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Sensible or censorship? Gatekeeping, filtering and access to information in libraries

Wed 30 August 2017

Censorship continues to be a hotly debated topic and is an issue libraries wrangle with on a daily basis. Public libraries in Scotland continue to receive formal complaints about books and need to address patrons' concerns, which may involve removing the book from the shelf. At the heart of the mission of public libraries is to provide access – to books, to music, to information. Unfettered access to information – allowing patrons to make their own decisions about what to read, watch, and listen – is a cornerstone of democratic societies. Libraries seek to ensure their collections represent a broad range of ideas and perspectives, and that patrons can both “find themselves” in their collections as well as be challenged by what they encounter. However, libraries have conflicting responsibilities of providing access whilst safeguarding vulnerable members of the community. These responsibilities create a tension, particularly around sensitive collections and internet filtering. Added to this tension are shrinking library budgets, when difficult decisions about which materials to purchase for a library brings these issues to the fore. When you have limited funds, which books should be added to your local library?

In order to explore these ideas, we are hosting a science café. This is a chance to come together and discuss the topic of censorship and how this does – and should – play out within the library. There will be a short presentation on issues around censorship and gatekeeping in libraries, with some short excerpts from banned books, followed by an open discussion of the issues.