Beyond the blindfold at Greater Victoria Regional Library

Avi and Leah with the blindfolded mannequin

Avi Silberstein, the Outreach Librarian for Greater Victoria Regional Library describes their provocative and engaging Freedom to Read Week display.

We thought it would be fun to have a mannequin , blindfolded , at the entrance to the library.   So we made a few phone calls and visited a few stores, and after some persistence were able to convince the owner of a local consignment shop to loan us a mannequin.

We picked out a mannequin that was lying on her stomach with her hands near her face, dressed her up in clothes from the consignment store, and propped a book up in her hands.   Then we tied on a blindfold.   We put her up on a table, and filled an adjacent table with banned/challenged books.   We also made sure to put up some signage explaining the display and that the books were there to be borrowed.

The response we received was overwhelmingly positive.   Patrons loved it, staff loved it, and more than anything it got people to stop in their tracks and walk up to the display for a closer look.

Filed under: events Tagged: display, freedom to read week, library

“Just a little piece of tape”: VPL Marketing Director clarifies rules about non-Olympic sponsor logos

from greenpeanut on flickr

A couple of days ago   The Tyee reported that VPL’s Marketing and Communications Manager Jean Kavanagh’s sent a memo in November 2009 to   staff outlining rules about branding and logos of non-Olympic sponsors. The quote that stuck in my head was Kavanagh’s advice to stick a little piece of tape to cover a non-sponsor logo:

The same care (about non-sponsor logos and brands) must be taken for audio-visual equipment. The branch should try to get devices made by official sponsor Panasonic. Should staff only be able to find Sony equipment, the solution is simple. “I would get some tape and put it over the ‘Sony,’” Kavanagh said. “Just a little piece of tape.”

Her email to staff she explains that:

We cannot ever use the VANOC logo. The City as Host City can use the Games marks in conjunction with the City logo but we must obtain permission to do so every time we want to use them. All such requests must be sent to me and I forward the request to our City VANOC liaison.  If you want to insert any VANOC branding/photos with posters/materials we also must obtain approval. I have a good sense of what gets approved so please talk to me before work is started on such materials.

There are also strict rules for using logos/branding of Games sponsors so again please contact me with any ideas before things get underway. The Library doesn’t really deal with the major sponsors, but if for example a branch was involved in a Host A City Happening event and a local Bank of Montreal wanted to sponsor it we would have to say no. The Royal Bank is the official banking sponsor. Some branches may have an opportunity to participate in torch relay activities and all these rules will apply then. Information about the torch relay will be available in the new year.

Kavanagh’s memo outlines several potential branding conflicts and proposes

For example, do not have Pepsi or Dairy Queen sponsor your event. Coke and McDonald’s are the Olympic sponsors. If you are planning a kids’ event and approaching sponsors, approach McDonald’s and not another well-known fast-food outlet.

If you have a speaker/guest who happens to work for Telus, ensure he/she is not wearing their Telus jacket as Bell is the official sponsor.

If you have rented sound equipment and it is not Panasonic or you can’t get Panasonic, cover the brand name with tape or a cloth.

If you are approaching businesses in your area for support and there is a Rona and Home Depot, go to Rona. If there’s only a Home Depot don’t approach them as Rona is the official sponsor. Try other small businesses

VPL has a Sponsorship Policy that outlines the principles of the library:

Vancouver Public Library is a cornerstone of the community. Sponsorships must not undermine the integrity of the non-commercial public space that the Library provides. In developing sponsorship arrangements the Library will:

  1. not compromise the public service objectives and practices of the Library or of the sponsored event, service, programmes or activity;
  2. protect its principle of intellectual freedom and equity of access to its programmes, services, and collections;…

Download the VPL memo

Media links

The Tyee: Librarians Told to Stand on Guard for Olympic Sponsors

CTV Olympics site: Library asked to cover up non-sponsors’ logos during Games

Posted in freedom of information, policies Tagged: corporate sponsorship, non-commercial space, olympics, public, public library, vancouver public library, vpl

To mock a book-banner

Erna Paris, the Chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada, wrote an eloquent article about some recent Canadian examples of book challenges:

In Canada, more than a hundred books have been challenged over the past two decades alone, in schools, in the courts, in libraries and in bookstores, but although they have been removed from classrooms and shelves, they have rarely been banned outright. Today, the stated reasons are usually perceived racism, inappropriate sexual content and, occasionally, political reasons, including one claim that a children’s book misrepresented the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Margaret Atwood’s dystopic The Handmaid’s Tale is a frequent source of inspiration to the censorious class.

Yes, it is all quite depressing, but there is a happy side: Banned books are always so very enticing. We itch to read them , and we usually do, sooner or later. I’m sure I’m not the only one who hid a book my parents disapproved of under the covers to read surreptitiously with a flashlight.

This article also includes some examples of historical censorship:

Long before books were replicated in multiple copies, banning was effected in other ways. In the marketplaces of medieval Spain, political parody and satire were vocalized in verse, to the delight of the townsfolk , leading one beleaguered king to publish an ordinance forbidding “the singing of songs.

Read ‘To mock a book-banner’ in the Globe and Mail

Posted in freedom of information Tagged: canada, censorship, challenges, historical censorship

Rude Britannia: Erotic secrets of the British Museum


According to the Times Online The British Museum and British Library have some of the biggest collections of smut in the world. They just published an informative and slightly humorous article on the contents of the so-called Porn Cupboard that begs to be read with your coworkers on your next coffee break:

Most of the Porn Cupboard’s contents today look respectable: here are printing plates for the reproduction of thoroughly decent works by Turner and Dürer. That’s because, since the latter part of the 20th century, a lot of erotic material has been removed from the cupboard and repositioned in the department. “We’ve been integrating the contents of it into the main collection,” explains Sheila O’Connell, assistant keeper of prints and drawings. For instance, there used to be a Rembrandt etching in the cupboard called The Bed, depicting a couple making love, with the man on top of the woman; but that is now with the other Rembrandts in the museum’s Department of Prints and Drawings, on the fourth floor. You can request it and, as long as nobody else is busy looking at it, they will show it to you. There used to be sheaves of banned Georgian cartoons by Thomas Rowlandson in Cupboard 205, but now, providing you have come of age, you can go to Prints and Drawings and study Rowlandson’s images of gentlemen and saucy wenches having explicit intercourse on beds, on road journeys, and beside gravestones.

The process to access these items was quite difficult. It really bugs me when the library catalog is used to impede access.

The books in the Private Case were originally subject to heavy restrictions: you had to write to the keeper, the head of the department, to see any of them and give your reasons for wanting to. “The books were quite difficult to see,” says Goldfinch. “They had a separate catalogue, and the catalogue wasn’t available to readers. So there were two stages: you’d have to ask if the book was in the collection, and if it was, you’d have to ask to see it.”

Does anyone know if Library and Archives Canada has a similar porn closet/cage/room? If so, I wonder what would be inside? Vintage Mountie pinup playing cards?

Posted in resources Tagged: british museum, porn, uk

A+ Univeristy of Ottawa Physics prof suspended

In today’s Globe and Mail (G&M) there is an article “Professor makes his mark, but it costs him his job” about Dr. Denis Rancourt, an anarchist professor, who doesn’t believe in grades (more accurately he gives everyone an A+) .   On the University of Ottawa website his bio reads “Denis G. Rancourt is a physics professor and environmental science researcher at the University of Ottawa, and an activist, anarchist, and critical pedagogue.”

The G&M article explains Rancourt’s rational for giving everyone an A+:

It was not his job, as he explained later, to rank their skills for future employers, or train them to be “information transfer machines,” regurgitating facts on demand. Released from the pressure to ace the test, they would become “scientists, not automatons,” he reasoned.

But by abandoning traditional marks, Prof. Rancourt apparently sealed his own failing grade: In December, the senior physicist was suspended from teaching, locked out of his laboratory and told that the university administration was recommending his dismissal and banning him from campus.

Firing a tenured professor is rare in itself, but two weeks ago the university took an even more extreme step: When Prof. Rancourt went on campus to host a regular meeting of his documentary film society, he was led away in handcuffs by police and charged with trespassing.

Canadian Association of University Teachers has an independent inquiry about this situation.

There’s a great interview on with Rancourt on critical pedagogy.

Posted in academia, policies Tagged: academic freedom, anarchist, ottawa, pedagogy, teaching, university

Jiang Weiping reunited with his family in Canada

There is an article in today’s Globe and Mail titled “After six years, diplomatic lifeline allows Chinese dissident to reunite with family“. Jiang Weiping, a Chinese journalist who had been put in prison for exposing political corruption.

Since he was convicted on subversion charges in 2001, Mr. Jiang’s story was heard around the world. The courageous Chinese journalist won the prestigious international Press Freedom Award, and an inaugural award from PEN Canada, which has long pressed for his release.

Mr. Jiang was convicted after exposing corruption at the local and provincial levels in China’s industrial northeast. One of his stories revealed that the vice-mayor of Shenyang had gambled away $3-million in public funds. Another reported that the mayor of Daqing had used state money to buy apartments for his 29 mistresses.

Mr. Jiang, who has a serious stomach ailment, was released from prison in January, 2006.

The Chinese had reduced his eight-year sentence under pressure from international organizations, including PEN, an association that defends the freedom of expression of writers around the world. But he could not be involved in political activity in China, nor was he granted the travel documents that would have allowed him to leave the country to join his family in Canada.

I suspect that the link to the full text of this article will disappear in the next day or so.   You can access the full text through Canadian Newsstand, a database that is available for free through most (all?) public libraries in BC.

Posted in civil liberties Tagged: china, corruption, freedom of speech, government censorship, international, journalism, journalist, pen

Freedom to Read Week Meet-Up in Vancouver

Freedom to Read Week 2009

Come join the B.C. Library Association Intellectual Freedom Committee as we make buttons, discuss current events, have a drink, and listen to local authors read from some challenged and banned books. Did you know that Harry Potter was a challenged book? Authors to be announced.

Saturday February 28th, 7pm-midnight at Rhizome Cafe 317 East Broadway. Come early for dinner! Rhizome Café has a delicious menu, available throughout the event, and is fully licensed.

By donation, no one turned away.   For more info please email   RSVP on Facebook.   See you there!

Posted in events Tagged: freedom to read week, ftrw, meetup, vancouver

Artist argues new Vancouver Olympic bylaws affect freedom of speech

from Kimberly Bakers Olympics series

from Kimberly Baker's Olympics series

Over breakfast today I read an article in the Georgia Straight about Kimberly Baker‘s intent to challenge the changes Vancouver City council has approved to be in line with the federal Bill C-47, the federal Olympic and Paralympic Marks Act.

According to a City of Vancouver administrative report, the amendments are necessary to allow the city to remove graffiti and ‘illegal signs’ from private property without notice.   The City can also fine repeat offenders up to $10,000/day.

Kimberly Baker’s artist statement on the Olympics series says:

My intention within this work is to create a visual narrative that can address controversial social / political intersections within our contemporary world so as to encourage public awareness and engage dialogue.

The Straight article states that City councillor Heather Deal insisted that the charter amendments are not meant to stifle free expression.

I think that this is not good for art, free expression, or democracy.   Bill C-47 scared me, but the knock on effect on municipal and provincial legislation scares and worries me even more.

Thanks to Brian Campbell for sending this to BCLA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee and Information Policy listervs, to Annelle Harmer who directed me to that-artist-who-might-have-been-an-Emily-Carr-student-who-makes anti-Olympic-art’s website and for helping me find “that book that’s about this big, that is red”, and to the friendly City of Vancouver staffer who helped me find the Council agenda, report, and minutes.

Posted in policies Tagged: bc, bylaws, freedom of speech, olympics, public, vancouver

CBC’s Q interviews Judy Blume

Judy Blume

While cooking a tasty batch of Red Greek Lentils from the Rebar cookbook, I heard Jian Ghomeshi interview Judy Blume on CBC’s Q (16:08-:30:08). I can’t believe that she’s 70 years old now.

The introduction was lovely:

Name a book that was important to you as a kid. A novel that helped you negotiate the challenges of changing body, changing identity and general grappling with life’s big changes. I bet many of you will pick a novel by Judy Blume. Because if there was something that was troubling you, something you couldn’t talk to your parents, teachers of friends about. You could always go to the library and discreetly sign out a worn out copy of Are you there God?, It’s me Margaret. Or Blubber. Or Forever. Shut the door to your room. Find some solace. Because Judy and her characters understood what you were going through and didn’t judge.

For almost four decades Judy Blume has written about the things that children and adults have a hard time talking about: religion, racism, divorce, bullying, teenage sexual choices, menstruation, masturbation. She has published 28 books since 1969 with 75 million copies sold worldwide. Not one of them is out of print.

I remember reading Judy Blume’s books in elementary school. I don’t remember if I liked her books, but I do remember reading them because my classmates said there were dirty words and sex. I think I was disappointed at the sex content (in Forever the 18 year old guy refers to his penis as Ralph, I mean, c’mon…), but I read everything she wrote.

She talks about writing, being a writer, her dislike for categorizing books as “girls’ books” or “boys’ books” and writing provocative stuff. When Jian asks her about how she felt in the 80s when many of her books were challenged and banned, she replies:

I felt alone, and frightened. For a long time, until I realized I wasn’t alone and I came together with the National Coalition Against Censorship. When you go out and begin to stand up and speak out, because in those days publishers didn’t speak out for us… I certainly knew that when I was writing Forever, that this book might get me in trouble. But I had a 14 year old daughter at the time who was reading books that linked sexuality with punishment. I thought that was a very bad message to be sending to young people. So I wanted to write a book where two 18 year olds take responsibility for their own actions, and when they become sexually active they are responsible kids. This is not the best way to go about writing a book, but I’m glad that I wrote it. And I’m glad that it spoke to so many kids.

There’s also some interesting essays on her website about her thoughts on censorship.

Did you read Judy Blume’s books? What are your recommendations for really great YA/teen books that tackle difficult issues without being didactic?

Posted in freedom of information Tagged: author interviews, cbc radio, challenged books, children’s books, teen, ya

Colors magazine issue on Freedom of Speech

Issue 65 of Colors, “a magazine about the rest of the world”, is about Freedom of Speech.

The issues are thematic. Other themes have included slums, food, home, shopping, race, sports, and 2 issues on HIV/AIDS (Issue 7 in 1994, and Issue 67 in 2006).   They are smart, quirky and have lots of interesting images.   They are pretty to look at too.

Some of the issues have been controversial.   Wikipedia says “Issue 4 [1], released in spring 1993, covered the topic of race, and created an international uproar [2] by running full-page photos of the face of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain doctored to look like a black woman [3], filmmaker Spike Lee as a white man, Pope John Paul II as Asian, among others.”

For me, it’s more than a little weird that Benneton is behind this magazine, but I still think it’s worth checking out.

According to Outlook Online, Greater Victoria Public Library is the only library that has a subscription to the print copy of this magazine, but I can’t tell if they have this issue. If you are not lucky enough to be in the Greater Victoria area, enjoy the websites (current archive Issues 21-70, past archive Issues 1-60), or suggest your library purchase a subscription.

Posted in freedom of information Tagged: collection development, freedom of speech, magazines, pretty websites, serials