For 123 years, the Chicago Public Library has held a bond of trust with the city's citizens. The library is expected to acquire and make available information free of bias, distortion, and censorship.
Now we find that the Chicago Public Library has become a censor.
CPL recently published, with taxpayer's money, the Chicago Historical Engagement Calendar 1996. It is an illustrated calendar that contains for each day of the year information items about Chicago and its history. On November 10, 1995, the Reader ran a review of the publication that was far from flattering [Neighborhood News]. It pointed out many errors of fact, grammar, and spelling. For example, the entry for August 16 read "1913: 40,000 people came to Grant Park to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Lt. Oliver Hazard Perry's victory at the Battle of Lake Erie in the Revolutionary War." The entry for December 30 clearly gives the impression that the Iroquois theater had violated theater design rules thus causing the death of 602 people. What it should have said was that theater design rules were changed as a result of the fire. And on December 31 it says that "Chicago garnered 87.9 inches of snow," a misuse of the word garnered. Did Chicago store 87.9 inches of snow, and if so where, how, and more importantly, why?
The Reader has always distributed a large number of copies to the Harold Washington Library. This time, on November 9, 1995, someone in authority gave instructions that the copies were to be removed and destroyed! Better the calendar be removed and destroyed!
Such conduct must not be tolerated! Ideally, CPL librarians should police their own. But alas, CPL librarians do not seem to have the backbone, will, or perhaps freedom to rid themselves of these violators of trust. The job must, therefore, fall to Chicago citizens and their elected representatives.
Mayor Daley, the City Council, and the library board must immediately find out who gave the order to remove and destroy the newspapers. This person must be placed in a position where he/she can never again exercise authority and make such decisions. Those who abetted and carried out the order must also be severely reprimanded. Furthermore, so as not to cast a shadow over these officials who have governance over the library, an independent board of inquiry should be appointed.
To some, this may appear to be a tempest in a teapot. Not so. Our founding fathers felt so strongly about the need for information freedom and integrity in such matters that the first amendment to the Constitution forbade any toying with it. On a personal note, I have traveled widely as a librarian and information scientist in China, the USSR, Mediterranean lands, northern Europe, and South America. In those lands where the library was free of any censorship, community respect for the library and a trust in it was always present. The library was an essential part of the community. Where even the slightest hint of information freedom interference was felt by the community, the library, as well as those in authority over the library, were regarded with contempt and mistrust.
It is up to the library board to take action--now. If they fail to act in a manner acceptable to the citizens, the matter must then be taken up by Mayor Daley and the City Council.
Thomas Minder, PhD