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Freedom to Read Week 2
While examining original diaries and photographs of the Romanovs for a juvenile biography of Princess Anastasia Nikolaevna, the author Hugh Brewster, of Madison Press, was amused to "discover" that the royal teenager smoked her father's cigarettes. (This isn't news, every female Russian aristocrat chain-smoked French cigarettes. Check the Alexander Palace web page at "http://www.travelogix.com/emp/batchison/Bob Home2.html"). The photograph of Anastasia lighting up and references to smoking were deleted from the book by order of Hyperion (Disney Corp.), whose spokesman told the author: "We can't possibly say the Czar's daughters smoked. Children's librarians will hate the book." (Globe and Mail, Dec. 23, 1996)

(Newswire:) "Librarians Recoil from Terrible Truth about the Tsar's Tobacco" "Serves them Right," responded Miss Dial-up Dewey Hyperthyroid, safe-surfing consultant for Bunnyland Library, "the Bolshevik's fat-free diet enabled them to seize their own destiny in a pro-active manner. Impressionable young people suffering from low self-esteem need examples of assertiveness. It's apparent those bullets and bayonets at Yekaterinburg effectively cured the girls' nicotine addiction."

Don't be so sanguine, I hear you murmur. Or so Pythonesque. Such an inconsequential media bite is of no import to any but a few nerdy book-lovers. Restrain your choler and hitch up your underwear.

But ironic distance relinquishes responsibility. Despite our anti-censorship campaigns and landmark court battles, our international solidarity in support of intellectual freedom, our advocacy of gay lit, multicultural sociology, and human rights, and our well-informed scorn of politically correct revisionism, it should be alarming that librarians can still be so easily characterized as designated censors acting in loco parentis.

Censorship is always more than an attack on an individual book or art exhibit; it is the manipulation of the public to accept the politics of repression. To make this process work, it is necessary to find self-selected or approved agents among the governed who will enact the concomitant policing "for their own good". Alarm bells should ring now.Fascism. Communications Decency Act..bonfire of the vanities.the St. Bartholomew's Massacre.the Committee of Public Safety.McCarthy hearings.Cromwell.Fahrenheit 451.George Orwell.Conrad Black. When public servants who should be seen as impartial are so easily transmuted from facilitators of equal access to enforcers of public mores, there is an implicit agreement among the governed to accept the methodology of manipulation.

Ask the vox populi, are librarians fascists? My goodness, no. But are they moral guardians? Well, [hesitation] nice ones, with good intentions. (See also: Path to Hell.) How did we become pawns in the dance of dialectic? We are conspicuously absent from the corridors of politics and business. We can't play the game, because we see ten sides to every argument and will obsessively delineate the history of every idea which ever wound its recursive way through human endeavours. Is that the key? Evidently our archival duties and our global perspective are at odds with the Darwinian storyland of consumer society, which, as de Tocqueville said of the United States, continually reinvents its own reality. Keep us away from the media.

Because we can't lie. We will always tell you. Why pre-revolutionary upper-class adolescents smoked, and which members of royal families still light up. Why Anastasia's father was an ineffectual man managed by his wife. How Disney cynically manipulates the self-image of adolescent girls (and minorities) while claiming a philosophy of empowerment. How children are used as foils by adults with political agendas. Where to find information on how the Disney Corporation has retroactively edited its own history. All about Walt Disney and J. Edgar Hoover. And who owns what in the corporate world and why corporations don't want you to know.

Because we're moral guardians, we will teach your children to distrust received information. In loco parentis, we will show them the sex books, the coming-of-age novels, and the guides to child abuse, incest, date rape, and the politics of abortion, and how to use libraries and the Internet to find out absolutely anything they need to know. And we will use every book and manuscript and Internet link and database and methodology we can find to cut away obfuscation and lies and media-speak and wool-gathering, until kids have enough data to make up their own minds. There are no sacred subjects to a librarian, only sacred searching. And confidentiality equal to the confessional. We'll never, ever tell you what we told your children.

So support us, because you need us in these parlous times, when mediaspeak comes wrapped in such attractive packages and the approved version of history according to Mr. Gates sits on everyone's bread machine cum CD drive. Fahrenheit 451 was only a book, but the Internet is the Library of Babel, and HTML stands for History Transmutes Metaphors and Lies. Like Ariadne, librarians hold the thread so we don't all get lost. I've chosen my text to learn for the millennium: Candide. What's yours? Ask your local librarian for a few suggestions, before it's too late. 

Mary Beaty is co-ordinator of Children's, Parenting, & Youth Services, Kingston Public Library. For further references on these matters, see the suggested links on the Kingston Public Library's website, under "banned books", at http;//www.marmus.ca/kpl


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