Watching the Watchers: Constitution Week leads unto Banned Books Week

Elizabeth Cook reads from Sherman Alexie's, "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," on September, 25. Alexie's book, like many on the banned or challenged list faces censorship for its handling of teenage sexuality.

Elizabeth Cook reads from Sherman Alexie’s, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” on September, 25. Alexie’s book, like many on the banned or challenged list faces censorship for its handling of teenage sexuality.

Hayden Memorial Library assembled its censored books display September 25 to kick off the American Library Association and Amnesty International’s annual Banned Book week, the last in September.

“It’s a way to defend the freedom of expression,” said Elizabeth Cook, Hayden Memorial Library’s instructional design librarian.

This is Cook’s first year as one of two of the library’s full-time staff, but she has a decade long career as a librarian. At a former library post, Cook did receive one complaint about “And Tango Makes Three,” a children’s book about homosexual penguins, but the library chose not to remove it.

Librarians are often on the front lines in First Amendment skirmishes. “One of the duties of librarians is to protect intellectual freedom,” Cook said.

The Banned Book commemoration marks the second consecutive week in which the first amendment is celebrated on campus. September 17 was Constitution Day, the original day the U.S. constitution was ratified.

Citrus College has patched up a rocky relationship with the highest law of the land. On Constitution Day, 2013 a student, Vincenzo Sinapi-Riddle was threatened with removal from campus for gathering petition signatures while standing outside of the campus’s designated “Free Speech Zone.”

The college paid $110,000 to the Sinapi-Riddle for violating his rights. It was the second instance since 2003 when the college paid out $24,500 a similar free speech zone lawsuit. The zones unconstitutionally limited free speech to three small spots on campus and were subsequently abolished.

The Hayden Memorial library has not seen censorship attempts in recent memory.

Barbara Ehrenreich’s, “Nickel and Dimed” rests right behind Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are,” in the library’s banned book display, September, 25. Ehrenreich exposes the exhaustion and deprivation unskilled American workers endure. The book was was among the most challenged of 2010.

“I haven’t had any complaints, formal or informal, since I have been here,” said Sarah Bosler, the public services librarian, who has been with the library for seven years.

A panel discussion on “Freedom of Speech and the Press In a Twitterpated America” was held on September 14. The panelists decried the fall of the traditional print media as everyone with a smartphone can now publish news and opinion online.

Psychology professor Jeff Thompson was among the panelists. Thompson said “If people could make good decisions in their own interests, none of us would be employed.” Adding, “You can’t get rid of people’s bias.”

Prof. Thompson explained it is the faculty’s job to guide good decision making, which does not happen independently. One sympathizes with the professor’s desire for better decision makers, but the traditional leaders of a for-profit news business don’t appear to to be interested in clarifying readers and particularly viewers decisionmaking process

Sociology professor, Andy Lee Roth is the co-editor of Project Censored, which attempts to highlight stories that have slipped through the grasp of the mainstream media.

In Roth’s introduction to sociology course at Citrus, students contribute to Project Censored by reading independent news sources, verifying their claims and compiling the most interesting stories. In a course model, which has been replicated nationwide, students compose short summaries of the stories to make for easy reading.

“Media consumers face sheer busyness and a disillusioned quality. They say the news is so slanted that I am not going to immerse myself,” Roth said.

Hayden Memorial Library’s annual Banned Book Week display was put up on September, 25, 2017. The display features work by Mark Twain, Ralph Ellison, J.D. Salinger and J. K. Rowling.

People have a natural suspicion of those telling them what they should think. Populist politics may arise from the natural flow of democratic participation in government as society processes more information online.

The financial incentive to confront an audience’s beliefs is probably not as strong as giving an audience what it wants.

“One of the challenges for a college campus is how do you get students to gather to listen to the opposition,” Roth said. Listening to an opponent isn’t just difficult for media consumers, but rooted in psychology.

It is natural to dismiss information that conflicts with information already thought to be known. The brain treats the sounds of conflicting information as noise. It is a natural response that may be resolved by strict application of the librarian’s ethic.

“My personal beliefs have no bearing on the collection. We are here to provide materials that help people think critically,” Cook said.

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About

James Duffy V loves to sing a song of one’s self. He is studying journalism at Citrus College and aspires to a career in writing. He cultivates interests in politics, finance, experimental medicine, religion, literature, music, art and gardening. More than any other flora, James would like to sprout the mythical bǐ huā 筆花—that flower the Chinese say springs from a good scribbler’s pen. He firmly believes the first responsibility of a journalist is fiat justitia ruat cælum, do justice and let the heavens fall.


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