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June 20, 2009

Litchfield means “Graveyard”
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:38 PM * 155 comments

Via Skyfyre’s LJ, (linked from the Friends, Relations, Cronies, and Colleagues portion of Making Light’s Globally Useful blogroll), we find the account of the doings in Litchfield, New Hampshire, as related in the Union Leader:

LITCHFIELD – Schools Supt. Elaine F. Cutler is apologizing for the use of “inappropriate material in our schools” and said stories in a Campbell High School elective course will be immediately removed from the curriculum.

“Some of these stories contained explicit, vulgar and gratuitous language and school administrators have determined that these stories are not appropriate for a high school curriculum,” Cutler said in a statement to news media this afternoon.

She said the Short Story course will be reviewed and revised over the summer by a team composed of the curriculum director, teachers and parent representatives according to school board policy. Administrative review will occur before the curriculum is initiated.

“First, God created idiots. That was just for practice. Then He created school boards.” — Mark Twain.

Skyfyre has a long and detailed response of her own.

When a book list is made for a school, I don’t imagine that teachers go “I wonder how I can wreak havoc this semester! What kind of trouble can I cause and make my life as difficult as possible?” I imagine teachers ask themselves what their students can learn from the most. And, no, not to learn whatever the teachers own views are. I doubt teachers are actively trying to indoctrinate children into accepting homosexuality and I highly doubt that teachers are trying to impart the knowledge that drug use is not just good, it’s fun! What I think teachers are trying to teach is the ability to think and to read critically.

It’s irresponsible to try to keep children from controversial books. It’s not assigned to make children accept the issues at hand, but to let them know that the issues exist. It allows them to evaluate themselves and come up with their own views on it. Any parent that tries to stop that self-evaluation and personal growth that can come from a book is, I’m sorry, an idiot. All they’re doing is stopping their child from reaching their own decisions and their own potential. If you try to protect children from disagreeable subjects (“Oh, noes! Homosexuality and drug use exist! We cannot let our children know of these things!”) all you do is leave them woefully unprepared for the world outside their parents care. To do that, as [info]jenwrites said, does the student a great disservice. It also shows that the parent doesn’t trust their child to come up with the correct (or what they view as the correct) answer. Something that has always annoyed me is the distrust of the youth by the adults. I don’t agree with that distrust at all.

Notable in the Union Leader’s story:

As [objecting parent] Johnson quoted from the short story “The Crack Cocaine Diet,” there were gasps from the assembled parents and, at times, from members of the school board.

Skyfyre comments:

When I read that line, I took it as a big hint that none of them had actually read what was being protested.

You can read the beginning of “The Crack Cocaine Diet” here.

Comments on Litchfield means "Graveyard":
#1 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2009, 07:06 PM:

"When I read that line, I took it as a big hint that none of them had actually read what was being protested."

See, I took it as a big hint they were very concerned about communicating to others in the room that they were appropriately horrified about the things they were hearing.

#2 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2009, 07:07 PM:

What I found interesting was a few of gthe commentators, in the Union Leader, who were complaining that the students were not being taught the "classics," "good role models" and "intact families,"


When *that* material is the default state.

Of course, what do I expect, that people would actually know what they were talking about before writing..

After all, this *is* the intertubes...

#3 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2009, 07:23 PM:

[...]"We are not Cambridge, Mass., or L.A., or even Hanover,"[...]

North Myopia, perhaps?

#4 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2009, 07:33 PM:

I didn't know where Litchfield was until I mapped it. Litchfield is a place where Massachusetts residents move to while still commuting to the Boston burbs, not some town forgotten by time at the end of a dirt road.

This makes it both sadder and funnier.

#5 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2009, 07:50 PM:

I wonder how many of these protesting parents will be complaining bitterly, in 10 or 15 years, that their now-adult children are still living with them and can't seem to hold down a job or function adequately as members of society? While still continuing to hold their hands and clean up their messes, of course.

My partner's take on it is that if you set out to raise children, that's exactly what you end up with -- children in adult bodies, with the judgment and mental capacity of elementary-school kids. The goal should be to raise functional adults who will be capable of taking care of themselves when you're no longer available to do it for them.

#6 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2009, 07:50 PM:

A lot of the commenters at the "Union Leader" article seem pretty clued-in about the hazards of "sheltering" high-schoolers.

#7 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2009, 08:17 PM:

They sound like the same kind of adults as the woman on the train who was complaining about how people can't follow simple instructions ... and that same day she didn't know where I-5 and I-405 meet; last year she freely admitted that she hadn't known that trains didn't stop anywhere but stations in order to pick up and drop off passengers; and she still hasn't realized that trains stop at red lights. (But if you want to talk about the Lakers, or 'Dancing with the Stars', or 'American Idol', she can tell you everything you want to know.)

#8 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2009, 09:25 PM:

You mean teachers aren't part of a demonic cabal that exists solely to indoctrinate children into whatever their parents are against, no matter what it is (demons are flexible that way)? Everyone knows they, along with Hollywood (Hollyweird to those in the know) and the Internet, are dedicated to undermining western civilization by teaching kids things they don't need to know, by exposing them to ideas that will allow them to build a better society than the one they inherited.

That's just wrong. Isn't it?

#9 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2009, 09:43 PM:

When I was in high school I was on the library committee. The library received upon a time copies of a number of books considered important recent works of West Indian literature recently published in Jamaica. One, The Children of Sisyphus had not long before been banned.

Banned in the sense of being forbidden to be imported into the country. (The reason for that was that it contained an attack on the character of the first prime minister of independent Jamaica.) I'd read it when it was banned, and illicit copies were passed hand to hand.

The school librarian (the wife of the local Seventh-Day Adventist minister) was horrified at the sight of the book because she'd heard that it contained obscenities (which it does, several of them, all oddly misspelled; I cannot figure out why the author thinks that Jamaicans say "clate" instead of "claat"). I defended the book's literary qualities, and urged that she read it before passing judgment. She did. It went up on the shelves.

#10 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2009, 10:05 PM:

paul @ 8... You mean teachers aren't part of a demonic cabal

Well, one teacher in the early 1970s introduced me to Mad Magazine and Doctor Strange. Does that count as demonic? Let's ask Fragano.

#11 ::: Adelheid ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2009, 10:29 PM:

Several thoughts occur to me here. First, this is an elective course which means that students aren't required to take it so these parents could simply tell their kids not to take the course or not sign their course selections until they select something different. Second, I read the beginning of "The Crack Cocaine Diet" and high school youth talk that way. It's really naive to think that these young people don't hear those words or don't know about drugs. To the contrary, they do on both counts. And I liked the writing in that story. Third, this is why teaching critical thinking skills isn't happening. People are too afraid to address the issues head on. If I were a parent of one of these kids, I'd ask my child what they thought about the idea of using crack cocaine to lose weight and maybe even talked about young women and self image, etc. I'd use the opportunity to inform them of the risks of the use of crack cocaine, etc. These are huge missed opportunities and it shows. Instead of pretending that the world is a fair and wonderful place, we should be facing these hard realities along with our children and being true to ourselves and to them. I do have a daughter. She is 23 years old and I would *not* have been horrified if she had read that story but we probably would have talked about the things I mentioned above.

#12 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 12:07 AM:

The first two paragraphs probably wouldn't have worked at my (public) high school in late 80's. Then again, I don't think that we had anything banned there, or the kids would have been importing it, just on principle.

I don't know where I'd be on it now, from the excerpt. I'm too far removed from highschool, and my kids are in the 5 and under range, so I don't even have that side of it.

But it wouldn't sound good at a school board meeting. Give me 3 lines and two ellipses and it'd be burned.

#13 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 12:38 AM:

I tried to figure out in which circle of Hell (as in Dante's Inferno) book banners belong; best I can tell so far is Circle 8, with the Deceivers and Evil Counselors.

#14 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 01:08 AM:

Earl, I have to agree. We had a big hoo-haw here when I was in high school about using "Catcher in the Rye". Teachers ended up having to send out a permission slip saying the parent would allow said kid to read it or take the alternate selection (Huckleberry Finn, big different thing....)

My father was always the arbiter of such social/school permissions and etc. He asked me about the book and I told him that I thought that it was a fair story unfairly interspersed with rude words that may or may not have been necessary.

His only comment while signing the permission slip is "I raised you to be an intelligent person. A random book won't hurt that, in fact it may make you think."

And "there is nothing in any book that will hurt you. Remember that, it gives you ideas. That is not a bad thing.

'

#15 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 04:28 AM:

I agree with most of skyfire's post, but this part seems a bit over-idealistic to me: " What I think teachers are trying to teach is the ability to think and to read critically."

Sorry, I've seen enough people who are all in favor of critical thinking as long as it's the right things people think critically about and the right kind of critical thoughts that they think, enough people who like to think of themselves as daringly questioning and criticizing society but in fact pretty consistently follow the norms and conventions of their own specific section of society, and, back in school, enough students who understood their teachers well enough to carefully express exactly those independent, critical thoughts that would get them good grades, to be a bit skeptical about this.

As for the story, I wouldn't have liked reading it back in school, because it seems to be about the most annoying kind of people I knew back then (and I guess most high schoolers would either dislike it for the same reason as me, or, if they're half-way like the main characters themselves, see it as an annoying and embarassing pander). But, well, class assignments are mostly about reading stuff you don't like to read, so that's no reason to avoid that story.

#16 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 07:47 AM:

I am almost thankful that no Litchfield parent apparently reads my fiction.

Still, I should be OK, my characters are generally well-spoken, educated, and inclined to quote Shakespeare. But few of them are Christians.

#17 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 08:04 AM:

Earl @13 I tried to figure out in which circle of Hell (as in Dante's Inferno) book banners belong; best I can tell so far is Circle 8, with the Deceivers and Evil Counselors.

For the teachers, perhaps. For the parents who betray their own children: Circle 9, Round 1. I'll fetch the skates, you get the hockey sticks.

#18 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 08:11 AM:

Serge #10: Mad magazine circulated in my high school. Doctor Strange not so much. On the other hand, I read a lot of sf.

#19 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 08:51 AM:

Raphael @ #15, as my daughter's first-grade teacher said, "They talk a lot about critical thinking here, but they don't like it when the kids start using it on them."

My kids had all become aware of swearing, risky sexual behavior and drug use among their peers before they got to high school. My middle daughter became the unofficial person-to-come-out-to of her high school.

#20 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 09:00 AM:

Lila #19: My middle daughter became the unofficial person-to-come-out-to of her high school.

Ouch, that can be rough....

#21 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 09:29 AM:

My high school offered a class in American Short Stories, and one of the books was almost Vonnegut's Welcome to the Monkey House. If the title story hadn't been amputated from each copy, that is.

So I had to go out and get my Vonnegut on the street, but at least I knew which story to read first.

#22 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 09:30 AM:

...my uncut Vonnegut, I shoulda said. Bother.

#23 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 09:56 AM:

Raphael@15: This is a (very) small town, but we've by and large been fortunate in our schoolteachers, possibly because very few people are going to make a career of teaching math and literature and science to the offspring of loggers and farmers in a place where the snow that sticks in December doesn't melt until March unless they really want to.

#24 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 10:07 AM:

My two youngest have read "The Crack Cocaine Diet," complete.

My son thought that the two main characters were "despicable." My daughter claims that she is now enslaved by the Dark Lord of Wrong (either that or that she was the Dark Lord of Wrong: in either case she wiggled her horns at me).

For myself, I thought it was a great example of foreshadowing, how to compress a climax into the fewest possible words for greatest impact, and a neat ending (both unexpected and inevitable).

(Q. How many writers does it take to change a light bulb? A. Two. One to screw it most of the way in, and the second to add the final surprising twist.)

#25 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 10:42 AM:

My mother was the type who wanted to shelter me from ... I'm not sure what, but I think probably being exposed to things that might disturb/upset me, at an age when I wasn't equipped to handle it. Anyway, this translated to things like forbidding me to read "Love Story", when I was about 12 or so. Of course I made a beeline to the nearest convenience store, and skimmed a copy there. She was horrified to hear I was reading Steinbeck. Actually, it was only "Travels With Charlie".

All this made me vow never to forbid my offspring to read anything. Being nonchalant and interested -- "Oh, how did you like ____?" -- has stood me in good stead, and they certainly haven't been traumatized.

Our library has a policy of not letting children under 14 check out works by certain authors, among them Stephen King. Not sure how I feel about that. Some of his short stories gave me waking nightmares for weeks, and I read them long after I was an adult.

#26 ::: Daniel Klein ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 11:02 AM:

Not going to weigh in on the school debate (the Twain quote about sums it up for me, and as for recreational strategy on my end, I'm going with Larkin), but I just wanted to say that the beginning of that short story was good, and good in the "I really want more of this and I'm now buying this book because it's been way too long that I read some seriously good short stories" way. Had I been exposed to writing of this calibre (from what I can tell so far, of course) at school, I would have been GRATEFUL.

#27 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 12:37 PM:

Lila, #19: There's nothing new under the sun. My partner has a story about how, back in the late 60s / early 70s, his high school Social Studies department had a unit on "identifying propaganda". It was abruptly removed from the curriculum when some of the students started using official US government statements about the Vietnam War as their examples from real life.

#28 ::: Miranda ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 02:13 PM:

A quick note from an occasional reader (but regular admirer) - I read this story as a parent of a 4-year-old and as a pastor in a church in small-town south central New Hampshire who works with the church's youth group regularly. Parents in our town are petrified by what they hear from their kids (and, occasionally, the police) about drugs, alcohol, and sex in our high school. Sure seems to me like that particular can of worms is already open, for most American high-schoolers; it's got to be healthy to open up space in classrooms, with the right teachers, to talk about it a little - possibly with the added safety of having the conversation be about the characters' poor judgment, rather than your peers'. What really strikes me here is that it seems like these parents are applying a concept of "children," and of how to treat "children," that seems totally inappropriate. A, as many have pointed out, trying to keep things away from children strangely does not make the children less interested in what you are trying to hide. B, teenagers aren't exactly children. Treating them as little kids by assuming they can't think critically about what they read only makes the adult world seem more distant and less trustworthy...

#29 ::: hapax ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 03:06 PM:

as many have pointed out, trying to keep things away from children strangely does not make the children less interested in what you are trying to hide.

My mother had her infamous "top bookshelf", which contained (among other titles) an anatomy textbook, THE NAKED AND THE DEAD, MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR, and the complete works (to date) of Philip Roth.

Needless to say, I became very adept at clambering up the wall, and had plowed through them all by the time I was thirteen.

For the most part I was mind-numblingly bored with the books, and only stuck with them because I knew Mom didn't want me to read them. I suspect her of being well aware of this (she was, I discovered later, the lady who had sneaked FOREVER AMBER out *her* father's hautboy) and salting the shelf with litterachur she wanted me to read.

With my own kids, I've told them they can read anything I own, so long as they are willing to (o dread!) talk to me about it afterwards. I've been astonished at the maturity of their comments, including the observation (about SANDMAN, I think) that "I think this is a little old for me. I'll try it again in a couple of years."

#30 ::: Chris Eagle ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 03:54 PM:

I hope some teachers are "actively trying to indoctrinate children into accepting homosexuality". A new generation more tolerant than the last seems like a good idea.

#31 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 03:57 PM:

hapax@29: good points, but I have this vision of your grandfather hiding a book in his oboe. With a copy of Sandman that could work, but Forever Amber? (I can see both words coming from the same insufficiently-precise roots, but I've never seen the furniture spelled that way.)

#32 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 05:20 PM:

I recall reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas wen I was in my mid-teens, having read Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, and concluding that Hunter S. Thompson was a pretty entertaining writer, who had the bonus quality of despising Richard Nixon as much as I did. When my mother found my copy and browsed through it, she was appalled. However, I didn't take away "Drugs are like totally awesome cool and doing as much of them as is humanly possible should be your first priority", which was likely her first fear. No, I concluded that drug use at that level was more than likely a very bad idea, and (added bonus!) that for a young woman it would probably lead to unpleasant humiliation and abuse. So you really can't count on teenagers to live up to your worst expectations.

#33 ::: Trey ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 05:21 PM:

Interesting reading - the article and ML's comments.

Raphael, Lila and Lee,
Yup. This is why my wife and I are very interested in the International Baccalaureate program for our daughter. You see, it has this theory of knowledge course that gets into identifying biases and purposes in information. Needless to say, this has caused the program to be labeled anti-Christian and anti-American by the knee jerk crowd.

I hope its still available around here in about 10 years or so when she hits high school.

#34 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 05:34 PM:

My school library has limited selections of controversial stuff, but it's all at the public library just down the hill and you can get a library card at age 5. The real age line is having the guts to walk up to the librarian with whatever the book is and have it checked out while in clear view of the seating area. If you can do that, you're mature enough to read it.

The public library also has a form you can fill out if you want a book removed. Question 1 is, "Have you, personally, read this entire book?"

It's never been turned in.

#35 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 06:06 PM:

Jenny, #34: The public library also has a form you can fill out if you want a book removed. Question 1 is, "Have you, personally, read this entire book?"

Hear, hear! That's a tactic I'll bear in mind to suggest to beleaguered librarians...

#36 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 06:24 PM:

My parents' top shelf had four issues of Eros. Not far enough out of reach, either. Of course, the in-reach shelves had things like Madame Bovary and Tess of the D'Urbervilles, which are probably also high on the list of things some parents would prefer their kids not read.

#37 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 07:08 PM:

Jenny@34: The public library also has a form you can fill out if you want a book removed. Question 1 is, "Have you, personally, read this entire book?"

That sounds like the form my mother came up with when, in her capacity as a school librarian, she was asked to come up with guidelines for groups who were seeking to get books removed from the shelves. When asked, after the fact, she freely admitted that she had designed the form with the goal of making the entire process as difficult as possible.

Full disclosure: My mother is Skyfyre's grandmother. This anti-censorship thing is a family tradition of long standing. (My parents also believed in the "you can read any book you can reach" theory of child literacy. And you can see how I turned out.*)

*This may or may not be a point in its favor. Your mileage may vary.

#38 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 07:24 PM:

Proposed form for book removal from library:

1. Have you, personally, read this entire book?

2. If yes, attach 1000-word report demonstrating full familiarity with the content of the book, and continue to 3. If no, attach 1000-word essay explaining why we should remove any book based on a recommendation from someone who hasn't read it, and skip the rest of the questions.

3. Please explain briefly what form of inescapable corruption will contaminate the mind of anyone who reads this book.

4. Please explain briefly why we should take a removal recommendation from a person whose mind is corrupted and contaminated.

#39 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 08:47 PM:

Xopher @ 38, I believe you have just broken the land speed record for awesome. The nice folks from Guinness will be calling to verify.

#40 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 09:05 PM:

Xopher @#38: Oooh, nasty! Of course, most would-be censors will insist that they are so pure and virtuous as to be protected from any such influence....

#41 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 09:08 PM:

No, no, it isn't them! Why won't you think of the chiiiiillllllddddren?

#42 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 09:48 PM:

The housemate and I were discussing the book removal form before Xopher's entertaining version came up, and we could really only think of one set of circumstances where removal would make sense: if the book were a work of nonfiction, demonstrably inaccurate, and whose inaccuracies did not themselves constitute a historically significant document.

Well, something like that COULD exist.

#43 ::: hapax ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 10:00 PM:

@31 er, yeah. (goes to look it up, and repeats to self, "highboy, highboy, highboy." In my defense, that's how my mother spelled it when she left me the durn thing (it's still sitting in the garage, currently holding craft supplies.)

@42 something like that COULD exist.

oh, you have no idea.

#44 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 10:14 PM:

As hapax's link notes, most libraries get rid of books all the time. (They have to, usually; new stuff keeps coming in, and there's only a finite space for books to begin with. The process is generally referred to as "weeding".)

The usual reason for weeding is that the book no longer meets the purposes of the collection-- usually because it's out of date, and there are now better resources in the area of interest (or the area of interest is itself obsolete; e.g. horsemanship in city traffic). This is different from "we're getting rid of it because it offends someone".

Here's an online book describing one common strategy for weeding.

#45 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 10:16 PM:

Or worse.

#46 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 10:17 PM:


Suppose the kids want to check out books about drugs -- not fictional works supposedly glorifying drug use, but factual works documenting their harmful effects, among other information. The bluenoses suspect that the kids are reading factual books about drugs for the purposes of using them. The circle of suspicion could widen.

In the minds of the bluenoses, any secular book at a more advanced level than The Poky Little Puppy could possibly excite suspicion.

There must have been something in that rice pudding.

#47 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 10:23 PM:

Rikibeth @ 42...
Well, something like that COULD exist.

I can think of several instances off the top of my head. Frequency doubtless depends on your field...

#48 ::: tariqata ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 11:23 PM:
I suspect her of being well aware of this (she was, I discovered later, the lady who had sneaked FOREVER AMBER out *her* father's hautboy) and salting the shelf with litterachur she wanted me to read.

Heh. My grandmother gave me a copy of Forever Amber when I was about 14, but I've never understood why I was supposed to want to read it.

#49 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 11:27 PM:

My mother bought Dhalgren at the grocery store when I was 16, and left it on my bed for me.

#50 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 11:41 PM:

My parents were the type who wanted to protect me, mostly, I think, from independent thought. They succeeded in protecting me from nothing, because they could not protect me from themselves.

I remember when, in seventh grade, I discovered 1984 in my junior high school library. I was a ravenous consumer of science fiction (this was 1962), and looking for more. The first line's words, "the clock was striking thirteen," hooked me. After I realized it wasn't sci-fi, the sex talk kept me interested. Of course, by the time I finished, my thinking was changed*, and all that sexuality was far in the background.

I don't have biological children, but I do have three step-daughters. Their father was a pedophile, and their mother had been addicted to heroin (etc.) and had gotten clean by the time I came along. Obviously, "protecting" them from knowing that there was evil in the world, and what it looked or sounded like, seemed ridiculous to us. But my philosophy has always been to be free with my own opinion about things, let 'em read, and pretty much do, what they want, and supply a springboard for their own thoughts and conversation about things when they want it. The girls had rules, but those involved performance, rather than individual choices. Although one girl died during high school in a car wreck with her grandfather, the other two turned out to be productive and relatively well-adjusted, and both seem happy with their lives, although they're very different.

My sister and her husband raised their kids as though the world were Disneyland. It's been painful to watch them have to grow up as adults.

* I've been trying to think of a better way to explain the effect the book had on me, unsuccessfully.

#51 ::: Susie Lorand ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 11:56 PM:

The library comic "Unshelved" from March 30 through April 3 seems like an appropriate response to the would-be censors in Litchfield. Especially the April 1 strip.

#52 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 12:03 AM:

I think that there's something to be said for protecting children from deeply disturbing real-world issues when they are old enough to consider the implications, but too young to do anything about it--and old enough to realize how little they can do.

As for just plain disturbing images, I recommend Mommy, I'm Scared by Joanne Cantor, Ph.D. It examines what really does scare children at certain ages* and what most kids can take in their stride, ending with some suggestions for steering kids away from stuff that they may regret seeing. (This book taught me to keep my kids from peeking at Daddy's scary movies by simply telling them the truth: that they cause nightmares.)


*Frex, many preschool children can't watch the part in Snow White where the trees seem to come alive and grab at the princess, or the transformation sequence in Incredible Hulk movies and cartoons. Things turning into other things = terror. OTOH, the same kids may not even blink at nature documentaries that end with the lions crouching over the wildebeest.

#53 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 02:25 AM:

Neil Gaiman pointed me to some hopeful ‘Christian’ book burners in West Bend, Wisconsin. Why do they criticise the Taliban, again?

#54 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 03:59 AM:

Book burning? That sounds like "violence against art". Circle Seven, huddled, crouching on the Burning Sands. At first glance, it sounds more sinful than book banning (Deceivers, Evil Counselors) or censorship (False Witnesses, falsifiers of words), but I think individual book burnings have less effect than ubiquitous banning or censorship.

Paul Duncanson #17: For the parents who betray their own children: Circle 9, Round 1.

Circle 9 seems to mostly involve treacherous murder and not lesser forms of betrayal. One might interpret the murder of ideas as a Circle 9 sin, though; Holocaust Deniers, for example.

#55 ::: BuffySquirrel ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 05:11 AM:

I still remember being stared at in astonishment by teenagers. What did I do that was so amazing?

I gave honest answers to their questions.

#56 ::: KévinT ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 05:18 AM:

This reminds me of the time, when I was 14 or 15, when I tried to read Mein Kampf. I'd been told in class that it was a little bit stupid, with incendiary rhetorics and an unrealistic political program and I wanted to judge by myself.
Well, it could not be found in the library - of course - and I could not get it from the local bookseller (the shocked look on his face when I asked for it!).
I still haven't read it.

On children and bookshelves: my mother, a deeply feminist woman, gave my sister and me the first three volumes of the Clan of the Cave Bears series to read. I must have been 12 or 13 at the time. I think I learned most of what I know about sex from these books... and about romance clichés too.

#57 ::: KévinT ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 05:25 AM:

Jenny @ 52:
An anecdote supporting your point: I saw the first minute of the Thriller video clip when it came out. I was 7. Years of nightmares followed.

#58 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 06:47 AM:

KévinT #56:

Back in my youth, the White Plains Public Library had a copy of Mein Kampf. In German. In an edition printed in a Fraktur font.

You had to be dedicated to make your way through that.

#59 ::: Richard Klin ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 07:31 AM:

Years ago an Israeli scholar did the first-ever Hebrew translation of MEIN KAMPF...and couldn't find a publisher. I don't know what the eventual outcome was.

#60 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 09:30 AM:

@59: ..my first thought on reading this was "and the manuscript didn't burst into flames?"

It just seems that translating "Mein Kampf" into Hebrew would be rather like mixing neutrinos and anti-neutrinos, with the resultant explosion ending the world.

Or maybe it's just me.

#61 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 09:41 AM:

Earl @ 54 Circle 9 seems to mostly involve treacherous murder and not lesser forms of betrayal. One might interpret the murder of ideas as a Circle 9 sin, though; Holocaust Deniers, for example.
It's about 10 years since I last read any Dante so I might be wrong in this interpretation...

Circle 9 is for the betrayers. Much of the betrayal actually depicted in Inferno led to death but mere murderers are dumped with the other violent sinners in Circle 7 (Judas, after all, did not himself kill Christ). To qualify for Circle 9 you must betray someone with whom you have a special relationship, as opposed to the regular frauds of Circle 8.

For a spot in the ice of Circle 9 Round 1 you must betray your kin. Denying your own children an education adequate to prepare them for life, denying them access to ideas, to information and to the opportunity to grow their minds seems to me like a betrayal a bit worse than mere fraudulent advice.

The residents of 9/1 are immersed in ice up to their necks but can still move their heads. I think it would be a superb place for some hockey practice.

#62 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 12:27 PM:

I've read Mein Kampf. I have a copy of it on my office shelves. The first time I came across it was in the library of a school in Jamaica. It's rather fascinating, in an eerie sort of way, to read a book that tells you that you're worthless. At the age of seventeen.

#63 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 01:13 PM:

There is one book that I have banned from the house, since somehow it found it's way in via the thrift store. It was something like 'The true story of dinosaurs', including references to Noah's Ark, Humans living with dinosaurs, and the lies of fossils. We wound up cutting it up, since it had lots of cool pictures. (Kids are 5 and 2.5, so dinosaurs figure prominently). I figure that this falls into the 'factually inaccurate, and damaging' category.

Another one that will not be making it into the house is Left Behind, the kids edition. (spotted at the thrift store as well)

(Though lest you think that the thrift store is all bad, I picked up a John M Ford ST novel there yesterday, though not How much for Just the planet. I'm still looking for that one)

#64 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 01:14 PM:

BuffySquirrel 55: I still remember being stared at in astonishment by teenagers. What did I do that was so amazing? I gave honest answers to their questions.

IME it also astonishes them when you ask them for their opinion and then listen to what they say. Just as if you really cared! Just as if their opinions mattered! Wow! I once astonished a whole classroomful by telling them that people are listening when they talk; younger kids are listening, their peers are listening, and much as they think adults aren't listening, they are. (My point was that it matters what words you use and tolerate being used in your presence.)

In fact I just had a young friend tell me that one of his father's friends asked him what he thought about something, and when he gave his opinion said "That sounds like a good idea. Maybe I'll go with that." My young friend was so confused and flustered by this that he ran away. I told him "you're not used to being treated with respect. The problem is that you're not used to it, not that he treated you that way!"

Fragano 62: Mein Kampf wouldn't have told me that, but I read other books that did.

#65 ::: cajunfj40 ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 01:31 PM:

Dave Bell @#16

"I am almost thankful that no Litchfield parent apparently reads my fiction."

Where might I find more of your fiction, online or otherwise? The bits I've found here on ML leave me wanting to read more.

#66 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 01:43 PM:

This thread reminds me of how quietly weird my parents were about books and general disclosure of information.

Mein Kampf, for instance was always sitting around on our shelves. I picked it up once, having heard what it was, and leafed through it. It scored a meh on my interest meter.

One of my acquaintances (who didn't know my parents at all) tried to give me a "book so shocking that he had to give me it in a different dust jacket" for my sixteenth birthday. He chose the book Xopher links to at #45.

My parents were amused, but recommended The Joy of Sex from the living room bookshelves if I wanted prurient reading. Since we'd already had plenty of conversations on the facts themselves, and I'd been given a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves by a family friend at about 13, all I was missing was raciness.

Next funny story: the time I mentioned to my mother that the intense prose of Love in the Time of Cholera reminded me of erotica like The Delta of Venus. I was 15. Her reaction pretty much centered around where I had run across it, since she didn't own a copy.

Around my house, the top-shelf books are mostly the medical reference books (Taylor's Principles and Practice of Medical Jurisprudence and suchlike) with the gruesome autopsy pictures. But even the Sandman and Watchmen are down low.

If anyone develops an unhealthy obsession because of this, I'll tackle it at the time.

#67 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 02:05 PM:

Weeding books. I worry about the suggestion, in the online book on the topic linked to @ 44, about the getting rid of old editions. Now, the recommendations are for "standard" libraries, not technical ones, but in veterinary medicine, for example, I have many examples of information, still perfectly valid, which is no longer included in new editions, because there isn't room for it (due to new stuff which has to be included) - but without which the information is incomplete. So the chapter author gives a summary and references it back to the old edition - only, how do you access those old editions? I have a number of such books on my "grab if you ever see it in a second-hand or charity bookstore" list. A friend and colleague in the natural sciences recently told me about a university library getting rid of books and journal volumes more than 20 years old "because the students won't want to read them" - when this is of course the material which is not available online. ARRGH!

#68 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 02:17 PM:

Abi, I'd say you're playing it pretty safe with your standards for tacklement.

My mother went through a major change in her late fifties, from being a bitter and hateful bigot to being a very enlightened and empowered woman. As I saw the change happening, I began to give her books. I found out that she maintained the policy of passing books on, but keeping a copy of certain ones that she liked to go back to and buying new ones to give away. When she died, I was gratified to find the copies of Bhagavad Gita and "The Awakening" and Other Stories that I'd given her still in her bookcases. She once picked up a copy of a Garcia Marquez book I was reading on a visit to her, but said she couldn't keep the story or characters straight after a few chapters. Fancy that.

#69 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 02:23 PM:

abi: From my strange experiences (much the same as yours for books, from 13 on I have been engaged in selling used books, and the acquisition of same; strange things in the world) as well as watching kids reared in different ways I doubt you will encounter unhealthy obsessions.

Understanding that such things exist, coupled with parent who will discuss them, should the subject come up, seems to foster a fairly level-headed (to my way of thinking) approach to same.

#70 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 02:38 PM:

Way back at #2, "What I found interesting was a few of gthe commentators, in the Union Leader, who were complaining that the students were not being taught the "classics," "good role models" and "intact families,""

Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet, King Lear, Julius Caeser, Othello. You don't even have to go looking for a second author.

("You want us to teach just the classics? Yes sir, I think we could do that...")

#71 ::: Sarah W ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 02:41 PM:

My mother signed permission for an adult card for me when I was in fourth grade---I wanted to read Mommy Dearest and the librarian wasn't too sure about that. After I read it, I wasn't too sure either, but at least I had access to everything else!

Changing subjects slightly: My parents kept the book referenced in #45 in a bookcase in the huge walk-in closet in their bedroom (it wasn't hidden, just forgotten). I'd noticed it when I'd gone in there for something else, and borrowed it with some frequency when I was in fifth or sixth grade--not only did I have several questions of my own, the book answered many others that it never would have occurred to me to ask.

My Dad (who was a clinical psychologist, if it matters) caught me returning it one day, told me it was mostly outdated baloney and asked me if any of them worried me. Some did, so we discussed those, and he later found me a couple of less prurient and more trustworthy resources.

Now that my oldest is almost 7, I can appreciate my Dad's bravery and skill in having this kind of conversation with his twelve-year old daughter.

#72 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 03:52 PM:

Doug: Don't forget Troilus and Cressida, the Winter's Tale, and the Tempest.

#73 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 04:09 PM:

Richard Klin #59: Years ago an Israeli scholar did the first-ever Hebrew translation of MEIN KAMPF...and couldn't find a publisher. I don't know what the eventual outcome was.

It was published, in an abridged limited edition.

#74 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 04:11 PM:

Doug, #70: Even older classics -- go back to the ancient Greeks! The Odyssey, Oedipus, Eumenides, The Bacchantes, Medea, Antigone...

Oh yeah, lots of intact families and good role models there.

#75 ::: JHomes ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 04:19 PM:

Jenny Islander @52.

Another data point:

There were a number of toddlers at the screening we attended of Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and the transformation terrified them.

Yes, we are talking about Wallace and Gromit here. But it terrified the toddlers.

JHomes.

#76 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 04:20 PM:

Craig R: What I found interesting was a few of gthe commentators, in the Union Leader, who were complaining that the students were not being taught the "classics," "good role models" and "intact families,"

If someone wants good role models and intact families, they should stay away from the classics. Or get Bowdler to edit.

Doug #70: Greek mythology. Bored me out of my mind when I had to read it, because at 9 yo my interest in incest and adultery was pretty much nil.

Miranda: Sure seems to me like that particular can of worms is already open, for most American high-schoolers;

Has been open for decades, I bet.

Jenny Islander: Have you, personally, read this entire book?

A friend of mine used to work in the Catholic community library as a teen and said there was no shortage of elderly men who could quote the complete "racy" parts of some romance novel with literary ambitions in their rants about how those needed to be removed. I don't know if they read the whole book to find the parts (that was pre-internet), or if they only skimmed, though...

As for just plain disturbing images, I recommend Mommy, I'm Scared by Joanne Cantor, Ph.D. It examines what really does scare children at certain ages

That sounds really interesting. I always thought I was just weird that I got years of nightmares from "The Fearless Vampire Hunters".

KévinT: I got my paws on "Mein Kampf" when I was 18 and helping a relative tidy up the garage and the attic. It's really that bad, but reading it (Fraktur and all) in one night crouched between boxes of old crap in the garage didn't allow me to argue with the "bad" as thoroughly as I would have wanted.

#77 ::: Richard Klin ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 04:25 PM:

Earl Cooley #73--that's fascinating. Thanks for the update.

#78 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 04:31 PM:

Patrick Farley (e-sheep comics) emerges from hiding long enough to post a graphic version of the gay marriange debate.

#79 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 04:33 PM:

Sorry, #78 was supposed to go in Open Thread.

#80 ::: Sarah W ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 05:03 PM:

Another memory was jogged by this post.

Several years ago, I was on a bus and two women next to me were lamenting about books for young adults being full of sex and smut and violence and so forth.

Eventually, as you might guess, one of them said, "I wish they would bring back the classics we read. Like Shakespeare."

"Don't forget Chaucer!" said the other lady.

Yeah, because Will and Geoff never wrote anything remotely violent or sexy or smutty . . .

Mission accomplished, Thomas Bowdler.

Although to be fair, I expect most high school classes don't get beyond the Prologue of the Canterbury Tales, anyway. The only reason I did is because the language fascinated me . . .and Mom said there were some racy parts in there.

#81 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 06:10 PM:

One of the books I looked through obsessively when I was just learning to read was a book my mom had called A Child is Born. I was utterly fascinated by the pictures - the spiral patterns of hair follicles, the tiny floating fetus that scarcely looks like anything that could become a human, translucent and glowing...

The effect this had was... odd. Because I understood at the ages of four and five that a man's sperm joined an egg to produce a baby, I assumed I knew that there was to know about sex - and thus evinced NO great curiosity about the act itself, and no desire to experiment too young with something that could get me pregnant.

I learned about the other technical details in science class at fifteen, and went, "Oh, that's how the sperm gets there", and again, put it aside as something I was NOT ready for (In spite of the fact that my hormones had woken up, and I did start to get an idea what the fuss was about on that side.)

The worst mom ever did with a book I wanted t read was suggest she thought it might be too old for me. Sometimes, she was right, which meant I didn't dismiss the comment, but I almost always tried at least the first chapter anyhow, and I finished at least one trilogy where all the sex and politics - mostly politics - went right over my head.

#82 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 07:30 PM:

I am very much in favor of teaching Chaucer in the original Middle English, instead of in translation. That way the students are forced to WORK for the fart jokes and the oral sex.

#83 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 07:46 PM:

Sarah, #80: If there's justice in the Universe, I will one day be sitting next to just such a conversation. You can probably guess which segment of the Miller's Tale I chose to memorize for a test in my college Chaucer class. I can still recite it... in the original, and with full salacious emphasis.

#84 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 08:00 PM:

Lee: for wel he wiste a womman hath no berd?

#85 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 08:03 PM:

Lee #83: "Tehe, quoth she"?

#86 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 08:06 PM:

Rikibeth #84: *snort*

#87 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 08:06 PM:

Harold: "Dirty books?!"

Alma: "Chaucer"

Ethel: "Rabelais"

Eulalie: "Balzac!"

#88 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 08:09 PM:

Doug #70: I'd insist on Titus Andronicus being taught.

#89 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 08:38 PM:

Jenny Islander, #34, I tried to get a book removed from our public library once and they wouldn't. It was the early '90s and the book was from the '70s. I had just started menopause and checked out four books that included sections on it. This partcular book was fine on menopause, but it was a goddessy book that kept saying you could have all the sex you wanted now that venereal diseases could be cured.

It was written before any knowledge of HIV/AIDs and clearly was no longer accurate. I explained that on the form, but they didn't remove it, so I took a packet of sticky notes and went through the book, pointing out each place that was wrong.

#90 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 09:07 PM:

#67
I nabbed an ancient CRC handbook from my father's library, after he died. It has recipes for photo-developing solutions and for silvering mirrors for telescopes, and also how to make crosshairs with spider silk. That stuff hasn't been in there for decades - my 1972 edition doesn't cover it.

#91 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 09:08 PM:

#87
Pick a little, talk a little,
cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep!

#92 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 09:09 PM:

He left River City the library building but he left all the books to her!

#93 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 09:22 PM:

Rikibeth, #84: Starting a little further back, actually -- from "The nicht was black as pitch or any coal" to the window closing.

#94 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2009, 10:07 PM:

The most controversial topic in Mommy, I'm Scared is probably the author's opinion on splatter films and other violent genres. She says (IIRC) that getting that adrenaline jolt is a natural high and completely normal for adolescents and preteens, but tying it to the simulated agony and systematic dehumanization of other people is probably not a good idea. She also talks about desensitization and the need for a stronger high.

#95 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2009, 06:58 AM:

As far as my own experiences with being protected from the bad sides of the world go- for me, that was not so much about books, but about movies and TV. Basically, any movies and shows that seemed kind of violent. They weren't forbidden as in "watching them will get you into trouble", just along the lines of "that stuff is very bad, and of course you wouldn't want to look at something like that".

Mystery novel adaptations and stuff in the style of mystery novel adaptations were mostly excepted (from some age I can't remember onwards) because most of my family is really a lot into mystery. From some age onwards, old James Bond movies became ok, probably under some kind of Rule of Cool exception. Than, at, I think, about 12 or 13, it became ok to watch violent, even very violent, movies, if they apparently had an anti-war message.

But aside from that, anything with a fair amount of fighting was clearly bad- Star Trek, for instance, was extremely suspect, and Star Wars was completely beyond the Pale. (Just think of the name! Not only is it about war (and completely uncritically!), it's about war in space, as if they tried to make the war as big as possible!) When I started watching stuff with fair amounts of fighting in it when no adults were around, I wasn't actually worried that I might get in trouble if I got caught, but for some reason I was worried about getting caught anyway. I ended up being pretty interested in miltary matters in my late teens, though.

#96 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2009, 07:35 AM:

P J Evans @90

Which shows that my point is valid for a variety of topics. I do realise every local public library cannot keep every edition of every encyclopaedia, CRC Handbook etc., but it does worry me when university-level librarians don't seem to understand the worth of what they are throwing out.

Marillee @ 89 - "so I took a packet of sticky notes and went through the book, pointing out each place that was wrong." pretty good solution, except of course they can take them out. I have been known to write, gently, in pencil, and with permission from the librarian, in a book or journal where I've spotted an erroneous reference and have managed to track down the correct details (page numbers, volume number, year, journal title - little details like that!).

#97 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2009, 08:48 AM:

dcb @ 96: For what it's worth, in my experience most university and research librarians do have a sense of how different their institutions' purposes are from public libraries. As a librarian explained to me once (paraphrasing freely): public libraries are in the business of lending books to readers, while university libraries are in the business of organizing and preserving books for researchers. And when I think back over the university libraries I have used, or worked in (though not as a librarian) . . . well, let's just say that culling was something that happened extremely rarely and usually meant that a volume was so damaged as to be unusable. (And even then, I can think of at least one instance when the head librarian pulled his hair out trying to locate a replacement in the system for an ancient encyclopedia.)

#98 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2009, 09:52 AM:

To reply to dcb and Mary Frances, though: one of the things I worry about is that, while university libraries don't weed as aggressively as public libraries, there's a lot of interesting and potentially useful material that they tend not to collect in the first place. They're great at collecting things meant for scholars, but popular and trade-related titles often get collected by few, if any, academic libraries.

So while I do understand the need for public libraries to weed their collections of out of date stuff that doesn't really serve their population, I do hope that those materials aren't simply thrown out wholesale, but that some copies end up someplace that will preserve them.

A lot of this offbeat "obsolete" stuff, btw, is being resurfaces by the Google scanning projects, which is one reason I hope its settlement with publishers gets approved (problems with details aside).

#99 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2009, 12:45 PM:

John Mark Ockerbloom @ 98: Copyright libraries (Legal Deposit Libraries), or equivalents, I would hope.

Here in the UK, a copy of all published work has to be sent to The British Library (London) and Cambridge University Library, Bodleian Library (Oxford), National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth and The Library of Trinity College, Dublin all have the right to a copy also.

Mary Frances @ 97 - I'm please to know most are thinking that way - sadly, as I've said, I have evidence that it's not true of all university/research librarians.

#100 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2009, 09:22 PM:

I'm always surprised when I run into people who seem convinced that, unless a story is framed in a bombastic, moralistic fashion, anything the protagonist does is something the author thinks is good and right and worth advocating. This misconception leads to a lot of bad, bombastic and moralistic story-telling. It just... boggles my mind how they can fail to conceive of literature as anything other than a tool to instruct readers in morality.

Apropos of older editions, I was once assigned to do a report on an obscure Arctic explorer in school, and the *only* reliable information I could find on him was in my folks' 1911 Britannica. (Onion-skin pages, cracking leather spines, dark wood cabinet specially built to contain it... I can smell it now. :-) He was topical in 1911, but he'd been outpaced in the intervening ninety years.

(Which encyclopedia is now, I'm happy to see, slowly being put online at Project Gutenberg by the good folks at Distributed Proofreading. It's an invaluable resource.)

#101 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2009, 12:35 AM:

John Mark Ockerbloom @ 98: Yeah, there are books research libraries just aren't interested in. It's an inevitable and unfortunate trade off, I suppose. But--in the US--there is also the Library of Congress. Don't they have pretty much everything?

dcb @ 99: And I am unhappy to hear of your experience with university librarians, which I know is equally valid. I have been lucky in my research libraries.

Kevin Riggle @100: Experiences like yours are the reason why that head librarian I mentioned @97 went nuts trying to be sure that the missing volumes of that ancient encyclopedia were still available in the system--and the volumes hadn't been discarded, either. They'd been stolen, which I suspect also indicated something about their value . . .

#102 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2009, 03:52 AM:

Kevin Riggle @ 100 The 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica is legendary. Thanks for the heads-up that it's going digital - and the reminder to check the Gutenberg site a bit more often.

Mary Frances @ 101
I recently wanted to borrow, from a specialist library, a book on a subject I'm researching. Unfortunately it's presently listed as "missing". 2nd hand value (for the only copy I can see offered on the internet) is $277 - which does make me worry about where it's gone. Or it could have been borrowed by a member of staff years ago and it's still sitting in their office somewhere.

To be fair to the librarians (not the ones getting rid of everything more than 20 years old), sometimes unless you're actually using the book for reference in the way that I do in my job, you wouldn't realise that certain topics have been dropped between editions, or that pathological descriptions had been summarised and the reference cited for "a full description is given in" was a previous edition of the same book.

#103 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2009, 05:37 AM:

"But--in the US--there is also the Library of Congress. Don't they have pretty much everything?"

They have a lot, but it's a misconception that they have everything. Even legal copyright deposits only have to be kept intact for 5 years-- after that (unless the copyright holder has paid a few hundred dollars extra for the Copyright Office to retain a complete copy for the life of the copyright), they can dispose of them, and often do. (I believe they keep the portion with the title and copyright statements, and possibly a small sample of content, but the rest can be discarded.)

I remember visiting LC around 1980 and looking to see if they had the math textbook my mother co-authored, which had been published 7 years earlier, and being surprised to find they didn't have it. I've kept a copy, and WorldCat reports a handful of libraries worldwide that also have copies, none of which, as far as I know, have a particular interest in archiving math textbooks. It's the sort of book that could easily disappear completely in another decade or two, if no one cares to actively preserve it.

And even retained legal copyright deposits aren't foolproof. A colleague of mine recently told me the sad story of Yes or No, a British mass-market popular fiction magazine from about a century back. According to him, the only library that kept a full run was the British Library (one of the UK's copyright deposit libraries)-- and their copies were destroyed in the bombings of World War II. So even though the stories were enjoyed by many thousands of British readers, some of whom are still alive, there were hundreds of issues that, as far as I know, no collector has managed to find intact.

#104 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2009, 05:52 AM:

Re the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica: I think the whole thing is now online, at least in page image form. The Gutenberg/Distributed Proofreaders project aims to produce a high-quality searchable transcript, though, which should be a useful contribution.

On The Online Books Page, I've linked to a site that said it had a complete 1911 copy in HTML, but looking back there just now, it appears they've yielded to the temptation to try to "update" it to make it useful for present-day reference.

Which has some merit, I suppose, but some of us want to see *exactly* what was said back in 1911, in its full out-of-datedness. So it looks like I'll have to revise my entry and do some searching for other copies. Sigh...

#105 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2009, 07:24 AM:

104 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom @ 104
I went looking. Can't find the page image version you mention (and I would love to see that) but I have found two sites which apparently have the whole thing in text. One does have a separate section where you can log in and add updates, but the "article" page should be the original:
http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/
http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/

#106 ::: Jen Birren ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2009, 07:48 AM:

Thus is going to be a bit whiny-sounding, I think, because the comments I'm responding to have made me feel defensive. So I'm sorry about that, I'll try to keep it to a minimum.

I'm currently weeding in a science section in a university library, and getting rid of all sorts of interesting old things. Oh noes! Evil!

I should first point out we don't have anybody studying history of science here, and we aren't a copyright deposit library, so anybody wanting old books for their own sake wouldn't come here in the first place. In some areas we have here, books don't really go out of date as such, and older material is valuable and not weeded harshly; but the users of this section want stuff about what's currently going on in the field.

The philosophical side apart, the practical side is that we are, as virtually all university libraries are, chronically short of money. Which means (as dcb points out) they can't afford to have me spend my time going through every book I throw away. I have a lot of other jobs to do. If an academic or our archivist tells me to keep something, I probably will, but otherwise, if it's outdated or not being used any more, it's gone.

The other thing about having no money is that space=money, as well. Our shelves are pretty much full. We could do a little bit of rejigging to put more shelves instead of reader seats (though more people want to come in every year) but we can't afford a new bigger building, and we can't afford to rent a store and run a fetching service. So an inch of space on the shelf is worth more to me than a book nobody's borrowed for thirty years.

Yeah, it'd be nice to work somewhere that did keep everything, but oh, the joy of respacing and actually being able to put new aquisitions on the shelf instead of piled on the floor! Pruning out dead wood and leaving light and air for new shoots really is the appropriate metaphor, sometimes.

#107 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2009, 09:55 AM:

Ohio State University's library system actually had protestors this Spring -- all because they are having get rid of books, etc. to free up space. What the faculty and students could have done instead of protesting was raise funds to build another section for the university book depository (a/k/a storage).

IIRC, OSU has built two modules for the depository, and has the land to build three more. As Jen Birren points out above, money = space -- and OSU doesn't have the money to build the extra modules they so desperately need.

In fact, they're having trouble figuring out where to put tech services when the remodeled Main Library building re-opens this year. The space they'd originally planned to put tech services in disappeared when the OSU Cartoon Library* expanded into it after OSU was given several more artists' personal collections.

*Milton Caniff's donation started it all.

#108 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2009, 12:11 PM:

re: John Mark Ockerbloom @104, about updating for modern use, I believe many Wikipedia pages were seeded from 1911 Britannica articles, and a quick glance at the history of the page for Robert McClure, the explorer in question, shows that it did indeed begin life as the article I referenced in my school report.

#109 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2009, 01:51 PM:

Thus Fragano Ledgister#18: "Mad magazine circulated in my high school. Doctor Strange not so much. On the other hand, I read a lot of sf."

Over here in England in the late 1960s and early 1970s we saw Mad & a lot of US Marvel comics.

ON the other hand, in the last year of my *primary* school (which was a really bad school with terrible academic results despite a few great teachers - class sizes of 45-50, probably 10% or more were barely literate, and only about 6% passing the 11-plus to go to grammar school which was pretty much a pre-req for going to university late ), when I was 10 or 11 years old, our class teacher put a whole shelf of his own SF magazines out for anyone to read who wanted to. This would have been 1967/68.

It was only years later, talking to Dave Pringle in the pub about some Ballard stories I vaguely remembered, that I realised that at least some of the 'zines were Moorcock-era New Worlds.

Thank you Mr Haslam wherever you are now.

#110 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2009, 02:54 PM:

Jen Birren @ 106

I do sympathise with the problem. What do you do with the old volumes? Do you put them on a shelf for sale or free to anyone who wants them? Or offer them on a listserve? Or what?

#111 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2009, 02:48 AM:

P J Evans @ #36: Of course, the in-reach shelves had things like Madame Bovary and Tess of the D'Urbervilles, which are probably also high on the list of things some parents would prefer their kids not read.

I've never read either of those, but Tess of the D'Urbervilles was on the 'recommended but not required' summer-reading list for my class when I was between 3rd and 4th grades -- at a Catholic school. What on earth objectionable to prudes could be in it? I have only the vaguest acquaintance with its content (it's about a social climber trying to make her last name sound fancy to catch a husband, I'd thought).

KévinT @ #56: This reminds me of the time, when I was 14 or 15, when I tried to read Mein Kampf. I'd been told in class that it was a little bit stupid, with incendiary rhetorics and an unrealistic political program and I wanted to judge by myself.
Well, it could not be found in the library - of course - and I could not get it from the local bookseller (the shocked look on his face when I asked for it!).
I still haven't read it.

My most recent college-level composition teacher handed out photocopies of (a) a section of Mein Kampf's text and (b) the entirety of its index as part of a unit on Classical Rhetoric and its devices and how it can be used in exhortatory speech. His gist goes something like, "Here's a guy who managed to rouse rabble extremely efficiently. Here's an example of how he did it. Note how his arguments are convincingly strung together, using completely batshit premises and the following formal fallacies in regards to how those premises lead to his conclusions (also batshit)? This book is extremely damaging BECAUSE his argument style is effective, especially to the sorts of people who haven't taken Classical Rhetoric."

Followed by asking us all to look ourselves up in the index and see whether he approved of us, disapproved of us, or disbelieved our existence (as with the Mexican and Puerto Rican members of our class; they're mongrels in his classification system), ethnically.

He carefully reclaimed all the photocopies at the end of class, having warned us all not to copy out any of the content, because he'd been instructed by the school not to let us keep any of That Book, personally, because of its extreme poisonousness. Then he told us how to acquire a copy withOUT ending up on a Terrorist Watch List, if we should ever wish to read the whole thing: buy it at a thrift store, or on eBay, or from any of the sellers indexed at bookfinder.com (who are for the most part small Local Used Bookstores).

#112 ::: Jen Birren ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2009, 08:28 AM:

dcb@110:
We do a mixture of things with books we get rid of- a few are sent to specialist libraries or advertised on lists, a couple of dealers buy some, some are on sale in the library, and some end up as Books By The Yard.

#113 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2009, 10:00 AM:

Elliott Mason @ 111: Someone put Tess of the D'Urbervilles on a fourth grade reading list?!? You're joking, right? I mean, someone put anything by Thomas Hardy (well, except maybe some of the poetry) on a FOURTH GRADE reading list? Never mind objectionable, those must have been some powerfully literate and socially conscious fourth graders!

Seriously, most of Hardy's novels, including this one, tend to be littered with sex, blood, and excrement, particularly by Victorian standards, of course, but still . . . I wouldn't keep a kid from reading Tess, personally, but I'd expect most 9- to 10-year-olds would find Hardy slow going. And I'd hope they'd have someone available to explain what happened during the off-camera rape scene (to do Hardy justice, he was forced to cut the actual rape scene for publication and refused to replace it with something more mealy-mouthed, leaving a fairly confusing gap in the narrative).

#114 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2009, 11:32 AM:

Elliott Mason (111): Many, if not most, libraries should also have a copy.

#115 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2009, 12:41 PM:

That book about a certain dictator's personal struggle seems fairly easy to download. A quick Google works.

But whether you can trust the sites making it available, I'm not sure.

#116 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2009, 01:30 PM:

Kevin #100: I'm always surprised when I run into people who seem convinced that, unless a story is framed in a bombastic, moralistic fashion, anything the protagonist does is something the author thinks is good and right and worth advocating.

See also Archie’s Fourth of July here at ML.

#117 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2009, 07:41 PM:

Mary Frances @113: Really? I tried it that summer, bounced off hard due to boredom and Austen Syndrome, and haven't gone back. None of my peers who made it through mentioned anything salacious; most of them were bored, and the book reports were pretty staid. I took home the impression that it was basically Dickens with more social politics; The Scarlet Letter was much racier, as far as we all were concerned (same reading list).

I'll have to try it again as an adult.

#118 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2009, 07:42 PM:

Mary Aileen @ 114: Yes, but most of them are required to put your name on a list if you take it out. :-/ Of course, you can just read it IN the library and leave no record.

#119 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2009, 08:05 PM:

Mary Frances writes: Those must have been some powerfully literate and socially conscious fourth graders!

Well, no. Lots of them probably didn't get it at all. A bit like all the other novels we make them read.

Except that I hope there aren't prepared notes called "Lies You Should Tell about Hardy to 9 year olds" like all the "Polite Lies about Shakespeare" I remember.

#120 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2009, 08:30 PM:

Elliott Mason (118): What country are you in? Libraries in the United States certainly do no such thing.

#121 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2009, 10:34 PM:

Mary Aileen @ 120: IME, for at least the last fifty years, every U.S. library from which I have borrowed books [1] has had a check-out procedure which created a record of who checked out each book. [2]

[1] Including public, grade school, high school, college, and various specialized libraries, in several U.S. states.
[2] After each book had been returned, the degree to which any of the check-out data was retained, and the amount of effort required to retrieve and correlate that data, was . . . variable, according to both local library policy, and the technology in use at the time.

#122 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2009, 11:33 PM:

Elliott Mason @ 117: Er--well, I suppose it wasn't exactly "salacious," by modern standards--you did have to figure out what was going on, and given Hardy's prose that might not have been easy for the average fourth grader. It wasn't easy for me, as an adolescent, and I read it in a pretty good English class. (In other words, please don't blame me for misleading you if you bounce off of Hardy and Tess again; he isn't even my favorite late-Victorian author.) But I have to say that if your classmates' book reports were "staid," then I strongly suspect that none of them made it as far as the murder; the "blood on the ceiling" scene gave me fits as a teenager, and (as I said) I wasn't particularly impressed by the book even then.

Niall McAuley @ 119: You're quite right; I was being facetious, and I should have made it clear that my response was at the expense of the people who force kids to read books that are going to bore them to tears--or give them a lifelong dislike of reading. Not censoring what children read is not the same thing as throwing "classics" at them, helter skelter . . .

What do you mean by "Polite Lies about Shakespeare"? Was that something like a formal lesson plan, truly? Because if so, consider me suitably appalled at the very idea.

#123 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 12:40 AM:

With the discussion of thinning books from libraries, scanning, etc, how is it that no one has mentioned Rainbow's End by Vernor Vinge yet? I loved the "Library Militant".

#124 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 03:04 AM:

Elliott Mason@111: I expect some in your class didn't need that index -- I certainly wouldn't have.

#125 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 08:45 AM:

Memories 30-40 years old; comment still current.

Mary Frances @122
Elliott Mason @ 117: Er--well, I suppose it wasn't exactly "salacious," by modern standards--you did have to figure out what was going on
Still surprised how staid most Austen works were/are said to be. Summarising actual events in the stories, there's some pretty “salacious” ones, tho' many offstage. Maybe trouble was/is no-one bothered/s to “figure out what was going on”.

#126 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 08:46 AM:

Leroy F. Berven (121): I have never heard of a US library retaining records of what items a person has checked out once they were returned (unless they were late and there are still-outstanding fines). If there are libraries that do retain those records, I am shocked, saddened, and appalled.

Note that even while the items are checked out (and thus in the circulation system's records), those records are *not* available to law enforcement without a subpeona.

#127 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 10:15 AM:

Mary Aileen @ 125: My experience agrees with yours, Mary Aileen, for what that's worth--to the extent that when the public library I was then working at went to a computer check-out system, the librarians insisted that the system had to automatically wipe all records once the books were returned. I've always wondered how successful that was. Not very, I suspect, but that was what they wanted; they actively and forcefully resisted the very idea of being forced to turn over lists of what their patrons had read. But--well, different libraries, different people. I'm as sad and appalled as you are to hear of the opposite situation, but I don't know that I'm all that shocked.

#128 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 10:29 AM:

I'm pretty sure that the long-term records libraries keep are not who checked out what, but which books were checked out and how often. A 'circulating' book that never gets checked out gets looked at earlier for pruning.
(I used to hang out in the back room of a library.)

#129 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 10:36 AM:

Mary Aileen, don't you remember when the FBI was subpoena-ing librarians after 9/11, and the librarians were forbidden to talk about it?

#130 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 11:14 AM:

TexAnne (128): I remember. I also know that the library community was outraged by the very idea. And I know that all the circulation systems I'm familiar with are as Mary Frances describes in 126: They do *not* keep records of who had a book once it's returned. That's deliberate on the part of the libraries; they don't *want* to have the information available, for privacy reasons. P J is correct that records are kept of how often a given book circulated, but not to whom.

Even if those records did exist, that's a far cry from the libraries being "required to put your name on a list if you take [Mein Kampf] out," as Elliott suggested in 118.

#131 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 11:34 AM:

This link just went up on my local library system's catalog: Patron Privacy Policy [pdf]

It looks pretty standard.

#132 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 01:09 PM:

Mary Aileen, #129: That situation, and one of the incidents related thereto, was the genesis of this shirt. It remains one of our top sellers. A lot of libraries which had been keeping long-term records of "who had what" (which was still probably a small minority of libraries overall) changed that policy as a result of the kerfluffle.

#133 ::: Abby ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 01:33 PM:

My recollection is that before my local public library went to a computerized system, each book's card was stamped with the number of the person who had checked it out and the due date. This is more private than putting names in them, of course, but I suspect that I'm not the only one who checked to see if she'd read something before by looking for her card number in the checkout history.

My current public library computer system allows you to opt in to having your checkout history saved - which I do use, as I find it useful - but defaults to "Don't save anything ever." Which is clearly as it should be.

#134 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 01:46 PM:

With modern information systems, which keep library item use records in electronic form, it is usually much easier to automatically delete user details from the electronic check-out record, than to erase them from a manual system.

Back when library item check-outs were conducted by pulling the check-out card from a paper pocket glued inside the front cover of the item, and annotating the card with check-out information [1], that card would normally then go into a suspense file at the check-out desk. When the item was returned, the check-out card would be replaced in the paper pocket inside the item, which would then be re-shelved. Thus, each item on the shelves would have a running list of the "n" most recent check-outs [2] attached. This system made it easy to determine [3] who might have checked out a particular item, and when, but rather less easy to determine exactly which items a specified patron might have checked out, short of manually inspecting the check-out card of every item in that library.

[1] Usually, patron name and/or library card number, and date the item was due back to the library.
[2] Up to the number of lines on the front (and usually back) of the check-out card.
[3] Using a subpoena if necessary to match library card numbers from the check-out slip to corresponding patron names.

#135 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 01:53 PM:

The first library I remember was a very small small-town library, which I suspect had been kept as a "branch" of the local "city" (of about 10,000) library because there wasn't really any reason to close it. (It was in a shed in the yard of the former school principal, and was open if she was around.) The book cards were just signed and dated, so you could look back and see who had borrowed the book before. And the books were all old, and circulation was slow--so you'd see signatures of people you knew, in books that they had read as children.

#136 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 02:08 PM:

Abby @ 132, SamChevre @ 134: Exactly so.

#137 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 02:13 PM:

132-134: Oh, okay. Right. Although even with similar manual systems, there were libraries who made a point of crossing out* old names/numbers when they came back. As Leroy says in 133, it's a lot easier with computerized systems; libraries regard that as a plus. And such manual systems are still not the same as "required to put your name on a list" of who takes out controversial material.

*completely obscuring with marker or similar

#138 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 02:32 PM:

The libraries I worked in (high school, and college) managed check out with cards.

There was a date file (for due back), and a logfile of who had it out. When the book was due back the logfile was checked.

When the book came back, the card went into the book, and the logfile was zeroed out.

#139 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 02:49 PM:

The NYC public library system in the late 70s and part of the 80s had a photograph machine; they took a picture of a stack of cards with the patron information, the book's identifying information, and the due date.

My mother trained us to open the books up and give the pile to the librarian with the card pockets facing them.

#140 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 02:57 PM:

Lee @131, LOVE the shirt! "We know what you read, and we ain't saying," if my Latin isn't too rusty!

One of the most important considerations for libraries considering changing or upgrading their automation systems is patron privacy. If a system doesn't detach the patron's identifying number from the item IMMEDIATELY upon check-in, it's no good. (And nowadays that includes your reserve reading and ILL sub-systems, too.) Yes, that means it's harder for us to trace who damaged a book. Fair trade-off for protecting privacy. And we do get patrons who want a list of all the books they checked out over a certain period, and they are disappointed when we can't do it, but usually they understand our position. (What I tell them is make yourself a reminder to log on to your online library account page periodically and print it, copy it, download it, cut and paste it, whatever -- do it yourself, in other words.)

#141 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 02:59 PM:

As I recall, the first library card I had - gotten in first grade - had a metal strip with the card number embossed on it (the strip's edges were folded through slots in the card). They would have had to write the patron name by hand to have a record of it; only the card number was printed on anything. Later cards had things like bar codes, but again only the card number went into the system; the library could cross-reference the card to the number, but the name wasn't otherwise connected to the check-out item.

#142 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 03:54 PM:

RE: checkout systems at libraries

Before Hawai'i libraries went electronic, there were tables with pencil holders and 2x3 slips of paper with four lines in a grid. Patrons had to write in their name at the top and the title and author of each book into the grid, and if more than four books were wanted, you enjoyed yourself filling out more slips.

This was as recent as the 1980s; I couldn't believe it when I first went in to my local branch.

#143 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 05:12 PM:

The pre-computer system I remember from this part of the UK tracked the dates when books were borrowed, and which person had currently borrowed the book. And it needed extra work to keep a permanent record of who had borrowed what.

There was a sheet of paper, with a pocket for a card ticket, pasted to the flyleaf of the book.

Whenever a book was lent out, ticket and paper were stamped with the return date. The ticket was transferred to a pocket kept in the library, which was marked with the borrower's name and other details.

So possession of the book was tracked, and how much it was getting lent out, but returning the book broke the link with the reader.

#144 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 05:12 PM:

The pre-computer system I remember from this part of the UK tracked the dates when books were borrowed, and which person had currently borrowed the book. And it needed extra work to keep a permanent record of who had borrowed what.

There was a sheet of paper, with a pocket for a card ticket, pasted to the flyleaf of the book.

Whenever a book was lent out, ticket and paper were stamped with the return date. The ticket was transferred to a pocket kept in the library, which was marked with the borrower's name and other details.

So possession of the book was tracked, and how much it was getting lent out, but returning the book broke the link with the reader.

#145 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 05:32 PM:

I remember the same system that Dave Bell describes.

I was wondering about security protocol design for public libraries (along the lines of election and anonymous cash protocols). I don't remember seeing any examples, though what I don't know about this field would fill several large books.

This prompted me to try to design a physical protocol that tracked library books while making as little information as possible public.

It ended up too long to post here, so it's here.

The protocol has three participants. Alice, a reader; Dewey[*], a librarian; and Eva, an evil government agent.

The system allows
- anyone to find what books are out and when they will be back.
- Dewey to find out how many books Alice has borrowed and when they are/were due back.
- Dewey to find out who has books overdue
- Alice to prove that she returned a book

The system doesn't rely on being able to erase writing reliably. It requires more work than traditional physical systems, but not ludicrously more.

Eva can't find out anything about books that have already been returned. For books that are currently borrowed, she can only find out *all* the borrowers who have books due on the same date as a subversive title, or *all* the books that are due on days when Alice has a book due.

There are almost certainly holes in this, since I only thought of it over lunch, but it seemed an interesting idea.

[*] Well, yes, what did you expect.

#146 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2009, 07:43 PM:

Thomas #144: The most obvious hole to me, is that the scheme depends heavily on high volume to prevent those accidental correlations -- and with sustained action by Eva (i.e. showing up daily), I'd expect such correlations to be extractable anyhow.

Also, the discussion of the book number looks like you changed horses in midstream. If you have a large batch of numbered card packets, why bother with the 10d10? Just use a bingo cage!

There's also the question of what happens if Bob finds and returns Alice's lost book....

#147 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2009, 01:23 AM:

In re library privacy and That Book ...

I didn't say I knew that policy to be true and in force, only that our teacher told us it was. According to him, one of the more objectionable 'features' of the Patriot Act silliness was that certain books (That One, the Anarchist's Cookbook, and some others) could be put on A List. Any book on The List, when taken out or inquired about from a govt-related public library (municipal, state univ, etc), would trigger putting the inquirer's/patron's name on Another List, which was periodically dumped to the NSA, who would presumably pull your credit report or whatever else they do to minimally supervise people they have a really faint reason to suspect of being Up To No Good.

He was a really amusing teacher. He taught us a LOT about persuasive writing. And its misuses throughout history. And how to detect when someone's using its tools to manipulate people. I wouldn't put it past him to have invented The List to encourage us to be sneakier.

He was right about the school forbidding him to give us copies of the text of That Book to keep, though; I checked with the Dean of Instruction.

Also, when reading a book including a narrative about how A Big Writing-Style Expert sleuthed out/confirmed the identity of the Unabomber based on his published writings, they referred there to pulling up lists of books checked out (from pull-stacks, so there was a record a patron wanted to see them) on the days the Suspected Unabomber was known to have travelled to that town/city. This was, of course, Back Then and systems have been changed, but I was reading that book at the time, so it made my teacher's story seem more plausible.

If I remember correctly, that sleuth's book's title included something like "Adventures of a Literary Detective," and had him peering through a magnifying glass on the front. He analyzes texts for a living.

#148 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2009, 11:04 AM:

David Harmon,

Yes, I don't think that any physical system (and possibly no computer system) can be protected against sufficiently assiduous record requests from Eva .

#149 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2009, 01:56 PM:

Thomas @ 145 ...
A few questions/comments here, in no particular order...

(1) How does Alice know when the book is due?
(2) Volume... no volume, no anonymity
(3) Correlation... unless all returns are done as an end-of-day batch process, you've lost your volume again
(4) Practicality/Complexity ... I'm currently counting 5 cards per book

book -> random number card 1 -> back of book (alice)

random number card 2 -> borrower name card file
random number card 3 -> random number card file
back of book card 1 -> due date card file
back of book card 2 -> title card file

... and given that you're missing an extra card for Alice, for Alice to track the due date... that would be 6 cards, which flags as a practicality problem to me... I'd expect all sorts of problems with cards getting out of order.

Of course, if you update all of the files immediately, you've got a different problem (back to the correlation/volume question) -- but if you don't remove the random number card immediately, you've got a case where association is possible... hmmm....

Also, if the title card file only includes titles, but not due dates, that rather sucks for the person wanting to know when the book they're trying to read will be returned.

(5) What happens when Alice returns a book early?

#150 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2009, 02:46 PM:

Thomas @ #145

An anonymous library protocol is fine for a lending library where the contents are cheap/readily replaceable. For an archive of rare/irreplaceable works you need to be able to track who accessed an individual book, in case it goes missing or is damaged.

cf the nefarious dealer/collector who was recently done in .uk for filleting various works in the National Archive in order to replace missing pages in his own collection/stock.

Cadbury.

#151 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2009, 10:10 PM:

Cadbury Moose @ 150: You are quite correct that rare book archives and special collections are a whole other thing. However, the horror you describe (yikes! someone really cut pages out of books/manuscripts? that's vile) would have taken a great deal of effort in the rare books room I've used most often, and the issue of anonymity or privacy just never came up. In addition to the usual precautions taken to protect the books, I also wasn't allowed to so much as touch a book from the collection (which was, of course, non-circulating) without providing far more identification than my public library required even to issue me a library card--or than my university library required to let me check out books. Anonymous, the rare books room wasn't.

It never occurred to me to be concerned about anyone tracking my research. I wouldn't have cared if I had thought of it, as it happens, but I suspect that anyone who did care would just have to lump it, under those circumstances. (Or avoid using signed first editions, or manuscripts, or whatever, as much as possible.) Still, that's really a sort of specialized situation, and not one that most librarians need to worry about.

#152 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2009, 08:29 PM:

Mary Frances: Cadbury's case isn't the first. Moonwise author Greer Gilman has sometimes described herself as a forensic librarian, due to her reassembling enough pieces to convict somebody who did that on a large scale at the Harvard libraries. This was long enough ago (10 years?) that it's probably been forgotten, but it was a huge case at the time -- and I would be astounded if it were the first.

#153 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2009, 11:55 PM:

Cadbury @ 152: Sorry, I let myself get distracted by the horror of someone cutting pages out of books and wound up being unclear in my last comment to you. I shouldn't have been so shocked, since I'm sure what you described has happened far too frequently--I've heard of a few cases myself, though more often of outright book theft than defacement. My main point was that whatever precautions taken against book theft/defacement in university library rare book rooms in the US (particularly the one I'm most familiar with) would also tend to make the privacy of the patrons sort of beside the point. Rare book rooms/special collections tend to use a different "borrowing" protocol from the rest of the library anyway, so whatever system the library might institute for the main collection (in order to insure patron privacy) probably wouldn't be relevant to the system used in the special collections--and vice versa, of course.

#154 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2012, 03:57 AM:

Dave @157:

I've been noticing an uptick in anti-Semitism in the word salad of late. I'm not really sure why it's occurring, but I don't like it.

The theories I can come up with are either that the entire population of word salad is moving that way, or that something about our site has caused a local shift (conservative perception of liberals?). In either case, the fact that this is designed to be inconspicuous in the wider conversation discourages me deeply.

#155 ::: LMM sees spam. ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2012, 11:33 AM:

At 159, above.

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