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A vanished treasure

Updated: Feb 10, 2023

It feels odd to write about books when the life of many political prisoners, following the recent uprise in Iran, is at stake. On the other hand, today more than ever we need to be aware of what is happening around us.

This is a tale of Persian books in the community language sector of a public library at Manchester.

My previous visit to the library goes back to the pre-Corona era, so when a friend suggested meeting in the library, I was thrilled. After our chat, and of course coffee, we went to borrow some books. We were both baffled when we saw how much the Persian book collection had shrunk. The previous three stands of books were now reduced to one. Not only that, sadly valuable books were amongst the vanished titles. So much so that the shrinking of the collection couldn't be put done to the simple random act of downsizing, I thought. It felt like someone had gone through the titles one by one and removed all the books that no longer have permission to exist inside Iran. But how would a synchronized disappearance even be possible?

I was curious, to say the least. As a blogger who likes books I wanted to investigate how books in a community language section could vanish without a trace. The questions that needed answering were:

- Does the library have a set policy for removing books already owned by the library?

- Where have the missing titles ended? Can they be retrieved or is it already too late?

- Should members of the community in question be consulted (directly or indirectly) before a large proportion of books (in this case 2/3) are taken off the shelf?

- Is there any scope for communities to be more involved?

The best place to go to for information was the person responsible for the collection in the library. I asked for an interview to understand the process of collection reduction and expansion. I was told that the library no longer has a Persian language specialist, but the person currently responsible for the collection agreed to answer my questions. I have not mentioned any names as I am not sure if they mind their names be used.

I was told the process of acquiring new titles is the same for all community languages. The library has a supplier that sees to their order which is mostly based on the budget for each community language. The library sets the percentage of fiction and non-fiction books required and it is up to the supplier to buy the titles.

It is not reasonable to expect a local library to be aware of the value of the community language books. However, starting a dialogue with the community members is necessary to save the collection. Policies should be in place to protect books already owned by the library.

It should not be an easy process to get rid of a large proportion of books without any debates or dialogues with the readers. Have the books been subjected to censorship?

Members of the Persian speaking communities should be aware of how the books are selected or removed from the shelves on their behalf. The library's standard operating procedures for removing books should be transparent and available for people to read. There should be ways to appeal against a decision to withdraw books from a community language section.

If the titles taken off the shelves are sold to be recycled, why not give the local communities the chance to buy them. In case of books in Persian there are a number of community run libraries that keep books for their members. It might be a better alternative to recycling.

I was told that removing books from the shelves is based on factors such as the physical sate of books and is influenced by the available space in the library. They are keen on bringing new titles, I was told. If books are not taken out and not read they might be taken off to make room for new titles. So it seems that the most important thing that we could do to protect the ever decreasing Persian collection in public libraries is to take books out and read them.

In terms of stock suggestion, we could play an active role. We shouldn't leave it to others to choose titles on the community's behalf. Our next Coffee and Book session can take part in the library where we can come up with the titles that we want to read. We could also go through the Persian collection one by one to identify any books that are too important to be taken off the shelves. We might, however, already be too late and the long arm of censorship could have got there before us.

Of course, there is a chance that the act of downsizing might be melodramatized by my curious mind. It would be useful to test the conspiracy theory of the Persian book censorship in the UK by sharing your experience. If you live in the UK and have witnessed the disappearing of certain Persian titles from your local library over the past four years, please do let me know. You can comment on this post.

PS: Coffee & Books session is now organised for 21st Feb. at 11.00 in front of the Manchester Central Library. For more information click on the link below.

در دیدار با دوستی به مجموعه کتاب‌های فارسی در کتابخانه‌ای در مرکز شهر منچستر سری زدیم. هر دو نفر از تقلیل مجموعه به یک سوم تعجب کردیم. مخصوصا که از کتاب‌هایی به قلم نویسندگان بزرگ ایران که قبلا در کنابخانه دیده بودیم نیز اثری نبود. دقیقا مثل این بود که به کتابخانه‌ای داخل ایران رفته بودیم.

پرس وجو را شروع کردم تا ببینم چگونه ممکن است کتاب‌ها در کتابخانه‌ای در منچستر سانسور شده باشد. مسئول کتاب‌ها دلیل برداشته شدن برخی از کتاب‌ها را حالت فیزیکی آنها توصیف کرد. کتابهای فدیمی باید برداشته می‌شدند تا کتاب‌های جدید جای آنها را بگیرند. البته این توضیح قانع کننده‌ای نبود. چرا فقط کتاب‌هایی که در ایران ممنوع هستند از کتابخانه جمع شده بودند. مهم‌تر از آن چگونه می‌توانیم از سانسور بقیه کتاب‌ها جلوگیری کنیم.

کتاب‌ها را قرض گرفتن و خواندن بهترین راه برای حفظ آنها است. همچنین به عنوان اعضای کامیونیتی می‌توانیم برای تهیه کتاب‌هایی که می‌خواهیم پیشنهاد بدهیم. با شرکت در جلسه بعدی پرسه و قهوه به شرط کتاب می‌توانیم نگاهی به کتاب‌های کتابخانه بیندازیم تا عناوین مهم را مشخص کنیم و لیستی را هم برای خرید‌های بعدی سفارش بدهیم.

لطفا اگر در انگلستان زدنگی می‌کنید و شاهد حذف کتاب‌های فارسی از کتابخانه محلتان هستید با من در تماس باشید.

پی‌نوشت: جلسه بعدی پرسه و قهوه به شرط کتاب: یک‌شنبه، 21 فوریه ساعت 11.00 در وودی کتابخانه مرکزی منچستر. اطلاعات بیشتر در لینک زیر.

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