Letter Sent to Cheshire Register

I am a Cheshire resident, father, and a librarian.  As a librarian, I understand that the public library’s collection development policy presumably practically required the purchase of the controversial book about the Petit murders.  The library is supposed to meet the needs of the community and, as I understand it, eleven members of the community requested that the library purchase the book.  The library also has a responsibility to collect material about Cheshire.  In one-hundred years, historians looking for information about the murders will look to the CPL.  What does it say when they can’t find this book. Others have mentioned that the library already has a book on this subject and I expect it to buy more in the future.

A functioning democracy requires an informed citizenry.  Public libraries play an important role in informing us.  Democracy trusts citizens to choose the best among competing claims. Silencing some views does a disservice to us citizens and to our democracy.  Libraries are where the ideas are.  All of them.  Intellectually, libraries are and should be a most dangerous place. All ideas must be free to jostle in the marketplace of ideas.  Limiting a library to what makes us comfortable is dangerous.  A democracy requires constant reflection and renewal. It is ironic that the movement to ban the book took place shortly after banned book week and during book month.

An understanding of the purpose of a public library would, I thought, be a prerequisite for membership on the library board, but from what I can tell, in Cheshire it is not.  Please stand up for America: preserve the freedom to read!

Why the censorship?

I didn’t think that this belonged in the post below, but I thought that some of you might be interested in why there was this movement to censor the library.  I don’t think that it would surprise anyone when I tell you that the husband of the leader of the censors is running for town council.  It should also not come as a surprise that this same person has been using the murders for her political gain since the beginning.

Call her what you will, I know what I think of her.

Censorship in Connecticut

OK, here’s the story.  Last summer, a horrific murder was committed in the small town of Cheshire, CT (a suburb of New Haven and Hartford filled with commuters to those cities, ESPN in nearby Bristol and other places).  The murders were apprehended leaving the scene and are currently awaiting trial.  The judge assigned to the case has imposed a gag order on the participants.  In spite of the gag order, one of the murderers met with a reporter several times.  The book that came about as a result of those interviews has now been published.

There are several issues that are, I think, uncontroversial and which can be dealt with quickly.  Yes, the prison royally screwed up.  I am also disappointed by the reporter and publisher.  While I think that they have the right to write and publish the book, I do not think that it was a good idea (or in good taste).

The initial response from the community was, I think, correct.  There was a call for a boycott of the book, the publisher, and Amazon (one of the sellers).  While I think that calling for a boycott of Amazon might have been overreaching, I heartily support the boycott.  I would hope that with only a few exceptions (noted below) that no one buys the book.

The boycott wasn’t enough for some.  A group of citizens (actually some folks who have been making political hay from the tragedy from the beginning) crowded (unannounced) into the town’s library committee meeting and have demanded that the librarian reverse her decision to buy the book for the library collection.  Members of the crowd also asked for the discipline or dismissal of the librarian.

The role of the public librarian is to buy material that is of interest to her patrons and is of importance to her geographical area whether or not she approves of the message or means the author took to get the information or anything else.  It was the responsibility of the librarian to buy the book.  Those seeking to punish the librarian and seeking to have the book removed from the library are asking for nothing more than censorship.

One argument that one hears is that “I don’t want my tax dollars paying for that book.”  It is the responsibility of the library to buy material of interest to the community.  There are plenty of books in the library that I find offensive.  However, it is not my right to prevent you from reading them.

The solution for speech that we do not like is not censorship, it is more speech.  Boycotting is political speech expressing our disapproval of the book.  Fight the book not by punishing the library and librarian and the Constitution, fight it by not buying it and not checking it out.

I would love it if the book was only purchased by a few libraries in locations to which this crime relates.  I would further love it if they never circulated.   Do not censor the library!  Do not punish the librarian for acting as her job required!

Some thoughts on Otherworld

Otherworld is a community (www.otherworld.org).  It does other wonderful things (like have great adventures), but at its root it is a community.  My political background is relevant here, I am NOT (never been) a communist.  However, we do need to recognize our biological imperatives.  We are a community animal.  Unfortunately, too many of our political systems encourage conflict and competition over cooperation and community development.

Before we get to why the systems do that, I think that it is necessary to address the argument that I hear under your breath: but competition is the only way that we make “progress”.  Now, there are a lot of arguments about whether the “progress” that we’ve made is worth it or is even progress, but now I would like to address the complaint in a different way.  Otherworld shows me how amazingly powerful a community with shared goals and a shared ethos really is.  Our society, I think, discourages the development of communities because if we saw how powerful they are we might not believe that conflict and competition are the only way to go.

Maybe the practical complaint about running a society on a communitarian model is the best one.  The fact that we no longer see any such society does say something.  That is why I might be closest to an anarcho-syndicalist of any political stripe, but can’t throw my lot in with them without seeing how a community-based polity would work in the “real world”.

Maybe Madison was right (it was Madison int he Federalist Papers who expressed the opinion that a real democracy was likely limited by size – if not him, I know that the thought was widespread in the late 18th and early 19th century).  Maybe the nation-states that arose in the 18th century and that we live with today are just to big to support a community.  Maybe any polity as big as those around today are doomed to live on conflict, and competition, and hate and not on cooperation.  I don’t like to think that, but maybe we can’t live in a cooperative community in the “real world”.

If that is the case, it is even more vital to create our own communities.  Our online communities have some force and some reality.  Our circle of friends may be most like what we have spent the bulk of our existence as a species living in, but here I want to talk about how special Otherworld is as a model community.

Otherworld is a group of people who have a shared ethos, a shared mission, and a shared viewpoint.  They are also fun, welcoming, and interesting.  This group of people can create important and powerful experiences. To me it demonstrates how strong and life-changing a group, a community, can be.  Otherworld reinforces my view that communities are the ideal polity.

Is there a way that we can structure our governance, our societal organization, to encourage rather than discourage community. Is there a political form that makes the development of health communities more likely?  The political systems that I see today rely on competition and distrust to enforce power relationships. There has to be another way, a way that takes advantage of the biological necessity for community as well as the wonderful power of community) and that will not fall prey to the corruption of unbridled power and selfishness.  The self is critical, but we must remember that the proto-humans (and current humans) did not survive on the savannah as individuals, rather they did so as a community.  Is the world any safer now than it was then? Is there less of a need for the support and protection of a community now than there was then? I, for one, don’t think so.

Rape Culture 101

Really important post. Read this:

Rape Culture 101

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demon or genius for creativity

For us non-writers: how to write: demon or genius for creativity.

Library Chic!

Ooooh, oooh

“A rise in a young, library-chic subculture on blogs and on Twitter is putting a new face on this changing role, said Linda C. Smith, president of the Association for Library and Information Science Education.”