Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Why do you hate democracy?"

Is what I wanted to ask at the meeting today where we decided if people can have their mail. One of the hallmarks of a democratic society is the free exchange of ideas and one of the missions of prison is to get these people in our care ready to return to said democratic society. Unfortunately, some people let their own feelings get in the way of the free exchange of ideas, but because they do it in the name of security, they get their way.
It's a lot like this whole fiasco with the movie The Interview that has been censored because of "threats to national security."  Throw out some magic words and all of a sudden people are willing to subvert the first amendment.
I don't even know what to do anymore. Ethically, libraries are supposed to fight for the freedom of expression, the freedom of information and against censorship. The Prisoner's Right to Read even says "That material contains unpopular views or even repugnant content does not provide justification for censorship." Yes, the Nazis did terrible things, but just because it makes you think there is only one reason for having materials about their history doesn't mean that everyone else thinks that. But when I voice my opinion, nobody else is with me and I am consistently overruled. What can I do? Is intellectual freedom worth my job?
Sometimes, future prison librarians, you have to make decisions like that. Can you be a librarian who is an intellectual freedom fighter in an environment that does everything it can to quash free expression? Can you stand for professional best practices when people personally attack you? Can you censor an item when your direct supervisor says to do it or lose your job?
Being a prison librarian is a very romantic notion: you get to serve all these underserved people and you will make a difference every day. Oftentimes that is true, but there's also another frustrating and stressful side to it that you should consider before you enter into this branch of librarianship.
Until next time.

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