The Library Juice Press Handbook of Intellectual Freedom

cover art of book

Ahhhh! It’s done!

This project  took over 7 years and went through a few big iterations. I was just finishing  library school when it started and learned a lot from the other advisory board members. I appreciate how the much more experienced folks on the advisory board helped bring me up to speed on issues I was less familiar with. I also valued how people treated me as a peer, even though I was just a student.

It was published this spring but my copy just arrived in the mail. Here’s the page about the book on the Library Juice Press site, and here’s where you can order a copy on Amazon.

Porn in the library

At the  Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies Colloquium the program session I was the most excited about was Porn in the library.  There were 3 presentations in this panel exploring this theme.

First,  Joan Beaudoin and Elaine Ménard presented  The P Project: Scope Notes and Literary Warrant Required! Their study looked at 22 websites that are aggregators of free porn clips.  Most of these sites were in English, but a few were in French.  Ménard acknowledged that it is risky and sometimes uncomfortable to study porn in the academy. They looked at the terminology used to describe porn videos, specifically the categories available to access porn  videos. They described their coding manual which outlined    various metadata facets (activity, age, cinematography, company/producers, age, ethnicity, gender, genre, illustration/cartoon, individual/stars, instruction, number of individuals, objects, physical characteristics, role, setting, sexual orientation). I learned that xhamster has scope notes for their various categories (mouseover the lightbulb icon to see).

While I appreciate that Beaudoin and Ménard  are taking a risk to look at porn, I think they made the mistake of using very clinical language to legitimize and sanitize their work. I’m curious why they are so interested in porn, but realize that it might be too risky for them to situate themselves in their research.

It didn’t seem like they understood the difference between production company websites and free aggregator sites. Production company sites  have very robust and high quality metadata and excellent information architecture. Free aggregator sites that have variable quality metadata and likely  have a business model that is based on ads or referring users to the main production company websites. Porn is, after all, a content business, and most porn companies are  invested in making their content findable, and making it easy for the user to find more content with the same performers, same genre, or by the same director.

Beaudoin and Ménard  expressed  disappointment that porn companies didn’t want to participate in their study. As these two researchers don’t seem to understand the porn industry or have relationships with individuals I don’t think it’s surprising at all. For them to successfully build on this line of inquiry I think they need to have some skin in the game and clearly articulate what they offer their research subjects in exchange for building their own academic capital.

It was awesome to have a quick Twitter conversation with Jiz Lee and Chris Lowrance, the web manager  for feminist porn company Pink and White productions,  about how sometimes the terms a consumer might be looking for is prioritized over the  performers’ own gender identity.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 4.40.34 PMUpdate: @FetishMovieBlog responded to Jiz and Chris to say that this was an unintentional error that had been corrected. Jiz’s performer entry doesn’t have a gender listed and I also noticed that their race is listed as hapa, another non-binary category.

Jiz Lee is genderqueer porn performer and uses the pronouns they/them and is sometimes misgendreed by mainstream porn and by feminist porn. I am a huge fan of their work.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 4.36.55 PMI think this is the same issue that Amber Billy, Emily Drabinski and K.R. Roberto raise in their paper What’s gender got to do with it? A critique of RDA rule 9.7. They argue that it is regressive for a cataloguer to assign a binary gender value to an author. In both these cases someone (porn company or consumer, or cataloguer) is assigning gender to someone else (porn performer or content creator). This process can be disrespectful, offensive, inaccurate and highlights a power dynamic where the consumer’s (porn viewer or researcher/student/librarian) desires/politics/needs/worldview is put above someone’s own identity.

Next, Lisa Sloniowski and Bobby Noble. presented Fisting the Library: Feminist Porn and Academic Libraries  (which is the best paper title ever).  I’ve been really excited their SSHRC funded porn archive research. This research project has become more of a conceptional project, rather than building a brick and mortar porn archive. Bobby talked about the challenging process of getting his porn studies class going at York University. Lisa talked they initially hoped to start a porn collection as part of York University Library’s main collection, not as a reading room or a marginal collection. Lisa spoke about the challenges of drafting a collection development policy and some of the labour issues, presumably about staff who were uncomfortable with porn having to order, catalogue, process and circulate porn. They also talked about the Feminist Porn Awards and second  feminist porn conference that took place before the Feminist Porn Awards last year.

Finally,  Emily Lawrence and Richard Fry presented  Pornography, Bomb Building and Good Intentions: What would it take for an internet filter to work?  They presented a philosophical argument against internet filters. They argued that for a filter to not overblock and underblock it would need to be mind reading and fortune telling. A filter would need to be able to read an individual’s mind and note factors like the person viewing, their values, their mood, etc and be fortune telling by knowing exactly what information that the user was seeking   before they looked at it. I’ve been thinking about internet filtering a lot lately, because of Vancouver Public Library’s recent policy change that forbids “sexually explicit images”. I was hoping to get a new or deeper understanding on filtering but was disappointed.

This colloquium was really exciting for me. The conversations  that people on the porn in the library panel were having are discussions I haven’t heard elsewhere in librarianship.  I look forward to talking about porn in the library more.

Digesting the Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies Colloquium

Most of the conferences I go to are technology ones that are focused on practical applications and knowledge sharing on how we have solved specific technical problems or figured out new, more efficient ways to do old things. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a conference that’s about broader ideas and a much longer time since I’ve been to an academic conference. This was outside my comfort zone and it was an extremely worthwhile experience.

I was unbelievably excited to see the program for the first Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies colloquium. Also, as Emily Drabinski and Lisa Sloniowski  were involved, so I knew it was going to be great.

There were 100 attendees. I’d estimate that library and information studies professors and PhD students made up 50%, library school  grad students made up 25%, and the other 25% of us were practioners, who work almost exclusively in academic settings. The conference participants had the best selection of glasses, and I was inspired to document some of them.

The program was great and I had a very hard time picking which of the 3 streams I wanted to attend. A few people scampered between rooms to catch papers in different streams. Program highlights for me was the panel on porn in the library and the panel on gender and content. My thoughts on the porn in the library panel became a bit long, so I’ll post those tomorrow.

In my opinion it was a shame that most of the presenters defaulted to a traditional academic style of conference presentation, that is, they stood at the front of the room and read their papers to the audience without making much eye contact. For me the language was sometimes unnecessarily dense and that many of the theoretical concepts discussed would’ve been more successful if expressed in plain English.

I was also disappointed that there wasn’t a plan to post the papers online. Lisa explained to me that for those librarians and scholars in a university environment publications are important to tenure and promotion. Conference presentations count, but not as much as peer reviewed publications, which don’t count as much as book publications. I know there’s a plan in the works for a edition of Library Trends that will be published in 2 years. Also, I know from the interest on Twitter that there are many people who weren’t able to travel to Toronto and attend in person who are very hungry to read these papers. For the technology conferences I go to it is standard to share as much as possible: to livestream the conference, to archive the Twitter stream, and to post presentations online and made code public too. I hope that most of the presenters will figure out a way to share their work openly without it costing them in academic prestige. There’s got to be a way to do this.

There was a really magical feeling at this first colloquium on gender and sexuality in LIS. Everyone brought their smarts, ideas and generous spirits. I think a lot of us have been starved for this kind of environment, engagement and community.

My brain, heart and sinuses are full. I’m exhausted and heading home to Vancouver. This one day of connections and ideas will keep me going for another year. Kudos to the organizers Emily Drabinski, Patrick Keilty and Litwin Books for organizing this. I’m hungry for more.

Reply from Vancouver Public Library Board re: new internet use policy

A few people were critical of my directness in my letter to the VPL board, so I was surprised to get a response. I have permission to post the reply I received here.  I’d love to know what other people think.

Dear Tara,

Thank you for your email dated August 26, to the VPL Board regarding the new VPL Policy.

VPL upholds high standards with regard to access to information and intellectual freedom. We have demonstrated this repeatedly in response to challenges to items in our collection and room rentals. The issue of public displays in a public space is a challenging one that raises unique issues that access to collections for personal private use does not.

Staff considered a multitude of options before and during the development of this policy solution, including all of the considerations you mentioned in your email , space design, equipment options, specific versus more general language. Ultimately, each of these solutions creates their own problems and it was determined that the approved approach, while not perfect, was the most appropriate given the library’s circumstances.

The Board agrees that implementation of the policy and appropriate training for staff will be critical to ensure that people’s rights to access content are not unreasonably restricted. Our professional librarians at VPL , who share common library professional values , have considerable experience in managing and balancing diverse values and public goods in policy and service. In fact, we have high confidence in our professional librarians’ ability to apply this policy in a nuanced and appropriate manner that does not unreasonably restrict access to content. We also all agree that the appropriate person to have this conversation are public service staff; however, there are occasional circumstances when Security staff are appropriate.

Staff will monitor the outcomes of this policy change and will report to the Board after a full   year of implementation. At that point, they may or may not recommend adjustments to the policy.

If you have any further questions, we invite you to connect with VPL management. We understand you have many personal contacts on the VPL management team who are always open to discussing matters related to the library with colleagues.


Mary Lynn Baum
Chair, Vancouver Public Library Board

Internet Use Policy across Canadian public libraries

I’ve been pretty critical of Vancouver Public Library’s new Internet Use Policy. After sending a letter to their Board I was wondering what other public library policies were like. VPL is a member of the Canadian Urban Libraries Council, so I thought it would be interesting to see what other member libraries policies were.

I put up a spreadsheet on Google Drive and got help from some other librarians (thanks Justin, Myron and Sarah for your help and translations). Here’s my initial thoughts.

VPL’s policy isn’t the worst.

Here are some things that I was a bit shocked to learn:

  • Brampton Public Library filters their public wireless network.
  • Burlington Public Library,  Windsor Public Library  and Winnipeg Public Library prohibit using FTP. I wonder about the reason for this.
  • Burlington Public Library has tried to use very accessible language, which I appreciated reading over the policies that are written in legalese: “If you would hesitate to show the site you are viewing to a child, your mom, or ‘Uncle Bob,’ it means it is inappropriate in a public setting. Please click away to another site.” (This is pretty vague, my “Uncle Bob” could have very different standards of appropriateness than your “Uncle Bob”.)
  • Calgary Public Library‘s policy states that “Your access to the Library’s Network is in public space, and you must not display materials on this Network which, in the opinion of any Library staff, are unlawful, obscene, abusive or otherwise objectionable.” Any library staff? This seems very arbitrary and wide.

I was surprised at how many libraries policies include phrases like sexually explicit materials, pornography, overt sexual images. Richmond Hill Library  and Regina Public Library‘s  policies mention “illicit drug literature”.  A few libraries mention hate literature, hate speech or incitement to hate and hateful propaganda. A handful of libraries mention that copyright infringement is prohibited.

It was disappointing that some libraries (Bibliothéque Ville de Laval, and Guelph Public Library)  don’t seem to have their internet use policies published on their website.

So many of these policies sound like the 90s. There’s a lot of language about the internet being unregulated and that some of the information on the library may not be accurate, complete, or current and there may be controversial information out there. I read the phrase “The Library is not responsible for the site content of links or secondary links from its home pages” more than once.  I think that these days we accept these things as common knowledge.  Greater Victoria Public Library‘s policy states that their “website ( recommends  sites that provide quality information resources for both adults and children.” This seems like a very dated way of viewing information literacy.

Toronto Public Library‘s policy is worth reading. I like that it’s written in plain English. I think they do a good job of  acknowledging that users are sharing public space  without singling out sexually explicit content:

Internet workstations are situated in public areas, and users are expected to use the Internet in accordance with this environment. All users of the Toronto Public Library, including users of the Library’s Internet services, are also expected to follow the Library’s Rules of Conduct which are designed to ensure a welcoming environment. Disruptive, threatening, or otherwise intrusive behaviour is not allowed and Library staff are authorized to take action.

I’m not sure how this policy is being applied, it could be good or a bit of a disaster. I don’t know.

letter to the Vancouver Public Library Board

I am writing to urge you to reconsider the changes in the Public Internet Use policy that the Board recently passed. These are bad policy changes that erode intellectual freedom, are problematic for library workers and are harmful to libraries. I have many concerns both as a library user and as a librarian.

I served as the chair of the BC Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee from 2006-2008, have blogged about intellectual freedom issues in libraries for 8 years and sit on an editorial committee for an encyclopedia on intellectual freedom for libraries.

According to the VPL’s 2013 Annual Report there were 1.3 million internet sessions and 1.1 wireless sessions. The management report cites 31 complaints out of a total 2.6 million internet sessions. This is not enough of a problem to justify a drastic policy change.

I appreciate that the management report dated July 17, 2014 references the Canadian Library Association’s Statement on Intellectual Freedom and talks about VPL’s commitment to this core library value. This policy does not “guarantee and facilitate access to all expressions of knowledge and intellectual activity”, in fact it erodes these freedoms. The phrase “explicit sexual images” is highly problematic and extremely vague. Who decides what is sexually explicit? A colleague at a public library told me about a complaint from a patron about another patron who was apparently looking at pornography. This person turned out to be watching a online video of childbirth.

It seems like there is confusion about what intellectual freedom looks like online versus the library’s traditional print collections. If someone was to read an ebook version of the graphic novel Lost Girls on a tablet device, or search for online information about sexual health or human sexuality, or watch a video of well known contemporary performance artist Annie Sprinkle–would VPL staff or security come and kick them out of the library? While some people might find these topics offensive, they are all legitimate information needs.

Reading the current practice of what happens when someone reports seeing something offensive really troubles me. The management report states that either staff or a security guard asks the user to stop viewing the inappropriate material, if the library user does not comply they are asked to leave the library. I’m concerned that there isn’t an evaluation of whether the material is acceptable or not. Also, having a security guard come up to you and possibly kicking you out of the library is a scary and intimidating experience, especially for many socially excluded individuals.

The management report describes this as being a problem primarily at the Central library and Mount Pleasant branch. This sounds like a design challenge: “how do you design public spaces so that library users’ freedom to access does not impact staff member’s freedom to work without seeing things that offend them?” As the Central branch has moved to a roving reference model, perhaps it is time to rethink how the seating areas and computers are set up.

Again, I ask you to reconsider this policy decision.

using IFTTT to help find awesome rental housing

Finding good rental housing in Vancouver is hard. A recent study showed that Vancouver is the second most expensive housing market  in the world. Rent is quite expensive and decent apartments or rental houses get snapped up pretty quickly. A dear friend is looking for a new place to move as their landlord has sold the house they’ve been living in. It’s a stressful situation.

Elaine Miller had a bright idea on using IFTTT to keep tabs on a specific search on Craigslist’s Apartments/Housing for Rent boards and drop the results into a Google Drive spreadsheet.

Here’s how you would do this.

  1. Create an account on
  2. Figure out your Craigslist search. This example is for a 2 bedroom that is less than $1600/month.
  3. Use this IFTTT recipe: searching for what? a Craigslist spreadsheet. A recipe is a simple program that says if a certain condition is met, then do something.
  4. You will be prompted to activate the Craigslist and Google Drive channels. A channel is IFTTT speak for an input or output.Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 8.31.04 PM
  5. Copy/Paste the URL from your Craigslist search. For this example it is
  6. Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 8.31.43 PMGive your spreadsheet a useful name. For this example I’m calling it “2 bedroom $1600”.  Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 8.32.15 PM
  7. Click on the big blue “Use Recipe” button at the bottom of the page.
  8. In Google Drive you’ll see a folder for IFTTT. The spreadsheet 2 bedroom $1600 will be in this folder. New results for your search will show up as a row in the spreadsheet. You can share this spreadsheet with other people, thereby saving your housemate’s time. You also save time (and perhaps the added anxiety) repeating the same search.

if this, then that

While sitting around with a few friends I was joking I’d like a way to automate writing Facebook birthday messages on my friend’s walls. (Yes, I realize this completely misses the point of a thoughtful or witty comment to mark one’s passage around the sun.) As a joke I periodically wrote “happy birthday xo” on one friend’s wall. I got a bit of a chuckle as other people followed suit on her un-birthday.

I heard about IFTTT (IF This Then That), a web app to automate various things, about 6 months ago. Most of the existing recipes didn’t seem that useful to me. The idea interested me, but I didn’t know how to make it useful for my life.

Tivoli radio

I’ve wanted a Tivoli radio for awhile, but wasn’t willing to pay $250 for one. Periodically I’ve looked on Craigslist, but they aren’t many postings. I used IFTTT I setup a recipe to text me if one was posted on Craigslist Vancouver. Within a week I found one for $70. It has a small scratch, but I’m okay with that. I’ve also setup recipes to email me when other things I’m looking for are posted on Craigslist.

My first Sugru project

I’ve wanted to get some Sugru since I first heard about it, but didn’t really have a use for it. Sugru is a self setting rubber that comes in different colours and is still flexible after it cures.

I moved in January into a smaller apartment. The first thing you saw when you came in the front door was the water heater that is hidden behind some painted wood slats. I decided to put my cleaning and laundry supplies here but didn’t want to see them. I got a fabric shower curtain from a discount linens shop in Vancouver, cut and sewed it into a long panel. I used Sugru to attach magnets to the curtain and the wall so that it would click closed and always hang nicely.

I’m pretty happy with this, though if I were to do it again I would be more careful about applying the Sugru to the fabric, perhaps even taping the area off so the circle was cleaner and less lumpy. I would have also used soapy water to make the finished surface smooth.

I’ve also used Sugru to fix the handle on my crock pot and to fix a few fraying phone cords.

vegetarian restaurants in Vancouver (compiled for an American I met in New Zealand who now lives in Australia)

delicious deep fried cauliflower from Nuba

Someone I worked with briefly is visiting Vancouver. She asked for vegetarian restaurant  recommendations. I asked my friends on Facebook, then checked their suggestions on Urban Spoon. Finally I filtered out some places I don’t like. Lots of people seemed to find the list useful, so I’m posting it here too.

I would recommend The Acorn, or Grub if you want to go out for a really nice meal with friends who are not veg.

  • The Acorn (3995 Main Street) , gets really good reviews from friends, Urbanspoon 82%
  • Heirloom Vegetarian (1509 West 12th) , also gets great reviews from friends, Urbanspoon 70%
  • Grub (4328 Main Street) not strictly vegetarian, but they always have a vegetarian/vegan options that are lovely. There’s also a sweet patio in the back, and they make boozy punch, which is nice. Urbanspoon 91%

Moderately priced
Nuba is super delicious and there’s a few of them””fresh and tasty Lebanese food.

  • Nuba (4 locations) , I love Nuba! They make fresh, delicious and reasonably priced Lebanese food. My ex-gf (who is Australian) still complains that you can’t get Lebanese Pizza in Canada. You can’t. But you can get a really kickass felafal or fatoush. Urbanspoon 90%
  • The Naam (2724 West 4th Ave) Some people recommended this. I say ‘meh’, though sometimes you are craving some potato wedges with miso gravy and a salad with grated beets in it. I wouldn’t go out of your way to go here. Though it’s open 24 hours, so it’s got that going for it. Urbanspoon 75%
  • Po Kong (1334 Kingsway) fake meat! Gluten! Vegetarian Chinese food. Urbanspoon 85%
  • The Parker (237 Union Street) haven’t been here but some folks recommended it. It’s in Chinatown and has “vegan friendly, romantic, late night, outdoor dining and farm-to-table” tags on UrbanSpoon (77%). I’m not sure about you, but for me these tags conjure up an experience I might enjoy (or absolutely loathe) depending on my mood/budget/company.
  • Chau Veggie Express (5052 Victoria Drive between 34th and 35th) , vegetarian and vegan Vietnamese food. I haven’t been here before but I will go. Urbanspoon 96% (!!!)
  • Planet Veg (1941 Cornwall Ave) tasty wraps and stuff, apparently. If you go to Kits beach or the Museum of Vancouver or Planatarium (or the Archive, though I don’t know why you would do that) it’s nearby. Urbanspoon 83%
  • Gorilla Food (436 Richards) Downtown! Raw food! Urbanspoon 86%
  • Bandidas Taqueria (2781 Commercial Drive) , tasty! Cute staff! Lots of bikes! Though if you are from Texas (you probably have pretty picky tastes in tacos and might want to skip Mexican food in Canada) Urbanspoon 83%
  • Perch (337 East Hastings) I think they also make good gluten free pizza. Urbanspoon 86%
  • 3G Vegetarian Restaurant (3424 Cambie Street) lots of tasty fake meat, including “chicken wings”. Nom. Urbanspoon 86%
  • Fassil Ethopian (Fraser and Broadway) – has a great veggie combo. Friend’s favourite Ethopian restaurant. Urbanspoon 91%
  • Axum Ethopian (1279 East Hastings) Urbanspoon 89%
  • East is East (a couple of locations) tasty food but kinda pricey. It always seems to be full of white hippies. I think people who are not white hippies (or don’t live in the neighbourhood) go elsewhere for Indian food. Urbanspoon 88%

Don’t bother going to

  • Foundation , bad service from cranky hipsters, expensive for what it is
  • Wallflower , meh. Consensus that the both food and service have gone downhill.