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Knowledge Quest Marks the FTRF Changes

Posted By Administration, Monday, January 4, 2016

Beginning January 1, 2016, there will be a major change in the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) and the Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF). On December 31, 2015, Barbara Jones, the OIF executive director, retired. She became the executive director of both OIF and FTRF following the death of her mentor Judith Krug in 2009. As an academic librarian…READ MORE

Tags:  Barbara Jones 

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Enjoy the #FTRF45 Kickoff video

Posted By Jonathan M. Kelley, Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanks to everyone who came out to celebrate the Freedom to Read Foundation's 45th Anniversary with our Google Hangout!  As promised, the kickoff was recorded and is available for all to view below:

A big thanks to the speakers, ​Chris Crutcher, Theresa Chmara​ , and Emily Knox!

Enjoy the video, and stay tuned to this page starting next month for announcements of special events and activities connected with #FTRF45!

Tags:  Barbara Jones  Chris Crutcher  Emily Knox  FTRF history  FTRF45  Theresa Chmara 

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Kick off #FTRF45 with us this Thursday!

Posted By Jonathan M. Kelley, Monday, November 17, 2014

November 20, 1969: The Freedom to Read Foundation articles of incorporation filed with the State of Illinois.

November 20, 2014: FTRF members kick off a year-long celebration of our 45th anniversary with a special Google Hangout

Please join YA author Chris Crutcher, along with FTRF trustees, staff, and members as we hold the first in a series of events celebrating 45 years of defending libraries, library users, and the First Amendment to the Constitution. This event is free and open to all. 

For those unable to attend live, the Hangout will be recorded and posted to FTRF's YouTube channel.

Starting in January, FTRF will hold a number of fundraising and awareness-raising events across the country. We'll let you know about events in your area, and other ways you can help support FTRF's litigation and educational efforts. The festivities will culminate in a very special online event next fall.

Make sure to use #FTRF45 for any Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or other social media post referencing these events over the coming 12 months.  We look forward to a great turnout!

Tags:  Barbara Jones  Chris Crutcher  Emily Knox  FTRF45  Julius Jefferson  special events  Theresa Chmara 

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Fifty Shades of Grey: Why Should We Care About a “Bad” Book?

Posted By Barbara Jones, Executive Director, Friday, November 16, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey is not Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Unlike Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Fifty Shades will never win the National Book Award. Its author does not write with the brilliant understatement of Mark Twain. And we probably won’t ever say, as we can about To Kill a Mockingbird, that the book inspired many readers to fight for social justice. There is a wide consensus among reviewers that the book has a frustratingly repetitive style. One friend commented: "If (the heroine) bites her lip one more time, I’m going to scream.”

Nonetheless I set aside my book club’s selection, The Cairo Trilogy, by Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz, to delve into this best-selling contemporary Seattle trilogy starring Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele—in an erotic romp written by E.L. James. After all, if I am asking would-be censors to "read the whole book” before making up their minds, why shouldn’t I?

The Freedom to Read Foundation will continue to resist the removal of any constitutionally protected information from libraries—regardless of its literary quality. Trust me, you will be asked this question by your friends and neighbors. They will understand your fighting for Huckleberry Finn. Fifty Shades—maybe not.

Why should free speech advocates expend time and energy on Fifty Shades of Grey?

Professional Principles. The American Library Association’s intellectual freedom policies do not include literary quality as a criterion for defending a book. Instead, libraries use such criteria as community demand and a more formal collection development process to decide what will reside on library shelves, both virtual and physical. Collection development is not censorship—it is professional selection from a vast amount of information. In the case of a school library, the curriculum will be one important selection factor, but not the only one. School librarians also focus on the interests and abilities of their particular age group because they are passionate about engaging young people in reading for pleasure as well as support of their coursework. In the case of a public library, collections are partly based on community demand. When a city library finds that 400 people have requested Fifty Shades of Grey or any other constitutionally protected information, one would hope that the library would make it available in multiple copies. Interlibrary Loan is not an option in this case because such demand will cause an unnecessary delay and reader frustration.

In an academic library the issue of scholarly quality is often a bone of contention, and rightly so. However, the "quality” argument can become a way for faculty to discourage the purchase of books from scholars with whom they disagree—people they don’t want to see get recognition or tenure. I recall the fight over Black Athena, a controversial theory of the geographical origins of human beings. Most libraries bought the book so that students could engage in the controversy, but some faculty grumbled about it. The same is true with including books on creationism in science libraries. But why not include a few? Presumably the science librarian will have plenty of books on evolution. Finally, the quality argument is often a barrier to the inclusion of scholarly work from the developing world, where editing, publishing, and research rigor sometimes differ from that in the West. As the University of Wisconsin Board of Trustees stated so long ago, part of a university’s mission is to teach students the "sifting and winnowing” process—critical thinking.

Some of the same "quality” issues plague Fifty Shades. The novel started out as "fanfic,” posted by the author to an open online archive for Twilight fans. She then published it with a small press. Many collection development policies prohibit the purchase of what is called "vanity” literature. In the age of self-publishing on the Internet, where many great ideas get their start, libraries really should rethink this policy.

Libraries also need to "get real” about their policies’ prohibition of "erotica” in the collections. Much erotica is constitutionally protected; it is not a term of law. Most libraries have what the general public would call "erotica” if they hold any books from the New York Times bestseller list, not to mention works from Nobel authors or National Book Awards.

Economic and Cultural Context.

I have been asked why a library should waste precious resources on a book to be found at most supermarket checkout racks. This gets back to the issue of public access to information in this faltering economy. For many today, buying a $15.00 book is an unaffordable luxury. That is why libraries must remain committed to the ideal of public libraries providing what their community wants and not second-guessing their taste.

I see dozens of daily commuters reading Fifty Shades. NBC Nightly News asked me to participate in a segment on the book because for better or worse, it has become part of the U.S. pop culture conversation. A carpet store in my neighborhood has a sign, "Fifteen Shades of Gray.” Newsstands boast a magazine, "Fifty

Shades of American Women Who Love the Book and Live the Life.” Why should economically marginalized people be left out of the conversation any more than they already are? (That is, if they choose to be part of this conversation!)

I believe that the quality argument is a slippery slope and a convenient excuse for avoiding controversy. As an English major and former academic, I certainly support publications based on solid research and novels with literary merit. But this attitude can lead to librarians who refuse to buy graphic novels or, in at least one case, any books lacking footnotes!

As we seek a broader membership for the Freedom to Read Foundation, let’s remember that we are defending the freedom to read—a best seller, a comic book, or Fifty Shades of Grey.

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ED: Originally published in the October 2012 issue of FTRF News.  Members receive immediate access to the newsletter in print and online formats.  Join today to get the latest news, analysis, and opinions from FTRF.

Tags:  Barbara Jones  freedom of access 

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From Here to Expurgation

Posted By Barbara Jones, FTRF Executive Director, Friday, July 20, 2012

This article was originally printed in the October 2011 issue of FTRF News. 

Ask any curator of literary manuscripts, and they will tell you how extensively some manuscripts are edited before publishing. Often the editing process catches factual errors or reins in verbose writers. Maxwell Perkins, a renowned U.S. literary editor, engaged in painful negotiations with Thomas Wolfe and persuaded him to cut over 50,000 words from Look Homeward, Angel. While it destroyed their friendship, critics agree that a better novel emerged.

But there are also instances of editing that constitute censorship: the intentional expurgation of words or topics feared to cause government censorship or public outcry. Expurgation can happen before or after publication. Of recent notoriety is a 2011 edition of Huckleberry Finn published by NewSouth Books, in which editor Alan Gribben replaced all instances of the word "nigger” with "slave.”

In the 1950’s, James Jones’s manuscript for From Here to Eternity was expurgated by his publisher, Charles Scribner’s Sons. According to daughter Kaylie Jones, also an author, all publishers were walking a fine line in that era. Before the famous Supreme Court obscenity trials starting in 1957, the U.S. Post Office acted prominently as a watchdog. Scribner’s alerted James Jones that they were going to excise the word "fuck” as much as possible, hoping that the published book would pass Post Office muster. (There are 36 "fuck”s in the 1951 edition.) There is no record of editor’s instructions regarding the gay- themed passages, but they were expurgated.

This 1951 best seller won the National Book Award, and the 1953 film garnered eight Academy Awards. Eternity is based on Jones’s experiences in the U.S. Army infantry—a group of soldiers serving in Hawaii before and during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Jones wanted to capture the life of the "ordinary” foot soldier—off duty drinking, boxing, playing cards, and cavorting with women. The book ends with the attack on Schofield Barracks on December 7, 1941. The book’s authenticity required barracks language and homosexual activity and references.

Like all censorship, there is historical context to the publication of Eternity. After World War II, the U.S. attempted to manipulate media of all types to frame the war as "total victory.” Film director and soldier John Ford was hired by the Army to shoot documentaries at the D-Day landing, and about such topics as PTSD. But then the Army suppressed them. They wanted a happy and noble ending. Homosexual activity, trauma, and salty language were not part of that vision.

When I worked at the University of Illinois, I used to look at their Jones Eternity manuscript and shiver to read the author’s pleading marginalia: "This needs to stay.” "Surely this is not censorable.” "Why can’t you leave this in if ‘the word’ is changed”? ("The word” is "fuck.”)


An original page from James Jones’s manuscript for From Here to Eternity, reprinted with permission of the Rare Book and Special Collections Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

In 2009, Kaylie Jones and her brother became the executors of their father’s estate. She revealed the expurgations, including gay references, and decided they needed to be restored in a new edition.

As she told The Guardian: "James Jones believed that homosexuality... in no way affected a soldier’s capability in the battlefield ... we think it’s relevant given the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell controversy.”

Happily as a result of Ms. Jones’s perseverance, the unexpurgated Eternity was published in May 2011 by Open Road Media, an e-book publisher. It is titled From Here to Eternity: The Restored Edition.

According to Robert Doyle’s Banned Books: Challenging the Freedom to Read, the book was removed from two libraries and, despite Scribner’s best attempts, the New York City Post Office banned it from the mails in 1955.

Only when advocates like Kaylie Jones take a passionate interest in the author’s original words, will these books be restored. Imagine how many lie in manuscript libraries right now—victims of fear.

Tags:  Barbara Jones  expurgation  From Here to Eternity  James Jones 

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