Category Archives: Information

At The Circulation Desk

Cancelled? Banned? Out of Print? The why behind a title’s demise

Estimated reading time of article: 4 mins

By James Johnson

The corporation responsible for preserving the legacy of the late Dr. Seuss’s books has come under fire for ending the print run of six controversial titles. Supporters of this decision celebrate the removal of what many consider to be offensive and racist depictions of minority groups, while critics have slammed this move as yet another overreach of progressive wokeism and cancel culture.

As library professionals, one of the most important jobs we have is collection development. This work usually goes on behind the scenes, and users generally remain blissfully ignorant of it. Developing a library’s collection requires a deep understanding of not only the needs of the reader, but also the needs of other departments and what considerations, if any, are requisite for policy adherence.

Depending on the size and type of library, there may be several departments that operate within the organization. Each of these department’s has there own requirements, budgets, and even users. Departments can work independently of one another in service of the whole. Take the children’s section of a public library. It’s not often an adult library user checks out the latest Diamond Willow winner. In some cases these departments share budgets with other departments. In smaller cases there is only one budget for the system, and each department allocated a limited set of funds, do with it what they can.

In every case, collection development policy is key. Within the idea of developing a collection is the concept of selecting new titles and removing damaged, irrelevant, or unused ones. This latter process is known as weeding, or de-selection.

Library staff have a difficult job on their hands in weeding. Such a crucial step in developing a collection requires a robust and clear policy so that, no matter the individual conducting the task, a specified path to success can be followed.

The elements of a library policy are unique to the system it serves, however, there are principles that generally guide library professionals in developing good policy. Depending on the particulars of a library’s mission statement or goals, providing access to resources for the purposes of learning, entertainment, and discovery is almost always the prime directive of a publicly accessible library system.

Publishers choose to stop printing their property for many reasons. I believe Dr. Seuss Enterprises actively believes their policy of encouraging inclusion and support of reading and seeks to meet and exceed the expectations it sets forth, but don’t for a minute think this act of removing “wrong or hurtful” titles is solely in response to a policy of inclusion and support of reading. Dr. Seuss Enterprises makes money. That will always be theirs and every other for-profit business’s primary motivator. Whether you agree or disagree with the move, Dr. Seuss Enterprise will benefit from this. Their image and bottom line.

When library’s weed it serves a few purposes. We look at the items use (has it circulated well), condition, whether it has remained relevant or has been superseded, and whether alternative copies can be acquired or accessed easily elsewhere (frees up much needed shelf space in tighter quarters.

What effect does a publisher’s decision, like Dr. Seuss Enterprises, have on a library? Hopefully very little. A library should not base their development criteria on any outside sway. A robust and clear policy created in-house represents their unique users better than any third party influencer could ever establish.

The New York Public library said it well. They’re not in the business of determining what people should read. Removing an item from the collection on the grounds it has been challenged (for accuracy, relevancy, or negative attributes) takes careful consideration. As part of a healthy library’s collection development policy, new titles must be selected on the basis of relevancy, accuracy, and user need. Old titles, equally, require reflection when considering their place (or not) in the collection.

A publisher’s decision to end a print run is their prerogative, however they choose to spin in. Take a closer look at the parent owner of this subsidiary and you’ll find they choose to print material many people find offensive, hurtful, and wrong. I may not agree with the decision Dr. Seuss Enterprises made with this move, but it was a business decision first and foremost. Sure they support reading, so does Chapters Indigo. That doesn’t make them a library, and they don’t have to follow the same democratic principles that guide them.

Alternatively, a library has no place in determining the right and wrong of an item based on someone’s feelings. There is plenty of stuff I can’t stomach, content I find offensive and demoralizing. What authority do library professionals possess in removing access to such works, particularly those of publicly funded societies? We may as well claim rightful mastery over the contents of peoples skulls.

Library professionals have politicized the field far longer than I’ve been alive. Whatever side of the “battle” you find yourself on, I hope the purpose of the fight remains relevant to you. That you think for yourself, read what you wish, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Happy reading/streaming.

At the Circulation Desk

Reader’s Advisory: serious about serials, a periodical in peril

Joe Kane, The Phantom of the Movies, has passed away. Will His Page Turning Pulp Continue as a Must Read Resource for Exploitation Film Fanatics?
The Phantom of the Movies’ VideosScope Issue #115

Estimated reading time for article: 3 mins

By James Johnson

In a 2018 interview with James Rolfe, long time drive-in critic Joe Bob Briggs of Monster Vision fame lamented the production rate of the film industry, saying the ease of access to equipment, software, and skilled labour in our modern world should bolster film production, not hamper it. We should, in fact, be seeing thousands of new guerilla-style, shoulder mounted shlock from maverick amateurs brave enough to carve a place for the next generation of exploitation reels waiting to be cherished, curated, and raised to the status of “cult”. Of course COVID-19 brought the industry to its knees, though Joe Bob couldn’t have predicted such a catastrophe.

Prior to COVID19, filmmakers coming out of the academy with five thousand dollars worth of Audio Visual equipment – the likes of which Corman, Cohen, and Adamson would have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s – were better set for success than their early predecessors. If new filmmakers are emerging, they do so with the tools of the old masters. These titles, colloquially known as “B” movies and not quite suited for mainstream tastes, provide an interesting challenge for users in our modern world of polished studio block-busters released straight to digital download: how can they discover them?

I must admit, with my schedule the way it is, I can’t keep my finger on the pulse of indie horror like I wish I could. Thankfully, there are numerous resources available both digitally and in print. I like to support print as much as possible, to feel the ink and paper, and to smell the pages.

That’s why this installment from the Circulation Desk highlights the “Phantom of the Movies'” magazine Videoscope, 2020 marking its twenty seventh year in print. If you’re running out of movies to watch in isolation during the quarantine, I recommend picking up any issue of this magnificent pulp.

Inside you can find over eighty different genre reviews of classic and contemporary exploitation movies. It provides a best of both worlds. The Italian film aficionado can read up on the rarely reviewed 1970’S Euro-Horror flicks of Amando De Ossorio. The modern horror-hound can whet his appetite with a look at the up-and-coming bright directors highlighted in Joseph Perry’s always enlightening column, “Best of the Fests” – a thoughtful examination of the newest films from future movers and shakers. What is concerning is The editor-in-chief, Joe Kane, has died leaving the publication without a leader or clear future. This has not been a kind year for most of us. We offer our prayers to his Wife Nancy and their family.

There is certainly something for everyone when it comes to movies. If you manage your expectations, you can be entertained forever thanks to publications like Videoscope. I hope that Joe Kane’s memory and the work he did continues in the form of a renewed Phantom of the Movies Videoscope so that readers can continue to discover great films and read interesting articles. As Joe Bob Briggs likes to say, the only sin a movie can make is to be boring. Happy reading/streaming.

TitleThe Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope
ISSN1083-2920
Publisher PhanMedia, Ocean Grove, NJ, 1993-
Format:   Journal, magazine : English
Audience Teen – Adult
Subjects Motion pictures — Periodicals. Video tapes — Periodicals. Video tapes — Catalogs. View all subjects

Censorship: Filters and Firewalls; Does Porn Have a Place in Libraries?

Estimated reading time of article: 4 mins

Photo by Sora Shimazaki on Pexels.com

By James Johnson

This news piece found its way across my desk last week. It describes a potentially disturbing event that can occur (with varying degrees of frequency) in our public libraries. That is to say, what is classified as obscene material under the Canadian Criminal Code of Canada (CCC), accessed through information commons inside the public sphere – porn in the library. Specifically section 163, subsection (2a).

In plain terms – a person is guilty of an offence if they wilfully expose obscene material to public view.

Like most every law in Canada, there is no black and white. It’s all grey. And it’s up to the courts to determine what the definitions are in practicum. But I’m not particularly interested in the determinants of legal proceedings or precedents in the future. I want to know how these policies affect information seekers now.

In the case of Kingston Frontenac Public Library, they have made it clear their policy will remain the same; that is, patrons can use the internet to access pornography on the library computers. There is a recommendation on their policy page to consider that other users sharing the same space with them may not share the same penchant for porn perusing, and this consideration should be exercised prior to viewing such materials. It should also be noted that KFPL is a proponent of Ontario Library Association’s “Statement on Intellectual Freedom” and therefore apply no internet content filters on their networks.

That can’t be entirely true though. All libraries apply firewall and filters to some degree. These assist in blocking malicious software and internal/external unauthorized data collection. And rightly so! All admins and their networks have a right to protected data.

But what about public libraries that have chosen the opposite position? This library has updated its policy to include terms like “refrain from displaying”, and “reasonably considered offensive”. Like a page out of our own Criminal Code! Could the defendant please define “reasonably offensive” and their interpretation of such a claim? Indeed it is another of those grey areas.

But why not add filters that could block obscene materials? If we have filters that are sophisticated enough to stem the flow of malware, surely we can devise one for porn! But what is obscene? Is a video of a nude woman squeezing her bare breasts obscene? Perhaps it is catalogued as an educational clip of home breast cancer inspection techniques for women? Is that obscene? Can an algorithm effectively determine human morality? And is porn considered freedom of speech and expression, where limiting access to such material could be a violation of a person’s rights and freedoms allotted to them through our sacred Charter?  These are the questions we need to be asking.

Cory Doctorow’s excellent piece in The Guardian provides the evidence that filters fail time and time again. He discusses a UK internet filter so terribly inefficient; one which blocks rape-crisis centre websites, and (ironically) sites that help people fight their porn addictions.

Thankfully the library that has added “offensive material” access as prohibitive in their policy has not undertaken any new filter applications. They’re on the side of “if someone complains, we’ll ask the black sheep to knock it off.” My concern is who gets to decide what’s offensive? It’s very grey. And I’m sure before long, after someone undoubtedly gets offended, the issue will resemble a NIMBY-esque sequence of dialogues. Discourse nonetheless.

This is such a difficult issue to write about, especially as a library student and father. Like many issues of great relevance, there will be many opinions. I’m convinced where my opinion lies. I subscribe to a specific western set of moralities that stem from Judeo-Christian values, for which my country was built upon. For better or worse. Certainly without my consent, but entirely to my benefit. A framework for which one can form their own moral base. That is the luxury of my personal freedom, paid for with personal responsibility and generational sacrifice. I will not have this luxury at work and must follow my employers own interpretation of these values. No small feat, but I’m happy to offset that responsibility with a thoughtful, strong policy from the organization.

In their report to Parliament, Casavant and Robertson state:

“The use of new technologies such as the Internet has created unique challenges and problems: computer pornography is an increasing concern, especially because dissemination of such material cannot generally be controlled. There are also issues regarding the potential liability of the owners or managers of computer networks, such as universities. Although criminal charges have been laid regarding the distribution or possession of pornography on the Internet, to date there has been little judicial guidance on the issues involved.”

The issues of intent and dissemination will remain as the figures of contention in the libraries v. patrons battle over pornography’s place in the library, though caution should be considered when choosing a side. Controlling and censoring information, especially controversial information, is a characteristic of despotism not democracy. Indulging perversion in the name of inclusion should not be the alternative.

On a lighter note, Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year.