During my FTRW series last year, I did one post about a book that had been removed from Saskatoon Public Library back in 2004. Beyond having fun with the healthy rivalry between our two fine cities, I also tried to make a serious point.
In addition to sounding like a really flimsy reason to remove a book (boo!), I also talked about how I worried that this may have direct implications for Regina Public Library, especially in our more closely linked age of SILS. I used a hypothetical example of someone successfully getting a joke book removed in Saskatoon for its use of the “n” word then somebody in Regina wanting to ban a book for the same reason – except the book in Regina could be “Huckleberry Finn”. (Of course, RPL could just order them the new, improved version!)
Well, karma’s a bitch because RPL ended up having its own mini-censorship controversy this year. This wasn’t around a book being removed though – it had to do with video of a naked lady! <gasp, shock, horror!!!>
(“What? She was in a pool, underwater, with barely any “naughty” bits visible? Oh…” To be honest, I thought it would be funny if I went to that last link and saw the video had been removed by YouTube as being inappropriate. But our local Prairie Dog magazine was pretty clever as putting it as a semi-restricted link. Come to think of it, that’d be an interesting test – post the video publicly as is and see if YouTube deletes it? They have different rules and standards than a library or an art gallery of course. But posting it as a semi-hidden file maybe indicates that there was some recognition that it would violate YouTube’s guidelines at the minimum?)
Now, for those who don’t know, RPL is very fortunate to be one of only two public libraries in Canada with a fully-integrated, full-service art gallery. (I think Cambridge is the only other one?) That means the the RPL’s Dunlop Art Gallery has a full complement of staff, professionally curated shows, Canada Council grants, a publishing program of their own, etc.
Of course, having an art gallery in-house does often lead to challenging exhibitions that have drawn controversy in the past as well. But the mission of the library and the art gallery are closely aligned and Freedom of Expression is at the core of a lot of what each does.
Even though I work for RPL and also know the artist in question – aka “the naked lady” – having gotten to know her a little bit after I was invited to submit an essay for a book the Friends of the RPL group is doing to celebrate RPL’s 100th Anniversary, I also recognize that I wasn’t privy to every letter that went back and forth, every phone conversation that led to this. So from my point of view, a lot of this controversy becomes a “he-said, she-said” situation.
(The artist’s connection to RPL’s Friends of the Library group is another wrinkle in this story. Unlike a lot of library friends groups, RPL’s sprang up in opposition to some proposed branch closures (as well as the Dunlop Art Gallery) back in 2003 which makes for a much more complicated, layered relationship between the library and its friends than exists elsewhere.)
Now, because I get a nice slip of paper from RPL every second Friday that helps me to eat and buy toys for my son and take vacations to nice warm climates on occasion, I am predisposed to think that RPL can do no wrong. 😉 But without getting into who I think was right or wrong in this particular circumstance (does it sound like I’m censoring my thoughts a bit here? Ironic, doncha think?), I do think it’s really unfortunate that RPL – again rightly or wrongly – is being portrayed as the ones endorsing censorship instead of fighting it. (Even worse that a local fashion boutique gets to play that role instead.)
I think one of the commentors in the very active Prairie Dog thread where they post the unedited video which is the source of the controversy said it best. (paraphrasing) “Library patrons can walk by a computer and see something offensive, they can walk by an art book that’s been left open on a table and see something that’s offensive, they can open hundreds of books and see written descriptions of sex, violence, foul language, blasphemy and who knows what else.”
To bring it back to Huck Finn, this fitting Mark Twain quote has been my e-mail sig for the last month: “Censorship is telling a man he can’t have steak just because a baby can’t chew it.”