2.16.2010

intellectual freedom in the library, part 1

One of my classes this term is Intellectual Freedom and the Library. It's absolutely terrific, and I thought I'd share some of it with you.

The class is an elective, but I honestly think it should be required for the i-school's library stream. I think without it, I'd be missing a crucial part of my library education.

The purpose of the class is to build a well-defined, well-defended personal philosophy of freedom of expression in the library, so when there are challenges in your library - when outraged library customers want a book banned, or a film removed from the catalogue, or more filters on the internet - you know how to deal with it.

In Canada and other non-US countries, intellectual freedom in the library comes with a twist. The American Library Association bases its position on freedom of expression on the First Amendment of the US Constitution, a nearly absolutist position. (We're talking theory here, not practice.) The Canadian Library Association, Ontario Library Association, and all the other such organizations in Canada take their positions from the ALA.

However, freedom of expression has greater limits in Canada, the UK, Germany, Australia, South Africa, and other western democracies, based on prohibitions on hate speech and a more broadly defined concept of human rights. (Again, this is on the legal, theoretical level. Which country actually enjoys more freedom of expression is open to debate.)

In other words, the CLA's position actually contradicts parts of the Charter - which creates an inherent conflict for Canadian librarians. That's what the class is meant to explore.

* * * *

In the first half of the term, we read and discussed various legal and Constitutional analysis. The prof has a great system: each student studies one article and summarizes it for the class. So we each read one article in depth and prepared a summary and presentation, then read summaries of all the others, and participated in discussions. Much less work, plus an additional compelling reason to do a good job, as your colleagues are depending on you for the content.

This culminates with a paper outlining our personal philosophy of intellectual freedom in the library, especially as it relates to some of the contentious issues, like hate speech and pornography. I thought I might post the paper here, because it deals a lot with hate speech, something we've discussed on wmtc.

In the second half, we'll be examining and analyzing case studies, as a group project. Mine will be on pornography, erotica and obscenity.

* * * *

Our most recent class was amazing. I knew that a former public library board member was addressing the class about a challenge her library experienced - but I had no idea how intense it would be.

Right around the time we moved to Canada, Karla Homolka was released from prison. If it wasn't for that, I probably never would have heard of the Paul Bernardo case. And as I was new to the area, I had no idea where it occurred.

Bernardo is a serial rapist and murderer. Assisted by his wife, Homolka, he raped at least a dozen women and girls, and murdered at least three of them. One of the victims was from St Catharines, and the murder took place in Burlington - not far from where I live now.

The Burlington Public Library had included in its catalogue one of the many books about the case, which contained details that were not published in Canadian newspapers. The challenge came from the mother of one of the victims.

And how did the victim's mother learn the book was in the library? It had been included in the new books display! Ordering the book for the catalogue, fine. Including it in a lobby display? Very poor judgement, to put it mildly.

Obviously, this was no ordinary challenge.

Complicating it further, a library employee, acting on her own with no authority or consultation, pulled the book from the shelves and expunged the record from the catalogue. Media excoriated the library for censorship... the public excoriated the library for insensitivity... a massive, politicized, public campaign launched against the library. The town's mayor threatened its funding, which got the Canadian Civil Liberties Association involved, which further inflamed some members of the community.

Our guest speaker described something of what she experienced living in the eye of this firestorm, the personal accusations and attacks she suffered, the irrational nature of the arguments. For example, there were several other books about the murders, but the public campaign focused only on this one. The book was available in many other places - but no one was picketing Chapters, only this one library. More than 100 holds had been placed on the book by library customers, but the public campaign insisted that no one wanted to read such a book.

In the end, after a long and tangled process, all parties agreed to a compromise. The book remains in the Burlington Public Library and in its catalogue, but it's not in the stacks. Library customers have to request it.

The speaker described the compromise as "something she could live with". And that was the point of the class.

* * * *

Our prof says, "It's not enough to be aghast or outraged at a challenge. As the manager of the library, your role is to understand why the challenge exists and manage it."

We are urged to respectfully listen, to validate the patron's point of view, to situate the library within the community (not opposed to it), and above all, to take a professional approach to managing the situation. But our role is also to uphold freedom of expression, and not allow one person's sensibilities to override other people's access to information.

Challenges occur all the time. The two most recent challenges in Canadian libraries were both in 2009: one to To Kill A Mockingbird (although not for the usual reasons) and one to The Handmaid's Tale.

Right now, in places in the United States, communities are fighting against corporate-sponsored children's books, which teach things like learning to count... using name-brand breakfast cereal! Elsewhere, a citizens group is calling for content labels on books, warning readers about subversive ideas and so-called obscenity - but they skirt accusations of censorship by not calling for a ban. How does a librarian handle those challenges? Dismissing them as nuts is not enough!

The professor holds that it's necessary to understand the whole spectrum of the philosophy of free speech in order to respond to these challenges rationally, compassionately, and professionally. And the way you handle the challenges will partly determine how your community views the library.

Our guest speaker, the woman who lived through the firestorm in Burlington, urged us that every library must have a policy for challenges in place. The policy, she said, must be established when you least need it, in times of calm rationality, then periodically revisited and reviewed. Every staff member and volunteer must accept it: an understanding of intellectual freedom should be part of the interview and hiring process. There must be an appeals process, so the challenger feels she is receiving a full hearing. In other words, there has to be a framework already in place, not thought up on the fly during a whirlwind of protest.

As I said, this should be a required course!

62 comments:

James said...

A couple of interesting cases that came up in the US recently: a school system pulled all copies of Mirriam Webster's Tenth Edition from its shelves after a complaint from a parent that it contained the term "oral sex"; and another school district pulled the new edition of The Diary of Anne Frank because of this passage in the new text:

There are little folds of skin all over the place, you can hardly find it. The little hole underneath is so terribly small that I simply can't imagine how a man can get in there, let alone how a whole baby can get out!

L-girl said...

Ah, the fine tradition of trying to censor The Diary of Anne Frank. The old edition used to get it all the time, now the new edition carries it on!

Of course, those are school libraries, which have different criteria than public libraries. These challenges are still insane - but different.

Stephanie said...

Wow, not a required course??

I can't imagine that a course of this nature would not be a required course in Library Sciences.

That said however when I think about the University library I understand that this is a distinctly different community. It would depend on which setting you intend to work in I guess.

This is not to say that there is less value in a course of this nature for research librarians but we are definitely looking at two different communities in this case I think.

What do you think? Is there program streaming? Do the programs offered actually gear themelves towards the different types of library settings?

Certainly public libraries versus archives present very different work settings requiring different skills do they not? I am curious.

L-girl said...

Within the Faculty of Information (i-school), there are different streams, or paths, for library, archives, knowledge management, etc (the "etc" is incomprehensible to me), and also a separate degree for museum studies.

Then within the library path, there are required courses for all future librarians, then electives (and also less formal workshops and meetings) for various types of libraries, like law, academic, public, school, and special interests like youth services.

This is an elective, but I really question that - and I see you agree!

Now I must force myself to put the reading in my Reading Week...

Amy said...

Fascinating stuff! No wonder you are loving this course. The balance between freedom of expression and protecting the privacy and other concerns of citizens is so often such a delicate one to strike. The Burlington case is a great example.

What was the objection to To Kill A Mockingbird??

L-girl said...

Amy, follow links here. The National Post story explains the parent's complaint.

Dharma Seeker said...

I know the book you're referring to. I lived in Burlington when Leslie Mahaffy was missing, and then found. We were about the same age.

The book came out when I was in high school in Kitchener. I started a petition asking the library not to offer the book. I asked one of my teachers to sign it and he gently told me he appreciated where I was coming from, but he couldn't support censorship. It was the first time I'd thought of it in those terms, mainly because I was so emotional about it. When I step back and look at the big picture it's much clearer.

Even though my intentions were good at the time I see now how dangerous it is to silence people just because I don't like what they have to say. Sounds like a great course!

L-girl said...

I lived in Burlington when Leslie Mahaffy was missing, and then found. We were about the same age.

It must have been horrible.

I felt so deeply for the victim's mother in this story - which is why it was such a moving and important case. My feelings for book-banners are not usually so kind!

L-girl said...

It's also cool that Dharma Seeker remembers a teacher's sensitive response to the petition.

Amy said...

Thanks for the links on the Mockingbird challenges. Unfortunately, one link says that article is not available, and the other two do not really discuss the basis of the challenge, although one makes reference to a challenge at a school based on the use of the "n" word. Is that what this was all about? Do they ban Huck Finn also?

L-girl said...

Amy, go to the National Post link from that link above. The article describes the challenge. It has to do with how the civil rights movement and African-American agency is depicted.

L-girl said...

Here.

Amy said...

That was the link that said the article was no longer available. I will try again....

L-girl said...

That's weird, I'm reading it right now! The parent objected to an outdated view of African Americans as passively accepting Jim Crow until enlightened white people came along and freed them.

A librarian says that we learn views of the past by reading about it - that's why we should read Uncle Tom's Cabin, TKAM, and other works, alongside more contemporary, accurate depictions of those eras.

Amy said...

That is odd..I tried three times!

Thanks. That's very interesting. I agree with the librarian. After all, with the parent's view, we couldn't read half the literature ever written, given how it depicts women, blacks, Jews, etc.

L-girl said...

Oh, absolutely. Although you'd be very hard pressed to find a reason to exclude a book that I would agree with!

I love TKAM. It's one of the greatest American books of all time - and also a great movie (a rare instance of that).

It does depict an outmoded view of civil rights, and movies and books are still doing that. In the 1980s there was a rash of "white people brought justice to the darkies" movies.

But that's not what TKAM is about.

James said...

I tried the National Post article as well, and all I got was:

Home / News / Canada
Sorry, this article is no longer available.
Sorry, this article is no longer available.

Amy said...

For me as well. I'd rather read about hatred and learn something about it.

It's not just the 1980s. It's still true today---Precious and The Blind Side are both about black teens being rescued by white adults. Although the latter is based on facts and the former is about much more than white redemption, there are many who are upset by the white redeemer theme in both movies.

(I realize that neither is about the civil rights movement, but still a similar issue with how race relations are depicted.)

L-girl said...

I tried the National Post article as well, and all I got was:

Home / News / Canada
Sorry, this article is no longer available.
Sorry, this article is no longer available.


How strange that I can access it and you two can't!

It's not just the 1980s. It's still true today---Precious and The Blind Side are both about black teens being rescued by white adults.

Oh yes, good point! I mentioned the 80s because I remember my activist friends talking about the movies, debating whether or not to see them. But of course, the perspective remains.

This points to one of many reasons we need a diversity of artists to be supported and access to the creations of diverse peoples.

SafeLibraries said...

"There must be an appeals process, so the challenger feels she is receiving a full hearing."

"Feels"? Odd phrasing, unless it was intended to convey that the hearing will not be fair and will arrive at the predetermined result.

Regarding the American Library Association, it claims adults keeping children from sexually inappropriate material is censorship. It is not censorship. As the US Supreme Court said in the case the ALA lost called US v. ALA:

"The interest in protecting young library users from material inappropriate for minors is legitimate, and even compelling, as all Members of the Court appear to agree."

The Court went on to allow Internet content filters on computers in public libraries, the very thing the ALA and the ACLU was fighting to stop.

The ALA is still fighting it, by misleading people as to the true nature of censorship, and by others unprofessional means.

Censorship is a serious matter. When anyone or any organization diminishes it by claiming it is censorship to keep children from inappropriate material, that diminishes true efforts to detect and prevent censorship.

L-girl said...

"Feels"? Odd phrasing, unless it was intended to convey that the hearing will not be fair and will arrive at the predetermined result.

This is a blog, not a legal brief or an academic paper. The word choice is good enough for my purposes. You are free to substitute a word of your choosing, in your own forum.

Thanks for the selected information on censorship and pornography.

L-girl said...

As the US Supreme Court said in the case the ALA lost called US v. ALA:

By the way, just because the US Supreme Court says something, doesn't make it so, and does not compel us to agree with their opinions.

impudent strumpet said...

I remember that book. I don't remember if I signed the petition against it, but I totally would have if the opportunity had arisen (don't remember if I had the opportunity or not.)

The reason I would have signed it is that I identify very closely and directly with the victims and I certainly wouldn't want anyone reading the lurid details of my torture and humiliation, or making money off it.

What didn't even occur to me at the time is that one day there would be people around who didn't already know the story - both newcomers and people who are younger than me. I was only just old enough to follow the trial closely (and to be in Bernardo's target demographic). Even my sister, who's only three years younger than me, doesn't see it as immediate and emotional like I do. For me it's personal; for her it's historical.

So now (15 years removed and with Bernardo safely locked away) I do think it belongs in the library because, like it or not, it's local history. However, it doesn't belong on the "YAY new books!" table next to the latest offering from Danielle Steele, especially not in Mrs. Mahaffy's local branch. Still, I do wish there was some way to keep people from making money off it.

Now that I think about it, if I remember correctly the book did come out awfully close to when Bernardo was convicted, so it's quite likely that there wasn't actually anyone around who didn't know the story yet. If it had come out a few years later, once there were people around who didn't actually know the story, I don't think there would have been nearly as much outcry.

John F said...

By the way, just because the US Supreme Court says something, doesn't make it so, and does not compel us to agree with their opinions.

What, you don't agree that corporations are people? :-)


Thanks for this post, by the way. I've thought over my position on libraries and intellectual freedom a few times. While I would never seek to ban a book, I could see myself asking that a book be placed in a different, more age-appropriate section of the library. I'm all for keeping Atlas Shrugged out of the hands of impressionable MBA students, for instance. ;-)

L-girl said...

It's so interesting to have comments from people who had or have an emotional stake in the specific book.

Naturally I understand identifying with the victim. I understand the terror the crimes invoke, how the fear radiates outward from the victim and her family to every potential victim.

Now that I think about it, if I remember correctly the book did come out awfully close to when Bernardo was convicted,

I did get the feeling it was a quickie book, meaning it was in production during the trial then rushed to print right afterwards.

If it had come out a few years later, once there were people around who didn't actually know the story, I don't think there would have been nearly as much outcry.

Would there have been an outcry if it hadn't been this specific library? Was there an outcry in general?

While I would never seek to ban a book, I could see myself asking that a book be placed in a different, more age-appropriate section of the library. I'm all for keeping Atlas Shrugged out of the hands of impressionable MBA students, for instance. ;-)

Ha ha, very good. Thanks John, I agree.

Dharma Seeker said...

I think a lot of the outcry was in response to Mrs.Mahaffey's very public campagin against it. People felt very deep compassion for her, and as they should have. As you noted the book contains very graphic details details of the torture the victims were subjected to that had not previously been available for public consumption.

There were certainly things to be learned from the case, such as the need for cooperation between regional police services, and the events are part of local history as Imp Strump noted.

I can't speak for anyone who didn't live in the area at the time, however Mrs. Mahaffey did speak at several high schools, including the one I attended in Kitchener, and I imagine anyone who heard her speak also felt a very deep compassion for her.

The subject she spoke about interestingly enough was "the accused's" obsession with pornography, etc. (Bernardo had not yet been convicted so she had to use that term for legal reasons). If I recall correctly her implication was that Bernardo's obsession with pornography somehow twisted his mind to make him capable of doing what he did. Not unlike those who argue that heavy metal music makes people murderers. So she was actually promoting censorship. Interesting. I don't think that would fly in high schools today, rightly so.

Dharma Seeker said...

I just did some quick research online. It may have been books about serial killers that Mrs.Mahaffey was speaking about, not pornography (though I'm sure my recollection that pornography was part of it is correct) as such a book was found in Bernardo's home. I do remember her mentioning "killer cards" (serial killer trading cards).

It was also noted that the Office of the Attorney General stated at some point that the publication ban was really to protect the families of the victims, not the accused's right to a fair trail. Apparently Dalton McGuinty called for a boycott of a movie about Karla Homolka when it was announced in 2004.

It seems promoting censorship in order to protect the families of the victims was fairly widespread after all as even the government was complicit. All the more reason that a course such as this is very important.

L-girl said...

Thanks for the info, Kim. Very interesting.

The whole issue of "what makes someone do this" gets so confused in people's minds. People look for simply rational answers and explanations for sick and irrational acts.

[If anyone is curious, the book in question is "Lethal Marriage: The Uncensored Truth Behind the Crimes of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka" by Nick Pron. The Wikipedia page (linked in the post) lists several other books about Bernardo and the case.]

L-girl said...

I was thinking about the name "SafeLibaries", which comes from an anti-porn crusading website. Public libraries are not "safe" for children if children might inadvertantly see porn there.

The idea that viewing age-inappropriate material is "unsafe" is really something to wrap your head around. We're not talking about children being sexually exploited in the making or forced viewing of pornography. We're talking about under-age people viewing porn by accident or design.

Did anyone here not see porn when they were kids? Who didn't have a friend who had access to an older sibling's collection, or their parents' stash of Playboys, or sneak peeks in stores, or whatever.

That may make children disgusted, or confused, or aroused, or whatever, but it certainly does not make them unsafe.

James said...

Did anyone here not see porn when they were kids?

I don't remember coming across any until well into puberty. But then, I was the oldest, so no older siblings, and I didn't find my parent's copy of "The Illustrated Joy Of Sex" until late. :)

Amy said...

Nope, never saw porn until well into adulthood. Unless you count underwear ads?

SafeLibraries said...

L-girl, thanks for thinking of me.

Listen, you and I are not really that different. The only problem is the means of communication means we have no real back and forth so things can get easily misunderstood.

For example, you say I'm an "anti-porn crusading website." That is not true.

For example, you say, "Public libraries are not 'safe' for children...." and that is true.

You say, "The idea that viewing age-inappropriate material is 'unsafe' is really something to wrap your head around." Perhaps, but that is not the issue. The issue is a law exists to allow communities to use filters to protect children; the American Library Association bends over backwards to make people believe the opposite--make them believe the very things it lost on in US v. ALA. I point that out, and I am entitled to point that out.

I'll bet if we spoke back and forth we would have a lot in common.

Cheers.

Oh, by the way, the problem with unfiltered computers is not just kids seeing inappropriate things.

L-girl said...

SafeLibraries, we may have something in common outside of the sphere of porn, libraries and the internet. That, I don't know.

However, when it comes to this issue we do not have much in common, if anything. If you think we do, you have misread me or not read me at all.

The link you provide is a red herring. As a rape survivor who was attacked in her own home, I know that rape can and does happen anywhere and everywhere. The issue of a child being raped in a library is not about the library, and it has nothing to do with porn. Porn doesn't cause rape.

Our disagreement is not caused by the medium of communication.

L-girl said...

Also SL, I looked at your website several times and I do consider it an anti-porn, anti- freedom of expression and anti-library crusade.

I point that out, and I am entitled to point that out.

You are "entitled" to think and express whatever you want, but you're not entitled to bring your crusade to my blog any more than you already have. Everyone here can access your sites from your previous comments. Thank you and goodbye.

L-girl said...

Nope, never saw porn until well into adulthood. Unless you count underwear ads?

Heh, probably not. Although SI Swimsuit issue counts.

Do you think your kids saw porn before adulthood?

L-girl said...

I love when people use this blog as a billboard for their own issues, then when I don't agree with them, accuse me of being "bitter" and "unfriendly".

[I don't love it. That is sarcasm. I actually dislike it quite a bit.]

SL, I'm not bitter and unfriendly. I am simply unwilling to grant you any more space for your own issues on this blog. Please exercise your right to freedom of expression elsewhere. Thank you.

Amy said...

I don't think of SI or even Playboy (from my era) as porn. Pictures of women in bathing suits, even in provocative poses, is not porn to me. Porn is that stuff you get at adult bookstores---graphic depictions of sexual activity. Now I realize that we may have different definitions. As Justice Potter Stewart said, he knew it when he saw it...but we all see it differently!

Not a clue what my kids saw. I could ask them now, but they would think I was being either gross or intrusive!

L-girl said...

I don't think of SI or even Playboy (from my era) as porn.

The boundaries of porn continually change with time, obviously. But using a strict library definition - material intended primarily for sexual excitement - then SI Swimsuit issue and Playboy are still porn. Not hardcore, obviously, but a form of porn.

In my experience most people say SI Swimsuit is not porn, then look at it (often for the first time in many years) and immediately say, oh sure, that's definitely porn.

I'm not anti-porn, mind you. The label isn't a negative - just a category.

Amy said...

I guess to me it's either hard core or it's not porn! Otherwise, half the shows on TV would be considered porn.

Like most words, porn takes on different meanings (and different reactions) for different people.

And I must confess---I have NEVER looked at the SI Swimsuit edition. Just never had enough interest to find one to look at (and we don't subscribe).

redsock said...

Well, I was the oldest too, but I'd say I saw some stuff in maybe 5th grade.

What about finding porn in the woods? I'll bet a lot of guys my age can talk about finding magazines in small holes or under a pile of leaves, with the pages all bloated up from rain.

There must be a stand-up routine about this somewhere. "Why is all this porn left outdoors? Who stuff their magazines into a tree?"

The camp in Maine we went to in the summer (and for deer hunting) had a folded centerfold on an upper shelf above the fireplace. I would sneak peeks at that. As an adult, I finally found out what date it was from. September 1971. (I'd like to say I grabbed it when I was last at the camp in 1984 or so, but I'm not sure.)

L-girl said...

My older cousin, who my sister and I regarded as a goddess, showed us porn that her older brother had stashed away. We screeched in horror! But we couldn't stop looking!

I see that older male cousin at weddings and family gatherings. I sure wish I never saw his young-adult porn preferences!

Amy said...

On further reflection, I think I would consider the first thing I read that was explicitly sexual, though still not hard-core porn, were the James Bond books, which I devoured in 7th grade. I admit that my interest in the books was based primarily on the sex, not the spy plots.

But I did not see real porn until I was an adult and was curious to see what was on that adult channel on the TV in the hotel room. I was astonished! (Yes, very naive---what a surprise, huh?)

L-girl said...

Like most words, porn takes on different meanings (and different reactions) for different people.

But there are agreed-upon definitions, or it would be impossible to speak. Potter Stewart notwithstanding.

And I must confess---I have NEVER looked at the SI Swimsuit edition.

I suspected that, because "provocative poses" doesn't begin to describe it. Take a look on the newsstand sometime and tell me it's not porn.

redsock said...

I started getting SI as a birthday present in 1974 (the first issue I got was this one). There was actually a picture of a nude woman in the Evel Knievel story; I think she was being passed over the crowd like body surfing at a rock concert. So that was exciting for 11-year-old me.

impudent strumpet said...

I see that older male cousin at weddings and family gatherings. I sure wish I never saw his young-adult porn preferences.

I think it's actually a factor in one's reaction to early porn exposure - whether you're just exposed to the porn itself, or whether it's someone's porn (and if so, whose is it and what's your relationship with them).

My first exposure was when I was 12 or 13, and my friend showed me some of her brother's Playboy magazines. I never met her brother (he might have been away at uni or something) and he was basically a non-entity to me, so there was no squick factor and I was just mildly intrigued by a manifestation of sexuality.

But around the same age I found (innocently stored in the basement, not hidden) some pulp-ish detective novels that were my father's from like high school and happened to contain some vaguely smutty scenes (very male gaze, but less graphic than a steamy romance novel) and was completely squicked out because my father was reading this (or at least had read it once upon a time).

Which I think is actually at the root of the concern that kids might see porn in libraries. It's not that they might accidentally find the material (I believe it's actually an age-old tradition to find titillating material in innocent-looking reference books), it's that they might be exposed to someone else looking at the material. Which is viscerally squicky, although if you can step back from the squick and look at it logically, there's probably an existing rule in place that encompasses "Don't be a dirty old man in front of the kids."

Actually, that's something I've wondered. Even if the "Think of the children!" factor weren't there, would there even be porn in libraries anyway (apart from patrons' personal internet use)? Space and money are finite, and it seems to me that it would be low priority.

Amy said...

Allan, why do I think you might still own that copy of SI? :)

Mike said...

Hmmm if I remember correctly, the first porn that I can remember seeing was when a childhood friend showed me his father's stash of Playboys, at the time I was 11 and wasn't really interested. A year later though I leafed through Playboy at the local Woolco's magazine rack, you could still do that these days I think that would be a lawsuit in the making, though that Woolco is now Walmart. Hardcore porn used to be illegal in Canada and even tapes at one time were edited to remove and scenes of genital contact or penetrative sex. I didn't see hardcore porn until I was well into my twenties.

L-girl said...

Apart from the one glimpse of my older cousin's magazines, I only saw Playboy-style porn from a friend's father's stash (through my friend, in her basement, father not present). When I was in university I saw "real" porn, but I was in my late 30s before I saw porn that was anything but standard male-oriented fake-looking fare.

Btw, I'm not in favour of porn viewing in the public library by any means. I think policies that many libraries have - warnings, then after a few warnings, explusion - is fair. Filters don't work, because they filter too much.

My concerns with porn in the library isn't about child safety or any kind of morality, just appropriateness of venue. That's all in my paper (part 2 of this post).

L-girl said...

(I believe it's actually an age-old tradition to find titillating material in innocent-looking reference books)

Absolutely.

redsock said...

Amy: I absolutely did save every issue of SI -- I had tall stacks of them in my closet at home -- but they did not survive various early-mid-80s moves.

L: I remember that discussion re: the older brother's stash -- ewwww!

I don't think my father had porn in the house, though I did see one men's magazine among the hunting and gun magazines on his side of the bed in my parents bedroom. Not much in the way of nudes, but there were some.

The name Evergreen sticks in my head -- and goddamn the web is amazing!!!!! -- it was likely this magazine. I am nearly positive it was issue 89, which was May 1971, putting it only a few months before the Playboy in the Maine camp was purchased! (Semi-)Interesting detective work!

johngoldfine said...

Somehow I missed this thread. Here's my libary + porn story from the mists of antiquity:

I had term papers from 7th Grade on in Latin class--we were supposed to research some facet of Roman life. I did Pompeii, the Roman forum, agriculture, and some other stuff I don't remember. It was no harder to get to the Boston PL than the Brookline, so I found myself from 7th grade on spending my Saturday morning in the big reading room, hunting for tidbits of information, and in the afternoon wandering around the big city.

My parents gave me money for lunch and carfare, since I was off on school biz. I doubt if the whole thing amounted to more than a dollar fifty, though of course in 1957 dollars that might have amounted to ten or so today. Naturally, I scrimped enough out of that to play the pinballs up at Scollay Square and occasionally snag a 'Stare' or 'Gaze' from the porn man who sold used magazines out of the back of his station wagon--just a block from the BPL, in front of the Hayes Bickford Cafeteria on Dartmouth.

If you asked, he'd show you the covers of what passed for porn in the fifties--European nudist magazines, wrapped in cellophane and stored in individual brown bags. As I recall, one looked over his legal display on the sidewalk with a disconsolate gaze and said, "Have you got anything else?"

And he would say, "Only what's out there, sonny."

And one would look even more disconsolate and say, "You don't have anything else at all?"

At which point he would look very shifty and say, "Give me a buck."

And if one did that, he reached into his station wagon and pulled out an ordinary grocery bag folded over at the top. He gave the buyer a quick flash of the cover and then taped the bag shut and handed it over. The Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition is much raunchier than 'Sun and Health' or whatever they were called.

But one nearly fainted at the prospect of waiting an hour or so before one could be home and alone and open the paper bag, now carefully squeezed to the bottom of one's school bookbag.

This was long before the Supreme Court 60s rulings on obscenity, and books were still banned in Boston. Cardinal Cushing was a mighty voice for prudery, and Boston was very much an outpost of Rome. Still, the brown bag material typically dispensed with underclothes, though not with a cheerful sun and health modesty that was erotic only by contrast with the rest of the world. One was grateful.

L-girl said...

John Goldfine, thanks for this! Wonderful stuff.

The pleasures of "wandering around the big city" by oneself at that age are potent memories for me. In my days of doing so, the City itself was porn. It was the 1970s - I'd get off the bus at Times Square, and...boom!

Somehow I missed this thread.

I was sure you had commented in it, but that was John F, who is Canadian.

Amy said...

Great story, JohnGF! We moved to Boston after Scollay Square was torn down for "urban renewal." I wonder where your "porn" guys went after that. I do remember something called the Red Light district when we moved to Boston--sort of beyond the theater district. I guess that's where they all relocated.

johngoldfine said...

I'm flattered that you'd misremember that I made John F's 'Atlas Shrugged' comment. I wish I had.

I remember Times Square in the fifties. Boom BOOM! Even though I'd never read Damon Runyon at that point, I still knew that it was Runyonesgue.

johngoldfine said...

Amy--Scollay Square was famous for burlyque, the Old Howard, and bars, which were along the side of the Square currently sporting that dreary brick plaza in front of City Hall. The streets leading down to Fanueil (Cornhill in particular) had used bookstores, and, ahem, all that implies--a complete spectrum of everything from the arcane and erudite to the sleazy and salacious.

The big pinball arcade was always a draw for me, along with the bookstores. But my porn guy was just a step off Copley Square, a long toss from the outfield from the Boston Public Library.

The Red Light district down on Washington St, aka the Combat Zone, was a pretty good place for many years--from the King of Pizza on the corner of Boylston, down past where Tufts Medical Ctr is today. Porn shops, pawn shops, grind houses, clip joints, army and navy stores, very old Boston landmarks (the ancient hatshop up the alley with the swinging hat above the door; Jake Wirth's; giant painted-on-buildings ads for long-gone vaudeville theatres, etc.) If you squinted a little, it wasn't hard to picture the Boston of 1900 or 1930, always one of Boston's charms, still (barely) one of her charms....

Amy said...

John, I used to hear stories about Scollay Square when we moved to Boston---apparently it was not that long after they had torn it down and built Government Center. I also remember the Combat Zone (couldn't remember its name though!), although I never went there. Although I actually like City Hall, I am sure Scollay Square had a lot more character and was built much more on a human scale.

L-girl said...

This is an ancient thread, but I think some people may be subscribing.

We just saw the movie "Precious," and I thought of this.

It's not just the 1980s. It's still true today---Precious and The Blind Side are both about black teens being rescued by white adults.

I'm wondering in what way the character Precious is saved by a white adult? The teacher who recognizes some spark in her is African-American. But more importantly, I think Precious's story is one of self-emancipation. She has help - she has to - but the help comes in the form of a black teacher, a black (male) nurse, friends from her alternative school (who are people of colour), and from one social worker of uncertain background. Even if we assume the Mariah Carey character is white (which we can't, despite her last name), I don't see that character as the saviour role at all.

I really liked the movie. It felt so authentic. The alternative classroom made me long to be teaching those kids - those were exactly the kids I taught. I loved them. The classroom scenes were dead-on.

I will probably turn this into its own thread. But if anyone is reading this... let me know what you think. :)

Amy said...

Yeah, that was my comment about Precious. I also found the movie very powerful and moving. My comment was, as you point out, not accurate, though the movie has been criticized for being like The Blind Side in that way. I am not sure why, now that I think back on it. I'd have to go back and find the stuff I had read.

Glad you liked the movie, and I apologize for the inaccurate statement!

L-girl said...

Oh my, no need to apologize! I was interested that you saw that in the movie where I didn't, and wanted to know more.

Now I've gone and put this in a post. I'll just take out the link to this comment so it will be anonymous. ;)

Amy said...

Thanks, though I am never ashamed to admit when I am wrong! It happens too often for me to get embarrassed by it! :)

L-girl said...

It's one of most admirable qualities. If only more people shared it!

Honestly, tho, I didn't mean my comment as pointing out you were "wrong". I was more interested in how we came to such different conclusions. In any case, the link in the new thread is gone.

L-girl said...

It's one of most admirable qualities. If only more people shared it!

Honestly, tho, I didn't mean my comment as pointing out you were "wrong". I was more interested in how we came to such different conclusions. In any case, the link in the new thread is gone.