude, with uniform good-temper without condescension; never pertly. (Dana, Chapter IV)

The shelves are yours, and the librarian’s job is to courteously guide you through them, only when needed.

My first fiddle tunes

After nine months of violin lessons (and practice!), it’s satisfying to be able to see actual improvement. I can play some basic minuets, my scales keep improving, and my general intonation also sounds better. I’m working on controlled staccato bowing and being able to execute 16th notes (so fast!), thankfully not at the same time. But lately it’s been, well, feeling a bit dull.

Not so any more! I asked my teacher if I could learn some fiddle technique, since she also plays fiddle music. She immediately recommended “the only fiddle book you’ll ever need,” which turned out to be “The Craig Duncan Master Fiddle Solo Collection.”

Fiddling is done on a violin, but with a different style and some different techniques. My first fiddle tune is “Cripple Creek,” which is so simple that I was able to sight-read and play it for the first time during the lesson with only a couple of mistakes. It still astonishes me every time my teacher presents me with music I’ve never seen and apparently expects me to read and play it in real time, like this is the most normal thing in the world, even though we’ve never actually talked about or worked on sight-reading. It’s always an adrenaline rush and one of those surprise-myself things when I manage it.

But ah! After this simple tune comes some variations, one of which has two “slides” (which my teacher insists are not glissando, but I don’t know the difference yet). To play a slide, you start on one note and slide into the second. It sounds, and it is, fun! (Some of the fun is because it feels like you’re breaking a rule. On the violin, you’re taught to avoid sliding into your pitches, as you’d rather hit them correctly on contact.)

Once I master the tune, the next step is to add a “drone.” This seems to be where you play everything in double-stops: the bow touches the string you’re playing on and a neighboring string… ON PURPOSE! Another rule to break! The result is a series of chords instead of single notes, and it sounds really neat and fiddle-y when done right. When done wrong, it sounds awful. Like so many things.

I couldn’t resist trying out some more tunes in this book (there are 150 total). I found “Star of the County Down,” thinking it was one of my favorite Emerald Rose songs (which actually doesn’t feature a violin, which should have been a clue). Instead, it is this haunting and beautiful waltz. I’ve also started playing “Turkey in the Straw,” because really, who doesn’t like that song?

My conclusion: fiddle tunes are just FUN! Violin practice has now become the treat I reward myself with after getting chores done, instead of a chore itself. :)

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