24 October 2012

Feast Day Bookishness

"If people do not have good books they will read bad ones. Books are the food of the soul, and just as the body is nourished by wholesome food and harmed by poisonous food, so it is with reading and the soul."

-St. Anthony Mary Claret

10 October 2012

Quo Vadis: What is the Future of Catholic Libraries?

Whenever I encourage people to make more use out of their local library, there are several commons complaints that I receive. Checking out books from the library takes too much time or energy, the hours aren't ideal, the book I want is always checked out, they never have what I want to read, etc., etc. Quite often the last complaint is the one I hear most often from those who are making valiant efforts to regularly fit some good spiritual reading into their schedule. It is true-you are unlikely to find titles like Boylan's Difficulties in Mental Prayer in your local public library. I was amazed that there were the likes of some classic Chesterton, Fulton Sheen, and St. Josemaria (albeit very old and worn out copies) in the massive stacks of my very secular graduate school library. Despite the size and relative breadth of the collection (over 7 million volumes), I was often disappointed that what I most longed to read could not be found. As Coleridge would say, water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.

Catholics and other individuals who want to read good Catholic books faced with this situation today have a few options:
  • Request the desired titles at the local public library. Wait an eternity for them to be ordered and processed if the library does not own the item(s) already and actually decides to purchase them.
  • Exercise their resourcefulness by scouring all the local parish and university/seminary libraries. Even if the desired title is found, access to it is usually restricted by parish membership or university affiliation (which in some cases can be purchased for a fee of $50/semester).
  • Just buy the darned thing, ensuring relatively quick and on-going access for reading and reference.
All three courses of action can, I think, positively contribute to the preservation of Catholic book collections, but I think that the last will be particularly crucial to this task.

There are books everywhere...

"There are books everywhere and only a few are necessary."

A.G. Sertillanges

04 October 2012

03 October 2012

Wherein I Rant about Banned Books Week

It is that time of year again. The week when nearly every librarian and their brother give enthusiastic exhortations to "Read Banned Books!" and proceed to superficially discuss the importance of 'intellectual freedom.'

It would be an understatement to say that I am deeply exasperated by the annual celebration of Banned Books Week. Like a lot of other ALA advocacy efforts, it is emotionally charged, politically correct, and does not facilitate a rich discussion of the issues it aims to address. I hope this post enables a bit of that discussion. My heart was warmed earlier this week by a post from Annoyed Librarian which addresses the mis-direction of Banned Books Week. Like many modern librarian activities, it involves a healthy dose of pretend progressivism:
"This is such a typically radical librarian thing to do: pretend to be subversive and daring by doing something that's not remotely prohibited by law, including some apparently xenophobic laws in Arizona. Unless the underground librarians are planning to sneak into classrooms and start teaching kids Sandra Cisneros, all the feelgood drama is completely unnecessary."
As someone who doesn't abide by the ALA's fake subversiveness, I guess I get a prize for having a truly radical librarian view (?).

In regards to the discussion of intellectual freedom and 'spreading awareness' about the lingering impact of censorship in today's libraries, I am almost always disappointed by the tone of articles, blog posts, etc. that inevitably end in a disparagement of so-called 'inquisitionist' or 'crazy' parents who wish to thrust their mind control upon the rest of society. While it is true that virtually all instances of what are now colloquially referred to as 'book banning' are mere challenges placed by individual parents in school or public libraries, many parents who submit such challenges do so with the good intentions of properly stewarding their children's media consumption. I still think it is naive of them to presume that all libraries, even the children's section, are completely tailored to their value system and parenting methods, and also think it is silly to think that said libraries should be punished just because you did not double-check junior's book bag. Nonetheless, this is the very population of 'pro-censorship' people that Banned Books Week Advocacy seems to be aimed at, yet I rarely hear anyone charitably engage book-challenging parents in a logical dialog about why censorship might be problematic. Such respect is often feigned, albeit well, by reference desk staffers with short tempers. Usually what one hears is akin to "Stop being difficult. You are annoying. We are right. You are wrong. Read banned books!"So much for library neutrality.

Aside from its feigned radicalism, my two biggest criticisms of Banned Books Week are 1) that it only perpetuates myths and misconceptions of censorship rather than educating the public about reality and 2) its false subversiveness and one-dimensional slogan do not encourage the public, whether young or old, to critically examine their attitudes about reading and media consumption.