Tag Archives: School Library

Intellectual Freedom vs Censorship

Standard

Image result for restricted reading

As a librarian, the hardest part for me has been when I have asked an eager student not to pick a particular book just because the teachers felt it was inappropriate for the age. The long drawn face still lingers with me, years after the experience. The incident made me think that how can a teacher be the judge for a child as to what he/she should read. Isn’t it impinging on the Intellectual Freedom of the student?

The school libraries play a very pivotal role in dissemination of information and promoting intellectual freedom. It serves as a nodal point of voluntary access to information and ideas in the form of books, periodicals, journals and other materials. They also serve as learning avenues for students as they acquire critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Thus stopping a student from accessing a material is equivalent to censorship, thereby flouting his/her freedom to read. And yet creating a curiosity in the young minds about the content of the book, as they say forbidden fruit tastes better.

The ALA( American Library Association) describes censorship as, “Censorship is the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons—individuals, groups or government officials—find objectionable or dangerous. It is no more complicated than someone saying, “Don’t let anyone read this book, or buy that magazine, or view that film, because I object to it! ” Censors try to use the power of the state to impose their view of what is truthful and appropriate, or offensive and objectionable, on everyone else. Censors pressure public institutions, like libraries, to suppress and remove from public access information they judge inappropriate or dangerous, so that no one else has the chance to read or view the material and make up their own minds about it. The censor wants to prejudge materials for everyone”. (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/censorship/faq)

Being an avid reader, I was devastated as a student myself when I found some of the most popular classics to be banned for the flimsiest of reasons. But, on the other hand it also throws light on the issues that the authority fears the most, or the society wishes to suppress. For eg: Little Women  by Louisa May Alcott  was challenged frequently for having female characters that are independent, resilient and open to make their own choices. This was unacceptable at the time it was published. Similarly, Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie  has been banned and challenged on the grounds of promoting homosexuality and miscreant-ism!!!!! Any answers to that??? A book that is a classic par excellence, which is a blend of pure fantasy and magic, transporting the readers to an adventure ride is seen as objectionable !!!!. But then , the question arises: Who gives the power to curtail the freedom to read? and why? Please answer.

In my 9 years as a Librarian, I have invested my time, energy into acquiring all types of  resources for my students. I have made it a task for myself to satisfy their hunger and yet keep the hunger for more. But out of the blue,  there is an email, or a letter asking me to explain myself as to how I let myself fail at the job, and allow the students free access to all kinds of books. It is not pleasant to read or answer them since may parents and teachers refuse to understand my stance of defending a books, and end up using very harsh language against me. It took a lot of courage, integrity and character, not to answer them in their own tone yet defending my reason. Most often I have had to back off since Heads also do not accept the stance of why a particular book should not be removed.

It has been of utmost importance to me to be judicial when dealing with students. They are like open pots. So I refuse to label a book that might prejudice a potential reader. I wish to fill them knowledge that surpasses all kinds of prejudices, biases and intolerance. I take it upon myself as a librarian to “defend the right to read, to speak, to learn, to explore, to question, to differ, to contradict, to grow, and to think?”. (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/censorship/faq)

To educate my students, I organised Banned Books Week, to educate them about their Right to Read, Intellectual Freedom and Censorship. My efforts paid off. The display board outside the library was the ‘Talk of the School’. And even now I have students stop me and discuss as to why they feel its unfair to put a blanket ban on a books, or the judge of a book should be the reader. They were thinking for themselves and also questioning the rights of the author to be read , and the rights of a reader to read, reasons why a book was banned when the author wrote for the very same reasons to come to light, etc. The appropriateness of a book should not be handed down, rather one should judge themselves whether the content is suitable or not. Here,  I would like to add what Michelle Luhtala, Library Department Chair, New Canaan High School, CT, had said in one of her webinar: ” We will have a book for every child, but not every book in the library is right for every child”. 

Thus my job as a librarian becomes even more riskier since we are always under scrutiny for allowing the freedom to read. I would also like to add  that the mere presence of a particular book in the school library does not imply endorsement of the ideas expressed by the author. The library is simply acting as a a neutral provider of information . The freedom to read is essential for our world today to harvest young minds that make informed decision, and develop creative culture.

So dear all, if you find your favorite book in the library, be appreciative and grateful of the librarian who has been the voice behind it being there for you, defending  your right to read.

 

 

Advertisements

Are school librarians valued in India today?

Standard

While looking up on books for professional reading I came upon a wonderful resource-The Indispensable Librarian by Doug Johnson. It is immensely useful and beneficial for taking guidance for managing an effective school library program.

It is while going through the book and having visited the author’s blog that certain questions came to me while taking a regular library lesson. Doug has asked the questions in his blog and I too am just voicing my opinion about the same. In his blog (http://doug-johnson.squarespace.com/) he questions: “… it’s only fair to ask if libraries, library programs, and librarians will be around long enough to make such a reading worth your time.” And like him my answer is also a yes. But a weak yes. You may ask why?

I work as a librarian in an Indian school where the position of a school librarian is yet to develop from the status of a bookkeeper. And it’s not just the authority to blame. There are still librarians who are complacent in their place and do not desire a growth for themselves. Information explosion has not made them look up from their seats and the see the various roles that we can now play. The roles that not only enrich us professionally but also give a fulfilment within. Sadly, there aren’t many takers of this and so books that can help develop skills to make an efficient school library program are not treasured yet. Hence the weak yes.

Having worked with schools with different curricula like CBSE, IGCSE and IB, I saw a stark difference in the way the role of a librarian is perceived. Not all CBSE schools give their librarians the scope for development since they are overworked. Being a part of administrative staff, librarians perform duties other than the library profile which takes away time from their work. They are understaffed and thus he/she does not have time to develop a library program or even organise engaging activities. They are given board duties, invigilation work and other such works without a thought that the work of a librarian is specialised and that it cannot be performed by anyone else.  The very essence of a library period is lost when students are sent for substitution to library in the absence of a teacher. CBSE schools are yet to recognise the strengths of a librarian in curriculum and project designing. Ver few school engage a librarian in department meetings when syllabus is discussed. The use of library is restricted to reading and research. What they fail to see is that library can become the hub of the school if given a chance. But for that librarians should be allowed time to do so and not be scattered into different directions as need be.

And yet there are schools and librarian who show a way for the others like G D Goenka school library and Ms. Madhu Bhargava, the librarian who also happens to be the Director of IASL, which has a comprehensive school library program that not only engages the readers but also teaches students about information literacy, plagiarism, intellectual property rights, etc. She has developed lessons to integrate classroom teaching with the library lessons by way of Collaborative planning and teaching, develop curriculum contents by interacting with international communities and also train the teachers to use web tools and integrate in teaching. So, the students and teachers are Digital citizens as well. In the same lines, we have S. L Faisal from Kendriya Vidyalaya, Pattom, a beacon of how library can be developed into a hub. A visit to the blog gives you glimpse into what potential a library holds, if only right opportunity and support is provided.

I call myself a novice in technology integration as I have a long walk ahead. I have just tasted a drop in the ocean. Our names have now changed to Information specialist, Library media specialist, Information manage, etc. Thus, we all need to adapt to changes in technology to keep ourselves updated and well-informed. It is our responsibility to create and mentor effective library programs in our respective schools.

But the impact and influence of the program is our sole responsibility. There is need devote more time on effective promotion and evolving extensive ownership of the library program. We all know that our roles keep evolving just like the physical facilities, our areas of knowledge, our collections will become more heterogenous, and the services by the school library will also be different each year.

Here comes the second question Doug Johnson has asked in his blog: “So a second question then comes up: Will our libraries be so changed from what we now consider libraries will they still continue to be called libraries.”

And I echo the YES, he provided in his blog. It has become a motto for me to better my services as a librarian and yet not be limited in any means. The answer is:

“If, we maintain the core values that will transcend the specifics of library programming.”  In rather very simple words he has summarised the key to a successful library program.

I have often heard remarks that librarians would soon be redundant with the emerging technology. To these I answer, we have Google, but for a person to arrive at the information he/ she is looking they need a librarian to train them to be critical thinkers and search for relevant information. Otherwise there is every chance of drowning in the ocean of information. We are yet to receive the acceptance and recognition for all the behind the scene work.

In India, the position of a school librarian is very side-lined. It is very rarely looked upon with respect. The wealth hidden in the potential of a librarian is yet to be mined in the schools. Little is done besides the regular lending and borrowing. We are taught Ranganathan’s five laws of library science. But very little is taught on the application of the same in a school scenario.

ranganathan-and-reference-service-in-the-modern-library-2-728

There is no help or training provided as to how one is to apply the rules in a school set-up. So, I have been on the lookout for the basic core of librarianship and how it stands in a school environment. Doug in his blog has listed the enduring central or “core” values of librarianship as identified by long-time academic librarian and past ALA president Michael Gorman. (Gorman, 2000). These values stand the storm even though the impact of technology can be heavily felt:

  1. Stewardship
  2. Service
  3. Intellectual Freedom
  4. Rationalism
  5. Literacy and learning
  6. Equity of access to recorded knowledge and information
  7. Privacy
  8. Democracy

These core values may or may not summarise everything but they do provide me a starting point to analyse my own core values as a school librarian. Keeping in mind the Five laws of Library science I embrace:

  1. The primary objective of a school library is to help a child to become a thinker and develop his/ her own views about the world. They are not to be taught what to think, rather How to think. And this is achieved when they can have opinions and not be agreeable to all.
  2. Every child is unique and comes from varied cultural, social and economic background. Thus, their individuality is to respected to help them become better library users.
  3. It is of utmost priority to teach children to honour and respect their privacy and that of others as well.
  4. The ability to find, evaluate, organize, synthesize and communicate information is a basic skill for every child. (Doug Johnson)
  5. Reading skills are best developed when a child voluntary reads through personal interest and is not coaxed. Hence, the job of librarian to help a reader find his/ her book.
  6. Every child is must be taught the skills and sensibilities of digital citizenship. (Doug Johnson)
  7. The success of a library is determined by the services provided to the students and how much they benefit from it.
  8. The skills taught and resources provided by the library program are critical to a free society.
  9. Information in all formats should be treated equally and a child’s preference for the same is to be respected.

Striving to achieve this in the Indian schools is like climbing uphill. The lack of support and understanding makes it difficult to explain the roles a librarian can play in a school and enhance the learning and teaching process. Collaboration between teachers and librarians are unheard of. There is so much that we could bring to the classroom if only given a chance to step out of the island we are closed in. We have been branded Teacher- librarian, but how many of us have really given a lesson in a class. And nowadays without understanding the real value of a librarian there are institutions who are employing technology experts and not people with library background. But can these experts answer the questions Doug Johnson has put: Who will fight for information access for all students? Who will fight for intellectual freedom? Who will be concerned about the privacy rights of students and faculty? Who will insist that information literacy is right of every child?”  They may value these but unlike librarians will it be their principal task? A librarian is not just a bookkeeper, given the provision and occasion to display their knowledge and expertise and help make school libraries the heart of every organisation.

Credits:

Gorman, Michael .Our Enduring Values: Librarianship in the 21st Century, Chicago: American Library Association, 2000. Gorman.

Johnson, Doug. The Indispensable Librarian, Linworth Publishing, Incorporated; 2nd Revised edition edition, 2013.

Blog: http://doug-johnson.squarespace.com/