Barcelona Explores Censorship

General Interest, Intellectual Freedom Issues, International issues

Poster in Catalan describing why the book Bone has been bannedBy:  Valerie Nye

Earlier this year I had the honor of being invited to Barcelona Spain’s second annual Forbidden Culture Week. The 2016 event is an expansion of the banned book fair (Fira del Llibre Prohibit) that occurred in 2013. Forbidden Culture Week 2016 was curated and hosted by librarians, but it explored issues far beyond traditional libraries. There were 30 events during the week that explored writing, music, art, and the internet, with events led by musicians, historians, scholars, librarians, and writers.

The week’s events were curated by Lluís Agustí School of Library and Information faculty at the University of Barcelona. The week opened with a well attended and well received presentation by American anthropologist Gabriella Coleman, who spoke about her work and online activism research, specifically looking at the group Anonymous.

I participated in the events on the second day of Forbidden Culture Week, a day devoted to library censorship issues: Jornada Nihil Obstat: La Censura En Les Biblioteques, Dos Mons I Dues Visions (Nothing Stands in the Way: Censorship in Libraries, Two Worlds and Two Visions). The day started with a public panel discussion moderated by Carme Fenoll, the head of libraries for the Catalan government.

In this presentation I was honored to share the podium with French librarian and historian Martine Poulain, author of several books on the history of French libraries and censorship in France. Each of us shared current information about censorship issues in our respective countries. I was grateful to have statistics from the Office of Intellectual Freedom, and I shared information about library ethics and collection development policies. Poulain shared information about the state of French libraries. She opened her presentation by saying, “Libraries are Charlie,” aligning the freedom of expression published by the French magazine Charlie Hebdo with the intellectual freedom that libraries protect. Poulain also spoke briefly about 31 libraries that were burned and/or vandalized in France during riots in 2005. Many of these libraries were in Muslim communities.

Librarians in Classroom: Librarians sitting at tables working engaged in discussionIn the afternoon, I lead a workshop with Fenoll, in which librarians worked through case studies involving intellectual freedom in libraries. They answered questions and held discussions related to decisions they could make in each scenario. Librarians in Catalonia do not have a centralized office like the Office of Intellectual Freedom, and while documents similar to collection development policies are discussed, there is not a standard expectation that libraries have policies that protect librarians and library collections from censorship.

Banners and brochures announcing Forbidden Culture week were visible throughout the city of Barcelona. Other events held throughout the week included a concert by Catalan singer and songwriter Gerard Quintana, who performed songs that had been censored, including “Save the Queen” by the Sex Pistols, “Masters of War” by Bob Dylan, and “Drought” by Catalan performer Albert Pla. There were numerous displays and exhibits including an exhibit of music album covers that were censored in Spain in the 1960s.

The week was a success, and plans are underway for a Forbidden Culture Week in May 2017.

Valerie NyeValerie Nye is the library director at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. She has been active in local and national library organizations, recently serving on ALA Council, the New Mexico Library Association, and the New Mexico Consortium of Academic Libraries. Val has cowritten or coedited four books including: True Stories of Censorship Battles in America’s Libraries published by ALA Editions in 2012. True Stories is a compilation of essays written by librarians who have experienced challenges to remove material held in their libraries’ collections. She has an MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In her time away from the library she enjoys road trips in convertibles and kayaking on lakes. You can contact her at


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