May 2, 2015

Choose Privacy Week 2015: Raganathan and the Five Blind Librarians

By Eric Hellman

I’ve heard it told that after formulating his famous “Five Laws of Library Science“, the great Indian librarian S. R Raganathan set about thinking about privacy. Here’s what I remember of the tale.

It turns out that in India at the time, there were five librarians renowned throughout the land for their tremendous organizational skills, formidable bibliographic canny, and the coincidental fact that each of them was blind. It was said that “S” could identify books by their smell. “H” could classify a book just by the sound of the footfalls of a the person carrying it. “T” was famous for leading patrons by the hand to exactly the book they wanted; the feel of a person’s fingernails told him all he needed to know. “P” knew everything there was to know about paper and ink. “C” was quick with her fingers on a keyboard and there was hardly a soul in his city she had not corresponded with. But these 5 were also sought out for their discretion; powerful leaders would consult them, thinking that their blindness made them immune to passing on their secrets of affairs and of state.

So of course, Raganathan asked the five blind librarians to come to him so he could ask them about privacy. The great librarians began talking as they sat outside Raganathan’s house.

“On my way through the countryside I encountered a strange beast”, said librarian H. I can’t say what he was, but he had a distinctive call like a horn: Toot-to-to-toooot…” and librarian H recited a complicated sound that must have had at least 64 toots.

“By that sound, I think I encountered the same beast.” said librarian T. “I reached out to touch him. He was hard and smooth, and ended in a point, like a great long sword.”

“No, you are wrong”, said librarian P. I heard the same sound, and the strange beast is like a thick parchment, I could feel the wind when it fluttered.

“You fellows are so mistaken.” said librarian C “You touch for a second and you think you know everything. I spent 15 minutes playing with the beast; she is like a great squirming snake.”

“I know nothing of the beast except by smell,” said librarian S. “But what I do know is that the beast had just eaten a huge feast of bananas.”

At this, a poacher who had been eavesdropping on the five librarians picked up his rifle and ran off.

Just then, Raganathan emerged through his door. Surprised at seeing the poacher run off, he asked the librarians what they had been talking about.

When librarian S recounted the banana smell, Raganathan became alarmed. The poacher had run in the direction of a grove of banana trees. Before he could do anything, they heard the sound of a powerful shotgun in the distance, and then the final roar of a dying elephant.

With tears in his eyes, Raganathan thanked the 5 librarians for their trouble, and sent them home. Though the Raganathan’s manuscript on privacy has been lost to time, it is said that Raganathan’s 1st law of library privacy was something like this:

“Library Spies Don’t Need Eyes.”

Eric Hellman blogs at where he publishes his own research on how well vendors follow privacy practices.

May 1, 2015

Choose Privacy Week 2015: CPW Activities Around the United States

Crossposted from Choose Privacy Week

Libraries and schools around the country are observing Choose Privacy Week 2015 with a variety of activities.   Here’s a sampling of what libraries are doing:
Multnomah County Library Privacy Option flyersm


The Multnomah Public Library will observe Choose Privacy Week on Saturday, May 2 with “Is Privacy an Option?” a talk led by Mark Alfino, professor of philosophy at  Gonzaga University.  Alfino will discuss issues around privacy, transparency and why individual privacy choices matter.  Multnomah will also be offering patrons an opportunity to attend  classes to learn about “Privacy and Safety Online” on May 9.




On May 4, the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee’s Center for Information Policy Research will welcome Washington University law school Professor Neil Richards for a talk about his new book, Intellectual Privacy: Rethinking Civil Liberties in a Digital Age in celebration of Choose Privacy Week.


The Douglas County Public Library in Georgia will offer teens a class on protecting their online privacy on May 7, while the Upper Arlington Public Library will be offering three different classes on privacy, including a May 2 class on “Simple to Advanced Privacy DIY,” a May 6  class,”Security First,” on password privacy, and a May 7 class, “Privacy on Your Mobile Device“.

The Greene County Branch of the Jefferson-Madison Public Library  published an article in their local paper promoting Choose Privacy Week that included a bibliography of  several books about privacy and government surveillance.   The University of Tennessee at Knoxville library marked Choose Privacy Week with a blog post while the Jefferson College library created a Choose Privacy Week libguide.  Portland Community College also created an  online resource for Choose Privacy Week for their users.

Does your library have plans for Choose Privacy Week 2015?   Let us know at!

April 30, 2015

Choose Privacy Week 2015: Who’s Reading the Reader?

By Michael Robinson
Chair, ALA-IFC Privacy Subcommittee
(Crossposted from the Choose Privacy Week blog.)

It feels like online privacy has taken a step closer to center stage in libraryland in 2015. For years, a number of librarians have been advocating that libraries and the ecology of vendors and publishers they do business with need to do a better job of protecting the online privacy of our patrons. We will hear again from some of them in this year’s fantastic series of blog posts for Choose Privacy Week. Despite these voices of concern, privacy really did take a backseat as libraries struggle to deliver econtent, embrace the modern Web, and provide a better user experience.

Snowden’s revelations (was it just 2 years ago?) increased public concern over online privacy and many people feel increasingly powerless to protect themselves. Libraries stepped up to the plate and offer programs and classes around protecting your online privacy. But there is still a disconnect between what our ethics and policies are concerning online privacy and what our common practice has become. We offer classes on how to protect yourself as a consumer from commercial surveillance but cannot ensure that a reader’s privacy is protected when they access online content at the library.

Last October we were confronted with the extent of data that Adobe’s Digital Editions collects about users and their reading habits. These revelations are, in one sense, the library profession’s mini-Snowden. It exposed what some suspected all long and heightened concerns among a broader audience. It leaves us with questions about the patron data collection practices of the vendors and publishers we rely on. Questions which brings us to the theme of this year’s Choose Privacy Week, “Who’s Reading the Reader?”

As online privacy moves more towards center stage, there are a number of encouraging trends:

•The ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee published a revised Privacy Toolkit last year which describes policy issues and best practices.
• A Patron Privacy Technologies Interest Group recently formed within LITA.
• The ALA Digital Content Working Group which negotiates with ebook providers is showing increased interest in privacy issues.
• The Library Freedom Project won a Knight News Challenge grant to provide librarians and their patrons with tools and information to better understand their digital rights.
• The San Jose Public Library won a Knight News Challenge grant to develop online tools to help individuals better understand privacy.
• NISO is beginning work on a Consensus Framework to Support Patron Privacy in Digital Library and Information Systems.
• A new initiative called Let’s Encrypt that will provide a free and easy way for websites to move to HTTPS.

Libraries, vendors, and publishers must work together to tackle the issues of online privacy and develop practices that respect the core value of reader confidentiality. Individually, its overwhelming, but together we can do it. I encourage you to join us in the discussion this week by reading and commenting on the upcoming blog posts.

Michael Robinson is an Associate Professor at the Consortium Library, University of Alaska – Anchorage. In addition to serving as chair of the ALA-IFC Privacy Subcommittee, he serves as chair of the Alaska Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee.

April 28, 2015

OIF protests removal of Absolutely True Diary from Waterloo, Iowa classrooms

Absolutely-True-Story-of-a-Part-time-IndianBarbara Jones, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom joined the Iowa Library Association’s Duncan Stewart (president) and Michael Wright (Intellectual Freedom Committee chair) in asking the Waterloo School District to adhere to its school board-approved reconsideration policy instead of pulling The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie from all of their middle school classrooms.

In preparation for a school board meeting, a letter has been to the school board members, the superintendent, and the original challenger, executive director of K-12 curriculum. Click on the images below to read the text of the letter.







The local newspaper, WCF Courier, reported on the controversy at the beginning of April. The superintendent is claiming that the district doesn’t need to follow policy because it wasn’t an official challenge. Many teachers disagree.

OIF will continue to monitor this situation. Follow us on Twitter at @oif for updates.

April 22, 2015

Banned Books Week celebrates Young Adult books in 2015

BBW Coalition Logo

BBW Coalition Logo

ALA's Banned Books Week Graphics

ALA’s Banned Books Week Graphics


Young Adult books will be the focus of Banned Books Week in 2015, the event’s national planning committee announced today. Banned Books Week, the annual celebration of the freedom to read, will run from September 27 through October 3, 2015, and will be observed in libraries, schools, bookstores and other community settings across the nation and the world.

“Young Adult books are challenged more frequently than any other type of book,” said Judith Platt, chair of the Banned Books Week National Committee. “These are the books that speak most immediately to young people, dealing with many of the difficult issues that arise in their own lives, or in the lives of their friends. These are the books that give young readers the ability to safely explore the sometimes scary real world. This Banned Books Week is a call to action, to remind everyone that young people need to be allowed the freedom to read widely, to read books that are relevant for them, and to be able to make their own reading choices.”

In recent years, the majority of the most frequently challenged books in libraries have been Young Adult (YA) titles. Six YA titles were on the list of the Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2014, according to the American Library Association. Attempted bans on books of all kinds also frequently occur under the guise of protecting younger audiences.

Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read by encouraging read-outs, displays, and community activities that raise awareness of the ongoing threat of censorship. Last year, tens of thousands of people participated in Banned Books Week online. More than 500 videos were posted in a virtual read-out, and thousands participated in hundreds of events in bookstores, libraries, and schools and universities across the country. is a hub for information about how individuals and institutions can get involved. The website also includes resources and activities provided by event sponsors.

Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, American Booksellers for Free Expression, American Library Association, American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of American Publishers, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Freedom to Read Foundation, National Association of College Stores, National Coalition Against Censorship, National Council of Teachers of English, People For the American Way Foundation, PEN American Center, and Project Censored.

Contact: Nanette Perez ( or Maggie Jacoby ( for more information.

April 17, 2015

2014 Most Frequently Challenged Books List

The Office for Intellectual Freedom released it’s top most frequently challenged books list of 2014 as part of the State of America’s Library report. In 2014, the OIF received 311 reports regarding attempts to remove or restrict materials from school curricula and library bookshelves. Eight of the ten books featured on the 2014 Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books reflect diverse authors and cultural content.

The 2014 Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books include:

1) “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”

2) “Persepolis,” by Marjane Satrapi
Reasons: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions”

3) “And Tango Makes Three,” Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Reasons: Anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “promotes the homosexual agenda”

4) “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues”

5) “It’s Perfectly Normal,” by Robie Harris
Reasons: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group. Additional reasons: “alleges it child pornography”

6) “Saga,” by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Reasons: Anti-Family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group. Additional reasons:

7) “The Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence

8) “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “date rape and masturbation”

9) “A Stolen Life,” Jaycee Dugard
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group

10) “Drama,” by Raina Telgemeier
Reasons: sexually explicit

2014 Book Challenges reported to ALA/OIF

Click for Full Size


April 15, 2015

Response Concerning the 2015 Banned Books Week Poster

Over tBBW_2015_MiniPoster_200x300he past week, the Office for Intellectual Freedom has reviewed and carefully considered the comments posted to social media, blogs, and listservs concerning the poster for the 2015 Banned Books Week campaign, as well as the two comments sent directly to the office. We also discussed the issues raised by the commenters with many members and others who are part of the library community.

Commenters are concerned that the poster might be insulting to Muslim communities our nation’s libraries serve and that any resolution should prioritize ALA’s important commitment to diversity.  Others are concerned because they do not interpret the poster in that way at all, and do not want ALA to compromise longstanding principles of intellectual freedom.  Still others believe that the poster has generated an important discussion about race and religion that ALA should foster and continue. We have also received many thoughtful statements from members who would like OIF to find a balance between these important values.

We intend to take the following actions:

  1. Provide another poster that does not use the image of a person for those who want an alternative to the current poster.
  2. Retain the current poster as an option for those who want to use it.
  3. Promote the “make your own poster” template that uses the layout and graphic elements of the current poster that offers libraries the opportunity to create their own posters featuring persons of different ages and backgrounds.
  4. We have spoken to the Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and have asked them to consider engaging in community discussions addressing diversity, race, and religion.

We have reviewed our proposal with members of the Intellectual Freedom Committee; the Committee on Professional Ethics; Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels; the Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services; ALA Graphics; and other affected offices and ALA staff, and they agree with the Office for Intellectual Freedom that the above resolution is one that fairly addresses all the concerns raised by members and the library community while balancing and upholding the values of our association and the profession.

April 14, 2015

How Do We Design a Banned Books Week Campaign?

As we continue to review the questions raised by the controversy regarding the 2015 ALA Banned Books Week poster, we wanted to answer the question about how a poster campaign is selected. We welcome your feedback on this process as we make decisions on the current campaign.

Our design process is as follows:

  1. We contract with an outside design firm to produce 4 or 5 ideas. The vendors we consider are ones who employ a diverse design team, as part of our commitment to diversity within the association. We’ve learned that diverse design teams provide new perspectives on the issue of censorship.
  2. We set a meeting with OIF staff and an outside librarian to review the proposed designs. We also consult with other offices within ALA on the design. The first design concept we review is the poster. Once we reach consensus on the poster, the designers then use that image to create the additional merchandise in the campaign. The merchandise typically used in the campaign includes buttons, bookmarks, and t-shirts.
  3. New to this year is the customizable PSD file where people can use their own image rather than that of the model represented in the 2015 poster.
  4. Once the design has been finalized, we go to print and feature the products in the Spring/Summer catalog.

Like any promotional campaign, there can be unanticipated reactions. OIF is committed to listening to everyone:  the design team who created the image and message; those who object strongly to the design and those who strongly support it; ALA members and non-members who have expressed concern about our commitment to inclusion and diversity. OIF is trying to listen and acknowledge the entire conversation.

April 13, 2015

Statement on the 2015 Banned Books Week Poster


We are aware of the comments about this year’s poster for Banned Books Week. We appreciate and respect the concern expressed by the commenters on behalf of the individuals and communities served by their libraries, as well as the concern expressed for the association’s work on behalf of diversity and intellectual freedom.

We take to heart any distress we may have inadvertently caused anyone. The poster was never intended to offend or shock, nor was there any intent to include any ethnic or cultural stereotypes. The aim of the campaign is to employ the universal signage for “Do Not Enter” – a red circle with a bar across it – as a visual proxy for book censorship. It is not a head covering.

We attempted to embrace diversity by including a person of color – which, combined with the graphic elements of the design, appears to have contributed to the multiple perceptions of the poster. It is especially unfortunate that a poster meant to embrace diversity has raised concerns about possible stereotyping and offense.

Commenters have shared how the image evokes a burqa or a niqab. This simply did not occur to us as the design for the poster developed. Our design team included a Muslim woman who wears traditional dress. She was enthusiastic about the campaign and the poster design and we were pleased to work with her on it. We have shared the comments with her and she is surprised that the poster has been interpreted as traditional Muslim dress.

We have read and carefully considered all the feedback. We will be exploring alternatives and our future course of action in the coming week with the goal of reaching a resolution that responds to members’ concerns and upholds the values of our association and the profession. We will continue to engage in the robust exchange of ideas that is the hallmark of our values.

As always, our goal for Banned Books Week is to highlight the harms of censorship and to promote the freedom to read for all.

April 3, 2015

Pam Klipsch receives the 2015 John Philip Immroth Memorial Award

John Phillip Immroth

The Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT) of the American Library Association (ALA) announces that Pam Klipsch is the recipient of the 2015 John Phillip Immroth Memorial Award.

Klipsch has vigorously defended intellectual freedom throughout her library career.  For decades, she has served on the major committees and round tables within ALA devoted to intellectual freedom—the Intellectual Freedom Committee and IFRT.  She has served five terms on ALA’s Council and was IFRT’s very first Councilor on ALA’s Council.  Over many years, she has supported the Freedom to Read Foundation and has served on its board.  She has authored and edited many of the Library Bill of Rights Interpretations, which are guiding principles of the library profession.

Klipsch has advocated for helping people who challenge controversial material to see how library principles concerning intellectual freedom reflect their own personal values, instead of treating such challengers as opponents.  This philosophical foundation allowed her to work with elected officials across the political spectrum in securing passage of groundbreaking privacy legislation in her home state of Missouri, where she is the director of the Jefferson County Library.

Klipsch worked with Missouri State Representative John McCaherty to introduce – and then pass – a bill in 2014 to extend the privacy rights of library patrons to include third-party vendors that contract with the library in providing services requiring access to patron information (usually, authenticating in a library’s database that a patron is indeed a library cardholder). According to this law, any personally identifiable information about resources that patrons access through a third-party vendor is as protected and confidential on the vendor side as on the library side of the transaction. This statute stands as a model approach to privacy in the digital age.

For her long defense of intellectual freedom and for this legislative achievement, Klipsch is being recognized with the 2015 Immroth Award.

This year’s award will be presented at the ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco at the IFRT Awards Reception from 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. on Friday, June 26.

The John Phillip Immroth Memorial Award honors intellectual freedom fighters in and outside the library profession who have demonstrated remarkable personal courage in resisting censorship. The award consists of $500 and a citation. Individuals, a group of individuals or an organization are eligible for the award. The award was first presented in 1976.