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Bleeding Books

Last year, after visiting a local library in Manchester, I wrote a blog post on the bitter experience of book censorship on a large scale. The post is copied below and edited as a tale of Persian books in a community language sector of a public library. However, the experience proved not to be an isolated one. Visiting Manchester University's library made it clear that an organised group is behind the widespread act of book censorship, but how? And how can we protect books?

A tale of Persian books in a community language sector of a public library in 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 focused on 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 and rare titles were vanished. So much so that the shrinking of the collection couldn't be put done to the simple random act of downsizing. It felt like someone had gone through the titles one by one and removed all the books that don't have permission to be displayed in bookshops and libraries inside Iran. But how could such a synchronized act of censorship even be possible?

I was curious, to say the least. The questions that needed answering were:

  • Does the library have a policy for withdrawing books from its shelves?

  • Were these policies followed with respect to the Persian collection?

  • Where are the missing titles? 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?

  • How can books, particularly books by activists who are not favoured by governments in power, be protected against censorship?

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

Contacting the person responsible for the Persian collection in the library was my first call. I was told that the library no longer has a Persian language specialist, but the person currently looking after the Persian collection agreed to answer my questions. I was told the usual 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.

However, when we came to the process of deselecting a Persian title our friendly and open telephone and email correspondence turned out to be something else. I was asked to provide: "detail as to the purpose of your blog, what you intend to cover and some examples of previous blogs or where we can access them." Not only that, but also, "We would wish to see what is being written prior to it being posted." In response to my request for the contact details of the library's supplier I was told, "I am unable to provide further information regarding our supplier as they see their work as sensitive and confidential."

Maybe it is not reasonable to expect a local library to be aware of the value of all its community language books. However, the names and contact details of their suppliers that have the power to make decisions on behalf of each community cannot and should not be confidential and there should not be any conflict of interest. Policies should be in place to protect books and it should not be an easy process to get rid of any book based on one person's likes or dislikes, never mind destroying a large proportion of books in a confidential manner!

Members of each community should be aware of how books are selected or deselected from shelves on their behalf. The library's standard operating procedures for removing books should be transparent and available for people to read. Additionally, there is a need for ways to appeal against a decision to withdraw books from a community language section. For the deselected titles why not give the local communities the chance to purchase them. In case of books in Persian there are a number of community run libraries that keep Persian books for their members.

If books are not taken out and not read they might be taken off easily with the excuse of making room for new titles. So it seems that the most important thing that currently 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, each and every one of us could play an active role. We shouldn't leave it to others to choose titles on the community's behalf.

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 قدیمی 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 در کتابخانه ببینیم پیشنهاد بدهیم. لطفا لیست کتاب‌هایی را که می‌خواهید برای خرید‌های بعدی کتابخانه پیشنهاد بدهید.

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Jun 14

سپاس شهیره جان که این "مهم" رو مورد توجه قرار دادی و درخواست پاسخ از مسولان رو مطرح کردی. من در مورد "قانون کنترل" کتابهای کتابخانه اطلاعی ندارم اما واقعا شرم آور هست که در کشور دمکراتی مثل انگلیس که خرید و فروش هرنوع کتاب سیاسی، مذهبی و غیره برای مطالعه آزاد هست، "آزادی مطالعه" ی کتابها در کتابخانه ها بستگی به اوضاع و روابط سیاسی مابین این دولت و دولتهای مربوطه باشد. آیا نیازی به جمع آوری "امضای معترضان" در این زمینه هست؟

با سپاس


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